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‘For the sake of his comrades’

A Japanese bullet snapped through a tree branch just inches from Hubert’s head. His lieutenant was missing — maybe dead.

Hubert was an Army platoon sergeant. He was supposed to be taking care of his men — but how? In this sweltering jungle with brush and trees so thick you were lucky to see 15 yards ahead or behind — even luckier if that rifle barrel, just a few feet away, was gripped in the hands of a friend, and not the man who was trying to kill you.

Surges of Japanese machine-gun fire ravaged gullies and hillsides. The firing was so intense that every private and corporal was needed on the line just to hold back a potential enemy attack. There was no one to resupply the men with fresh ammunition except the platoon sergeants who divided their time between controlling their men and weathering lethal fire as they ran ammunition to their men.

Sgt. Hubert Santo, a Medford High graduate, was fighting the WWII Battle of Muda for control of a Japanese airfield in the South Pacific’s Solomon Islands. Because of his ability, “organizing and supplying his platoon [with ammunition] under heavy enemy fire,” during the 12-day battle, Hubert was awarded the Silver Star for “gallantry in action.”

Hubert had joined the Army in April 1941 and was sent overseas just after the attack on Pearl Harbor. He had been a lineman for the Black Tornado’s football team and briefly attended Linfield College in McMinnville.

While Hubert was gallantly fighting in the Pacific, tenants were moving into 157 new Medford apartments. Located near Jackson School and known locally as the Liberty Housing Project, the quarter-million dollar development was a federal housing project designed to house defense workers and eventually military personnel.

On Jan. 24, 1945, a year and a half after winning his Silver Star, Hubert was now fighting on the Philippine Island of Luzon — already his sixth major engagement. Here he would earn his second Silver Star — posthumously.

His platoon was taking heavy fire and his automatic rifle team was cut off, surrounded by nonstop mortar fire. He stood up as a target to draw enemy fire. The team escaped without injury, but a mortar fragment seriously wounded Hubert.

“Technical Sergeant Santo’s voluntary exposure to enemy fire for the sake of his comrades,” read the Silver Star citation “was in keeping with the highest traditions of military service.”

On Feb. 5, 1945, Hubert died on the hospital ship that brought him home for a burial in Siskiyou Memorial Park.

After the war, the federal government transferred the Liberty Housing Project to the Jackson County Housing Authority, at the time a nongovernmental organization. Unable to afford property taxes, the Housing Authority sold off many of the project’s units and demolished the rest.

In 1958, the federal government paid $25,000 to reacquire the property, with plans to build an Army Reserve Center. On Nov. 11, 1960, Armistice Day — today’s Veterans Day — the Reserve Center was dedicated and named Santo Hall, the Sgt. Hubert Santo U.S. Army Reserve Center, honoring “Medford’s War Hero.”

Yes. Perhaps you have already guessed.

This is indeed that complex of buildings acquired by Medford in 1997, reconstructed, renovated, revitalized, and renamed the Santo Community Center.

And now you know why.

Writer Bill Miller is the author of “History Snoopin’,”a collection of his previous history columns and stories. Reach him at newsmiller@live.com or WilliamMMiller.com.