A Happy Life: Walter Frank “Hap” Goodman Jr.

May 07, 2024 by Analise Narine

HPUMC honors the service and lives of our World War II veteran congregants, who are now over 100 years old. In May 2023, the HPUMC team had the unique opportunity to speak to Walter Frank “Hap” Goodman Jr. about his inspiring life. Hap is now 102 years old.

What does it mean to be happy? Well, for Walter Frank “Hap” Goodman Jr., the answer is simple—it’s built-in, in his nickname and in his nature. Since infancy, he has been called “Happy,” shortened to “Hap,” and it’s how he prefers to be addressed.

“Friends came by, visiting my mother and father with their newborn child, and there I was in this basket,” Hap said. “And he decided that I was just a very happy little baby jumping around in the crib, and said, ‘We're going to call that baby Happy.’ But my mother looked at him, and looked at me—so the story goes—and said, ‘No child of mine is going to be called Happy.’”

“Well, she was wrong,” Hap continued. “The nickname stuck.”

Hap grew up in a happy home, and he went on to attend Texas A&M University in College Station. During his four years in college, he was a cadet in the school’s Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC). He graduated in 1939—when World War II was beginning.

“The Army went along and said, if you keep your grades up, you can go ahead and graduate, but then you go immediately on active duty,” Hap said. “And that's what happened. 1939, I graduated. And then within a week of graduation, I was at Fort Sill, Oklahoma—I went to that post because I was a cadet in the field artillery portion of the ROTC.”

One of a dozen passengers, Hap headed to the Hampton Roads region of Virginia to board a freighter—a Liberty ship—traveling east on the Atlantic Ocean to Europe. The ship traveled in a convoy for safety, and as it approached Europe, the Liberty ship had to go through the Strait of Gibraltar.

“It was rather an intriguing entry spot,” Hap said. “We looked at Africa on our right and looked at Gibraltar, the British colony on our left. We kind of held our breath. We made it through, and I thought, ‘Well, we're safe.’ Well, we no more got through the Strait of Gibraltar—and I was up on deck with other officers—when suddenly it seemed as if the whole world came apart.”

Another Liberty ship, right to the flank of the ship that Hap was on, suddenly disappeared. The Germans had sent a torpedo into the middle of it.

“The whole thing went sky high,” Hap said. “And for about half a minute, the debris from this Liberty ship came raining down on us and other vessels in the convoy. What do you do? You don't do anything, except pray and hope you can get through without any torpedoes coming into your vessel.”

Thankfully, the Liberty ship Hap was on did make it through. The ship re-entered the convoy and headed east. Hap had been given instructions to report for duty at a specific address in Algiers, but the convoy sailed east into the Mediterranean, not stopping until they were told to.

“It took me three days to make the trip to Algiers,” Hap said. “I reported for duty, and they said, ‘Lieutenant, you go up to a little town called Tizi Ouzou. We are putting together a group of British and American officers. You will be sent to Italy.’”

Hap studied the Italian language under Italian Army officers who had been brought on board. After about three months, he then traveled on a British vessel—a mercantile ship in Algiers that was heading to Naples, Italy. Hap was placed at a school there and told to stay there until he received a permanent assignment.

“And that night, the Germans came across the front lines and dropped bombs on us,” Hap said. “It was just terrible. When the bombers were coming in from the northern Italian airfields to bomb us, they would try to get us into safe places. We were told to go into caves outside the building where we were stopping.”

Hap was ultimately assigned to a regiment, where he and a British major were placed in charge of the government of a large geographic area on the front lines of the British Division. As divisions moved forward, so did they, taking charge of new areas throughout Italy.

Hap was sent to Milan, then Venice. In northeastern Italy, he was placed in charge of a large civilian area, taking on the role of a governor. As a representative of the Allies, he coordinated with the Italian government as the war came to a close.

After the war, Hap worked in downtown Dallas before deciding to set up a company of his own with help from his father. He worked in the paper industry, converting raw paper to materials and selling gummed sealing tape for retail stores and warehouses. He also spent thirty years in the active reserves of the Army.

“We had a unit that met regularly,” Hap said. “And we went on summer camps. We did everything we could to stay available to the Army, when and if they needed it when we were in civilian life. We all end up as ex-soldiers. We did what we could while on active duty in a war zone, but once the war was over, we turned inwards, and we started to put the country back together again. We wanted to leave it a peaceful nation rather than a warring nation.”

Hap became a member of Highland Park United Methodist Church years before the war, attending Sanctuary services with his parents as a senior in high school. He stayed a member even in college, and as a part of the committee of college seniors at A&M who helped organize graduation ceremonies, he suggested HPUMC’s Senior Minister at the time, Rev. Marshall Steel, for the baccalaureate service.

“He was, without a doubt, one of the paramount ministers in Dallas at that time,” Hap said. “I'd made an appointment and came up on a weekend. I went up to his office and said, ‘Mr. Steel, I am commissioned to invite you to come to A&M on this date and give a baccalaureate program to the graduating class.’ He never batted an eye, and said, ‘I accept.’ And he came to A&M and gave a wonderful baccalaureate sermon. I still have the program from that service.”

Hap still views HPUMC fondly and attends Sunday services when he can. “I think it's a very human church,” he said. “I feel comfortable there. I don't feel like I've got to knuckle down or bow down or say a specific prayer or anything. It's just a very warm church. Now, I guess that is true of Methodism in general, but it is certainly true of our church.”

Hap also has a prominent figure in his ancestry. “My father grew up in Wyoming, and that's the country of the cowboy,” he said. “His mother happened to be the older sister of William Frederick Cody, better known as ‘Buffalo Bill.’ This was his uncle, and they got along fine.”

Hap’s father, Walter, was invited to be part of his uncle “Buffalo Bill” Cody’s Wild West show, complete with buffalos and wild horses, for a summer. Hap fondly remembers hearing stories about the experience and how his father was outfitted with his very own Wild West outfit.

Now 102 years old, one of a relatively small number of centenarians, Hap takes life and what it brings day by day and does his best to stay healthy. He is able to enjoy time with friends and reflect on his life and his time in the war.

“I am happy,” Hap said. “I'm very fortunate. I've lived a long life and a happy life.”