PERSONAL HISTORY OF FOREST LEROY
By Judy Hunter Kirkham
Forest LeRoy Hunter
Forrest LeRoy Hunter was born the second day of August, 1925 in Driggs, Idaho
in the county of Teton. His father was a freighter and used a team and wagon to haul
bricks from Utah to the Driggs Basin. An older sister, ElDoris, had the privilege of
tending Forrest quite often. She said, “Forrest was a cry baby. We’d put him in the wagon
and had to keep it going because he’d cry if we stopped it.” He was a stocky, tubby child
and loved to double up his fist and show off how tough he was.
When he was four or five years old his family moved to Basalt and it was there he
started school. His father, Adam Lynn Hunter worked in the spud houses or for farmers.
His wages of $1.00 a day had to support a family of six or seven by then.
At school, two grades met in each room with one teacher for those two grades.
The children rode to school on a rubber-tired wagon. In the spring the crusted snow
would thaw and the wagon would tip over quite often. In the winter the children would
ride in a sleigh with a potbelly stove in it to keep them warm. Forrest remembers his
older brother Jack tossing him out of the wagon to run along behind so he wouldn’t
One of Forrest’s teachers was Miss Vless. ElDoris relates being quite amused
when Forrest came into her room one day and said, “Mr. Hawkes, Mill Vless would like
some squaws.” He hadn’t quite mastered his t’s yet so straws came out a bit different.
The family used to have a goat and the kids would hide their straw hats behind
their backs so the goat couldn’t eat them. ElDoris had worse luck because the goat ate her
A favorite family activity was when homemade skis were made for everyone and
they would take turns skiing behind the sled. Those waiting a turn in the wagon had hot
bricks at their feet to keep them warm. To top off the end of the ski parties, Forrest’s
mother would always have the big dishpan filled with popcorn for all the kids, neighbors
Forrest liked to hunt a lot and frequently went with his brothers hunting rabbits.
They often walked two or three miles with only one shell. In other words, they had one
shot to get a rabbit.
At age seven or eight, after working all fall picking spuds to buy school clothes,
he still had enough to buy his first .22 rifle single shot, and for Christmas that year he got
a carton of ten boxes of .22 shells. The instructions that came with the shells were to
keep the family in meat such as pheasant, duck, and rabbit. Forrest became their main
source of meat for many years.
In Forrest’s house one never slept alone. All the boys were in one room and the
girls in another. He never had his own bed until he joined the service and got a canvas
Forrest spent the summers of his early life working at various jobs. At sixteen he
worked in Montana stacking hay; at seventeen he welded in a shipyard in Portland,
Oregon; and then, at eighteen he joined the Marine Corps. He enlisted at Pocatello, Idaho
in August of 1943 and was sent to Boot Camp in San Diego, California. By June of the
next year he was in combat.
In his words, Boot Camp was “murder”. The recruits slept the first night in
barracks but after that they were in tents. They were taught not to stick their hands in
their pockets and if they did their pockets were filled with sand and sewed shut. If an
officer told them to do something, there was no asking “Why” or “How,” but rather
“How long?” Because of his hunting experience, Forrest could outshoot everyone in
platoon, including the drill instructor. A score of 306 was “excellent” and Forrest shot a
319, “high excellent.”
In the spring of 1944 Forrest’s division was sent to Pearl Harbor on an aircraft
carrier called “The Wasp.” They did calisthenics to keep fit. Forest then was sent to the
island of Maui. He was assigned to the 4th Marine Rocket Detachment. Camp was made
halfway up a volcano where they trained to launch rockets. The rockets were 4.5 rockers
that were fired or launched from trucks.
In June of 1944 Forrest experienced his first combat on the island of Saipan of the
Mariana Islands. The Marines and the Army infantry had a clear-cut mission: They were
to seize the Mariana Islands of Saipan, Tinian, and Guam, the next logical steppingstone
in Admiral Nimitz; westward drive throughout the central Pacific. The Mariana were
only 1,300 miles west of Tokyo, and were key stronghold in the Japanese defensive
chain. Saipan was some fourteen miles long and five miles wide, with towns, sugar
plantations, terraced hillsides and a large Japanese civilian population. Volcanic in origin,
it had at its center a 1,554-foot peak called Mount Tapotchau. The U.S. plan of attack
called for the 2nd and 4th Marine divisions to assault the beaches on the southwest coast of
Saipan June 15, 1944. The 2nd Division would push inland and upward to capture Mount
Tapotchau. Meanwhile, the 4th Division would head eastward across the island, cutting
the Japanese off and capturing Alito Airfield. * Forrest recalls they went from the ship to
landing craft boats and then drove their trucks through about 200 yards of water (they had
previously waterproofed the undersides of the trucks). It took about one month to take the
island. They lived mostly on lumps of sugar, hard tack candy and what was called “dog
biscuits.” Forrest would put these biscuits in his canteen, then add some water, break it up
and make mush out of it. There was nothing much on the island to eat; they found a few
peanuts and some squash. The island was declared secure on July 9, 1944. The men had
gone almost 30 days without taking their shoes off. Forrest’s socks had rotten his feet and
many of the soldiers had foot rot. There were many snipers and booby-traps to watch out
for but there was not much hand-to-hand combat. As they hit the capital of Saipan Forrest
remembers that the only think left standing was one wall of the bank. At the City Parks
was a ball diamond. On the pitcher’s mound, at catcher, and on first, second, and third
bases were dead Japanese, and in the batter box was one dead Marine. Someone had
placed the bodies in that position.
That night a little girl came crying through the front lines. She was the banker’s
daughter and had a note and quite a bit of money tagged around her neck. She was only
about five years old. The officers took her in and cared for her.
Next, the 4th Division went to an island across the channel from Saipan called
Tinian. The only beaches that seemed to be suitable for landing were in the southwest
corner so all the defenses of the Japanese were concentrated there. The north had only
two tiny gaps of sand between cliffs of jagged coral—an unlikely site to land. On July 4th,
landing boats started to shore and then pulled back. Meanwhile, two regiments of the 4th
Marines had landed on the tiny north shores. They got all their equipment up the rocky
ledges and by nightfall 15,000 Marines were ashore. The trick had worked.
Forrest lost one of his best fiends on this island. He had met Carter during line
training. After Boot Camp and Basic Training the men were trained in different areas.
(Forrest was trained for scout and sniper but that wasn’t needed so when he got overseas
he was put on special weapons, particularly rockets.) At about four o’clock in the
afternoon, a sniper killed a fellow named “Abe”, shot Carter right above the ear, and hit
another man in the leg. The wounded man was able to go back and tell the other men.
The Jap surrendered, but carter only lived until the next morning.
In two or three weeks the island was secured. On August 2nd, Forrest’s birthday,
the Marines loaded the sip to go back to Maui in the Hawaiian Islands. There, the 4th
Division was split and half went to the 5th Marine Division, Forrest being in this group.
They then went to Hawaii or the “Big Island,” and started a rocket detachment.
The next combat, which Forrest described as a “mean one”, was on Iwo Jima. Iwo
Jima lay 625 miles north of the Marianas and was a key island for the U.S. because it had
two airfields and was within good range to the western Pacific and Japan. Japan knew it
would be attacked and spent all summer of 1944 building up its defenses. On Iwo, 6,821
soldiers were killed, missing or died from wounds received there, and 19,217 were
wounded. Iwo had the highest casualty rate of any engagement in 168 years of Maine
Corps history. On day six of the invasion, as the men fought for Hill 382 and Turkey
Knob, nearly four Marines went down for every yard gained. (We are fortunate to have
Forrest to even tell this story!) Also on this island was Mt. Suribachi where the famous
photograph was taken of the U.S. soldiers pushing up the American flag.
Forrest describes his experience on the island as follows:
“The island was volcanic ash, there were only one group of trees and that got
blown up. We could dig foxholes but the sulfur was very hot. Each soldier had two
blankets and instead of putting them over them they would put them underneath them if
they couldn’t find a board because of the heat.”
On this island, Forrest had another friend called “Big and Mean Smitty.” Forrest
describes Smitty as “230 pounds solid fat.” Smitty was from Maine and he and would
argue which were best—Idaho spuds or Maine spuds. But when Smitty was drunk Forrest
would agree Maine spuds were best. When there was a flat tire, they would just get
Smitty to lift the jeep while the tire was changed. He was 30 years old and didn’t know
how to drive, so one day he got out on a baseball field in a truck and was driving in circle
to learn. He was having a great time but there was another truck coming through the
center of the field. As he came around the men watching yelled, “Turn!” He jerked the
wheel so hard he bent the steering wheel. He hit the other truck and dented the fender—it
was an officer. At first the officer was mad, but when he found out it was Smitty he said,
“We’ll fix it.” It was known Smitty didn’t like officers. Once on Saipan, Smitty was
ordered to guard the officers.
He said, “If I have to stay awake to guard them they won’t get any sleep either.”
So he spent the night shooting rats out of the trees with a machine gun. Flares were shot
into the air, a parachute would open on them and they would float back down to the
ground. This was how they kept the area lit at night. The rats would run up the trees when
the flares were shot and these gave Smitty his targets for the night. Needless to say the
officers didn’t want Smitty to guard them anymore.
As they approached the beach of Iwo Jima, Smitty was in a 4 by 4 truck ad it got
stuck in the sand. Smitty’s driver got hit and then Smitty caught a mortar shell right in the
belly. He held his fist in his wound and yelled, “Better find a dry land swabbie!” (These
were navy corpsmen that were first aid men.) He went a little ways and then passed out.
It took six men to load him back in the ship. Forrest still doesn’t know if Smitty died of
his wounds or not.
The 5th Division spent the first night on Iwo Jima on the beach, but no one slept.
They dug foxholes and banked them up with sand and boards. By morning shells hand
blown the sand away. They were about 1,500 yards down the beach from Mr. Suribachi.
Forrest said this is where he had a guardian angel. He relates the story as follows:
“I had the rear wheels of my truck shot out from under me and a few of my
rockets wet on fire but not enough to disable us. We were ahead of the front line and we
put out 72 rockets in one to one and a half minutes. We flattened the area out but the front
line wasn’t ready to advance and they yelled to us to jump out of the truck and get in a
hole. So we did and then everything went silent. It was spooky; there wasn’t even any
small fire—nothing. I got into a hole chest-deep. Hamilton, a buddy, did the same in a
hole next to me. We were talking back and forth wondering what was going on when a
mortar hit right between us………and didn’t go off. Either it was a dud or they didn’t
pull the pin. It bounced and landed in the lieutenant’s hole nearby. That’s probably the
very closest I came to death that I know of.”
They fought their way to the other end of the island until it was finally secured.
But then, according to Forrest, we had “to turn around and fight all the way back the ones
we missed the way over.”
Forrest, a corporal, Rhodes, a private first class, and Clements, a sergeant were
picked by the lieutenant to seal up any caves that had been by-passed. They had a trough
to place the rockets in and two nails for the electrical firing point. First, one would fire a
machine gun in the cave to keep the Japs back while the other two crawled up and set up
the trough and rocket. To set it off a wire was connected to each nail. Clements would set
the charge off. They had to hold their ears and keep their mouth open or the concussion
would break their eardrums.
Forrest’s division spent about 45 days on the island. When they set up camp to
wait for the ships to come to take them off they found a pump and got some pope to
pump the water in, then covered the pipe with sand. Because the sand was so hot, it
heated the water so well that they could barely stand under it. Holes were punched in 50-
gallon drums and they had a much-welcomed shower, but it was salt water they had to
use which left them feeling quite sticky. Finally they got on the ship, the “Merchant
Marin.” The ship was short of supplies and the only thing they had to eat was canned
chicken, but to the men, it was like New York steak, because they had had all the rations
Once back at Hilo, Hawaii, they rested for one week, not even having to answer
roll call. At the first opportunity, Forrest went into town with Reed Baird, an old school
buddy, and ordered one dozen eggs, sunny-side up, and a bowl of French fries each. He
ate it all and declared it was “the best meal I ever had.”
Forrest next went to San Diego to be quarantined for one week and then went on
to Pocatello. It was now the first part of November 1945. On the 25th of that same month
he married Judith McBride in the Logan temple. He had met Judy in high school and they
wrote to each other during war. After they were married they went to Idaho Falls for their
honeymoon. Judy finished high school that spring; meanwhile, they lived in the basement
of Judy’s parents home, Zelma and Wallace McBride.
When Forrest was released from the service in the spring, he went to work for
Eldon Jolley on a farm. They moved to what are now the Peterson Farm and that fall
Forrest went to work welding at Belville Manufacturing. While he was working there
their first child, Marsha Emma was born on October 31, 1946.
The next year Forrest attended Boise Junior College, mostly to play football. He
played the quarterback position. Forrest Mont, “Monty,” was born on October 2th, 1947.
With two children for support, that ended school for Forrest. He had taken a few
machinist classes, so he returned to work at Belville running the lathe.
The next couple of years Forrest worked Forrest worked for the State Police as a
highway patrolman. His third child, Wallace Marion, was born on September 29th 1950.
Forrest farmed a year on the reservation and then another year at McBrides'. He
next farmed on the river, and during this time Anthony Lynn, “Tony,” and David Jack
were added to the family. Tony was born on March 18th, 1952, and Jack was born
January 19th, 1954. Forrest said Tony was a bull-headed and wouldn’t answer to his name
so he called him “Joe” and he would pay attention.
One day on the farm someone noticed Wally was missing. Marsha was carrying
Jack, and Monty was with her but no Wally. Forrest asked Marsh, “Where’s Wally?” No
one knew. Forrest thought he heard a faint cry, so he jumped the fence and found Wally
crying in the canal hanging on to a board that held the milk cans. Forrest reached down
and scooped him up out of the water. With a rapidly growing family it was sometimes
hard to keep track of everyone.
In February of 1955, a new opportunity for work came to Forrest. He went to
work for Gibbons and Reed Construction Company. James Randall was born on April 9,
1955, that same year after which the family moved to Portland, Oregon, to the new job.
At work, Forrest ran the backhoe and dragline.
Forrest and Judy bought their first house in Gresham, Oregon but only stayed
there a couple of years. Not liking all the rainy weather in Portland, the couple eventually
moved to Dunsmuir, California. They first lived on Butterfly Avenue but soon moved do
to Conant to a roomier place. They lived next to an elderly man named Mr. Smith who
was really good to the kids. Judith Marie was born December 30, 1957 while they lived at
Conant. Forrest’s father died New Years Day of 1958. Judy had just been brought home
from the hospital when Forrest left for Idaho to the funeral.
At this time Forrest and Judy were having problems in their marriage, which
ended in divorce. After the divorce Forrest worked one year in California and then went
back to Idaho and lived with his mother. Once back at Idaho Falls he worked out at the
AEC site. Later Marsha came to live with Forrest and Grandma Hunter’s house. She was
fourteen at the time and they got along wonderfully. Gibbons and Reed sent Forrest to
South Dakota and Marsha went with him. She kept house and did the cooking and
washing for Forrest, taking care of him very well. After the job was over, they returned to
Idaho Falls where she went to school.
Forrest went up to Bozeman, Montana to visit this brother Vee. Both Vee and
Forrest’s mother had repeatedly told him about Jeannie Kelsey. Forrest had gone to grade
school with Jean, (then Jean Armstrong), so he had known her a long time. When his
mother suggested he take her and Jean out to dinner he decided that since Forrest was
“just a friend” he could take her out. From her previous marriage Jean had five children
who decided that since Forrest was “just a friend” he could take her out. They went to
Bear’s ruck Stop. And had rib steak. The next day Forrest returned to Idaho Falls; Jean
had told him she wasn’t interested in anyone then, so Forrest didn’t’ see her again for
The next year she was ready to be more than “just friends.” Jean had four boys
and a girl: Terry, the oldest was 17, followed by Susan, Steve, Mike, and Scott who was
about 10. Forrest and Jean got married on April 27, 1964. On their honeymoon they went
to Spokane, Washington to meet Marsha and Lynn. It was a good thing that Marsha had
gotten married, Forrest says, or Jean might not have had a chance. Marsha was very
protective of Forrest and earlier when he was dating a lady named Shirley in Idaho Falls,
Marsha had told her if Shirley thought she was going to get her Dad she had another
thing coming. They lived in Bozeman at Jean’s place for one-year working construction
and then in 1965 they came to Blackfoot, Idaho. They built their home on 40 acres and
Forrest worked at the Gay mines.
At times various members of the family came to live with Forrest. Monty came
first, followed by Wally and they both graduated from Blackfoot High School. Tony and
Jack spent a couple summers moving pipe. Randy went to one year of school in
Blackfoot, playing on the basketball team there; Judy Marie never lived with Forrest for
any length of time but visited each summer.
Later jobs in Forrest’s life included working at the county courthouse as a deputy
assessor for a couple of years. (On the side he always farmed or raised sheep and other
animals to supplement their income.) He then worked construction one year on his own
and then started up a construction company with Monty, jack and Randy after selling 30
acres of his land. The company was called F.L. Hunter and Sons. They worked jobs from
1972-1978. The sons then went on to other construction jobs on their own and Forrest
continued with construction for one more year. After that year he sold oil for Untied
Lubricants for a year and a half. In 1980, after much controversy and publicity, he bid
and got the contract for the county sanitary landfill and collection system. This has
proved to be very profitable for him in 19881 Randy and his family moved back to
Blackfoot from California to help with the job. They are currently working hard at this
job and on the side Forrest and Jean continue to raise a nice garden, pigs, cows, and to
help with and enjoy their many grandchildren.
Looking back, Forrest recalls how he loved to play sports. He played basketball in
high school and was the quarter back for the football team. In Jr. College he played
halfback on 2nd string. He is also an excellent roller skater and enjoys it very much. After
he was married he still played what he calls “outlaw ball,” (which was playing basketball
on the local town team). One time they got to play against the Harlem Globetrotters for a
money-raising project. He said he would guard one player and all of a sudden the ball
was gone. (He had put the ball under his shirt then still acted like his was dribbling.)
Forrest said guarding them made him feel like a fool.
Another love Forrest had is hunting. He has a hunting story for almost each of the
boys—usually about the first time he took each of them hunting. “One trip Wally and I
went up Big Elk Creek. We spotted an elk two to three miles away. Wayne, a friend of
Wally’s that went with us, got tired so Wally and I walked ahead trying to catch up with
the elk. After walking quite a long ways we decided we’d go a few more ridges and if we
didn’t catch up with them we’d go back. We sat down and took off our gloves and began
eating a candy bar when we looked across the clearing and saw a cow and calf elk. We
couldn’t get closer so decided to shoot from there—it was about 400 yards. We counted
to three and shot. Just then a herd came crashing out of the trees directly at us. I shot the
leader and it dropped 150 feet from us. Wally shot his last shot and then as I was ready to
shoot again Wally grabbed my rifle out of my hand saying ‘Something’s wrong with
mine, give me yours!’ Sure enough, something was wrong with it—it was empty! This
was Wally’s first encounter with elk and he didn’t know how big they were. Each of us
had one down. Wally stood there shaking his head and said ‘We shouldn’t have done
that.’ Cleaned them and took the livers for proof we shot them and headed for camp.
Wally kept me going I was pretty tired (besides I was over 28 then!!) He wouldn’t let us
stop and rest. We crossed over a ridge and met Steve, (Jean’s son) looking for us. We
came home that night. The next day we got our horses and it still took us two days to get
the elk out of there.”
He also relates Randy’s first elk hunt: “We went up on Commissary Ridge in lat.
October. There was a little snow on the ground, two or three inches. We spotted some elk
a long ways away, about 500 yards—so we shot at them. They ran and we cut across to
pick up their trail. We noticed that we had to go back to where we were at first to see if
we had hit any. They were all cows and calves and started going into the thick trees.
Randy was about 20 yards from me when he suddenly dropped down to one knee and
shot. Then I heard him say, ‘You hold still and I’ll shoot you again!’ He ran over to me
and said he was out of shells—I just asked what was going on! A six point bull elk had
walked out of the trees. Randy shot him two times right through the ribs and then he got
around in front of it and hot it in the head with my rifle. It took all day to carry it out—
quarter at a time. That same year Randy shot two big deer—but that’s another story…”
Forrest has a great love for his children and is very proud of them. He feels they
are very hard workers and do their share in the work they are involved with. He loves his
grandchildren too and they love to visit Grandpa Hunter just as much. When asked what
thoughts or words or advice he would like to leave his family, he said this: “Life is lots of
hard work, but you should always do your share and a little bit more. Don’t ever be afraid
or ashamed to help somebody else out.”