Share Your Story

 

As part of constructing the South Dakota World War II Memorial, we want to preserve the stories of South Dakotans during that period. Please share with us a story of your experience during that time.

 

Reflections on Armed Forces

            When I am asked to make an address right about this time of the year my usual defensive strategy is to decline.  It is the end of the school year and I am usually tired of pontificating and sharing more or less great thoughts with more or less attentive audiences.  But this is one talk I am honored to give.

            Perhaps you wonder why.  What qualifies me besides an inability to say no to an unexpected caller?  In a real sense I owe my existence to the armed forces of the United States. I was born in 1952, in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg.  Had it not been for the United States armed forces defeating Nazism, the man who became my father probably would not have survived the actions of some very real, not imaginary, "jack-booted thugs", and lived long enough t ever meet my mother.  That, at least, qualifies me to express my gratitude to the armed forces of the United States on this day and on this occasion.

            My comments today bridge 50 years and two continents.  They are addressed to you from a grateful native of Luxembourg, a small country where Americans and the American armed forces are more welcome than in almost any other part of the world.  But I am also addressing you today as a proud and concerned citizen of the United States.

            Some years ago I had the pleasure of guest lecturing at the US Military Academy at West Point.  Overlooking the Parade ground at West Point is a bronze statue of General George S. 

Patton Jr., pistol at the hip, binoculars in hand, gazing, so it seems, across the grounds in confident satisfaction that his Third Army was destined to victory and greatness.  As a youngster I had passed an identical statue, cast from the same mold, almost daily on my way to school.  But it wasn't at West Point.  Rather, it was some 4,000 miles to the east at the entrance of my home town, Ettelbrunk, a small town of 5,000 people, 20 miles due north of Luxembourg City, and 20 miles due north of the US Military Cemetery at Hamm where Patton and several thousand US soldiers, many his Third Army Men, are buried.  The Patton statue and associated monuments were erected by a town which since the early 1950s has hosted an annual "Remembrance Day" for the Americans who sacrificed so much for its freedom.  Over the years the "Remembrance Day" regularly drew top US military brass.  As children looked forward to the almost week-long whirl of helicopters, the air shows, and the hundreds of US Troops in town with their heavy equipment.

            The statue on Ettelbrunk looks northeast, not over a parade ground but, over a battleground, over the battlefields which constituted the southern shoulder of the Battle of the Bulge.  Over this ground, in December 1944, Patton' s Third Army starting with three divisions abreast, from my home town on the right to Bastogne on the left, launched its famous counteroffensive against the southern shoulder of the German bulge.

            West Point teaches "duty, honor, country."  In my hometown some 50 years ago, members of the armed forces of the United States, doing their duty at great cost and sacrifice, brought honor to themselves and to their country in the process of liberating my country of birth.

            The ground over which the Patton statue in my home town looks has seen more American blood spilled in a smaller area than most of America's overseas battlefields except Tarawa, Two Jima, Okinawa and Omaha Beach.  During the Battle of the Bulge, in an area of some 1,500 square miles, or about twice the size of our Minnehaha country, the US armed forces suffered 81,000 casualties including over 13,000 dead in a span of 6 weeks.

            The official story is well told in the US Army's history of World War II, European Theater of Operations series.  The Bulge volume contains only a few photographs.  One of them is a photo of Ettelbruck under fire.  The angle of the photo and view are almost identical to the view I had looking out my bedroom at my parents' house.

            After four and one half years of occupation, the first liberation of my home town by American Forces in September 1944 had been a heady and joyous affair.  On September 11, a combat command of the US 5th Armored Division broke through the German Westwall Frontier fortifications 15 miles to the east only t be forced to retreat several days later in the absence of follow-up support .  These were the first American ground soldiers to set foot on German soil.  Today, a Sherman tank bearing the markings of the 34th Armored Battalion, US 5th Armored Division sits near the Patton Statue.

            The September 11 so-called Wallendorf breaking by the 5th Armored Division is but a footnote in history now, a "what if" source of speculation.  It has been eclipsed by the airborne operation in Holland which started on September 17 and failed to reach its main objective, the "bridge too far."  It would take almost five more months, into February 1945, for Us troops to break through the German defenses near the Wallendorf sector under terrible weather conditions and with heavy casualties.  Ironically, one of them men in that assault by the US 76th Infantry Division was Emil Meader, the father of my colleague and friend Jim Meader here in my department at Augustana College.  Having seen so many US veterans return to Luxembourg, I have been encouraging Emil to visit.  "I don't want t be treated like a hero," he once said to me.  That left me trying to convince him that the folks over there are used to welcoming heroes.

            By late September 1944, the Allied drive had run out of steam, out of supplies and troops.  The area around and north to my home town became a "ghost front," a quiet sector used to rest bloodied US formations. One such formation was the US 28th Infantry Division, the Pennsylvania National Guard "Keystone" Division.              It had lived up to its other nickname, 'Bloody Bucket," an allusion to its red keystone division insignia, in terrible fighting along the German border in November.  By December that bloodied division's 109th Regiment was headquartered near my home town for rest and refitting.  Interestingly, the regimental commander, then Lt. Col. James E. Rudder was the same man who on  D-Day commanded the Rangers who scaled the cliffs at Pointe du Hoc on Omaha Beach.  Officers from the regimental HQ used to stop in at my grandparents café-restaurant.  In an eerie coincidence, in the Battle of the Bulge, Rudder's regiment would defend the area around my home town in heavy fighting against the soldiers of the 352nd German division, the same division, reconstituted as Volksgrenadier division after being destroyed in heavy fighting in Normandy, which Rudder's Rangers had faced at Omaha Beach on D-Day.  Not ten miles to the southeast of my home town the US 4th Infantry Division was under heavy attack.  It had assaulted Utah Beach on D-Day and participated in the liberation of Paris.  In December 1944 the division was in a desperate fight defending the approaches to Luxembourg City.

            Heavy fighting raged in and around Ettelbruck.  By December 22 Patton's 80thInfantry Division, in particular the 318th Regiment was trying to regain the town, a key crossroads astride a major German supply road to Bastogne.  It took them several days; they succeeded on Christmas Day, liberating a town in ruins.  It would be another of artillery and mortar range of the town.  Interestingly, during the action elements of the 318th were pulled out of line and shuttled to the vicinity of Bastogne to assist the US Armored Division in their breakthrough of the German encirclement.  The 4th Armored' s division commander had specially requested these reliable, battle-tested infantry soldiers for the breakthrough.

            Among the 318th soldiers so redeployed was Ed Bredbenner.  He had fought for two days from houses no more than a few doors away from where my parents still live today.  He told me how on several occasions he hitched a ride on Col. Abrams tanks.  If the name sounds familiar, Creighton Abrams is the man after whom the US Army' s current main battle tank is named.  Ed Bredbenner is less famous but, he is an honorary citizen of Ettelbruck.  It was a special privilege to attend the Bulge 50th Anniversary commemorations in his company this past December.

            Interesting coincidences are fascinating and often moving.  I taught a course at Auguatana this past January Interim semester entitled "Great Battles of World War Two:  D-Day through the Bulge by Danny Parker.  Andy Garvey, now retired former post-master at Augustana, a veteran shot and severely wounded in the Bulge, had bought the book on display in the bookstore.  Andy called me up one evening, he had identified himself in one of the photos.*  I invited him to class .  He gave the background on each of the soldiers in the jeep depicted in the photo.  The kids thought this was just so "cool."

            You can understand that I was not about to miss the 50th Anniversary celebrations of the Battle of the Bulge. (As an aside, I was sad to see that the President of the United States could not find a few hours recently to commemorate the 50Th Anniversary of VE Day with America' s Western Allies in London on his way to Moscow.) At 5:30a.m. this past December 16, 50 years to the minute of the German assault, all across Luxembourg, the commemorations started with vigils in each of the company and platoon positions held by American troops along a 40 mile front, along the Luxembourg-German border which had erupted on December 16, 1944.  This past December, for me the day ended in Belgium, at Bastogne, at the main Bulge commemorative ceremony in the company of Ed Bredbenner. At a meal hosted by the Belgian Government, I sat at a table with Ed.  Next t him was one of the few airborne veterans who had insisted on making the jump into Normandy 50 years after they jumped into the night over Normandy.  To my left, by sheer coincidence, sat Mr. Garfield Brown, an Oglala Lakota Sioux from Pine Ridge, South Dakota.  He had been a code-talker with the US 1st Infantry Division, the "Big Red One," in the Battle of the Bulge and the Belgian Government had invited him and several fellow native American code-talkers to the commemorations.

            As the taps faded over the fields surrounding Bastogne, and on many other occasions that week, the words of a famous American citizen-soldier from a different era, the American Civil War, kept coming to mind over and over again.  His words transcend the time and place of the battle he had fought in so bravely and decisively--Gettysburg.  The words are those of Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, commander of 20th Marine, famous for a remarkable and decisive stand at Little Round Top.  They echo what many of those present at the 50th anniversary celebrations must have felt.

"In great deeds something abides.  On great fields something
stays.  Forms change and pass; bodies disappear; but spirits
linger, to consecrate the ground for the vision-place of souls.
And reverent men and women from afar, and generations that
Know us not and that we know not of, heart-drawn to see where 
and by whom great things were suffered and done for
Them, shall come to the deathless field, to ponder and dream;
And lo!  The shadow of a mighty presence shall wrap them in
Its bosom, and the power of the vision pass into their souls.

Besides great personal bravery, (Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor), this man also understood the importance and meaning of reconciliation.  At Appomatox, when chosen by General Ulysses S. Grant to accept the colors of the surrendering Confederate Troops, in a remarkable gesture of respect, he ordered his troops to salute the fallen foe and accept them once again as fellow Americans.  Nations served by such people are blessed.

            Reconciliation has also been visible in Europe.  The war against Nazism and soon thereafter our decades-long stand against communism, were ultimately not struggles against particular people, whether German or Russian, but against tyranny and intolerance, against the perverted ideologies and valve systems which had been imposed on them by ruthless and evil men.  We would be wise to remember that no people us by nature completely immune to such ideas and temptations.

            At Bastonge that blustery December day, other, far more famous words than Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain' s , also timeless, also associated with Gettysburg, came to mind as well.  They were those of President Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address.  At Bastonge, it seemed to me, we were meeting "on a great battlefield" to rededicate that "field as a final resting place for those {Americans} who {there} gave their lives" that other nations "might live. "It was "altogether fitting and proper" to "do this."  But the ground had been "hallowed" and "consecrated" far beyond our "power to add and detract" by the "brave men, living and dead, who ever struggled" there.  We could only rededicate ourselves to the ever "unfinished work" which those who fought there so "nobly advanced.  The "great task" for which so many had given "the last full measure of devotion" still remains before us, unfinished 132 years after Gettysburg, 51 years after the Bulge.  In fact, I submit to you, it is the nature of democracy that the "great task" will forever remain before us, unfinished.  Democracy is never achieved once and for all.

            As an American citizen today, I want to end by reminding all of us to recall that "unfinished work" of democracy, of "government of the people, by the people, and for the people."  I am concerned that in this nation of ours perverted, paranoid, and intolerant ideologies and value systems, whether of the political left or the right, each claming their own version of absolute rights and entitlements, ironically invoking our constitution from diametrically opposed ends of the political spectrum, can tear at the fabric of our society.  No free nation can maintain the rights of all of its citizens or even itself as a nation for long unless those who claim such rights, whatever may be their purpose, are willing to shoulder the burden of social responsibility  to the larger community  which surrounds them .  The reckless assertion of absolute rights, whether, for example, in the name of unfettered artistic expression or in the name of bearing arms, without thought to responsibility and consequences, if done by large enough numbers of people, will destroy the very society which protects these rights.

            As a citizen of this great country, I wish to thank those who are about to take the "oath of enlistment."  The nation you serve and the government into whose military service you are about to enter, remain, despite their flaws, among the most decent on earth.  Fulfill your duty honorably, with dignity and devotion, serve your country with pride but without arrogance.  And do so in the assurance that, despite its detractors on the left or the right, despite extremists of all kind in our midst, most of us remain confident that this government serves our nation, a nation whose civic-minded citizens are willing to make sure by their collective work that many of that nation' s " finest hours" are yet to come.

Delivered by Joseph M. Dondelinger, Sioux Falls, SD, Saturday, May 20, 1995

Howard R. Pense

Howard served in the U.S. Army as a Technician Fifth Grade with the 27th Infantry. He was inducted on September 19, 1942 and was a resident of Bonesteel, SD.  He was a Rifle Expert and received training as a radio operational mechanic.  He received the Good Conduct Medal, and the Phillipine Liberation Ribbon with one bronze star. 

Submitted 5/18/01

Paul H. Eggers

Paul enlisted in the regualr army at Watertown, S.D. in May 1941.  He received a commission in the army finance department as a 2nd Lieutenant in October, 1942.  He left the service as a Captain in the Amry Finance Department in February, 1948.

Submitted by himself, 5/18/01

   

James A. White         

James was killed in World War II.

Submitted on 5/21/01

Ernest Overski

Ernest served in World War II.  At Neustadt, Germany, he was awarded the Silver Star on the Siegfreid Line and the Bronze Star for his march through the Black Forest.

Submitted by his wife, 5/21/01

Marwood Kunde

Marwood served 37 months in World War II of which twenty-one months were overseas.  He also participated  in the D-Day landing.

Submitted by his wife, 5/21/01

Victor Joseph Burgess

Victor was killed in World War II on May 25, 1945.  Joe met his death on the island of Cebu, Phillipine Islands, near the village of Tabonek.  He was a member of Company B, 182nd Infantry.  He was a fisherman of some repute and an outstanding lover of the outdoors.  He was honored in the 1946 Spearfish High School Yearbook.

Submitted 5/21/01

No freedom Isn't Free

Author Unknown
 
I watched the flag pass by one day.
It fluttered in the breeze
A young Marine saluted it,
And then he stood at ease.
I looked at him in uniform
So young, so tall, so proud,
With hair cut square and eyes alert
He'd stand out in any crowd
I thought how many men like him
Had fallen through the years.
How many mother's tears?
How many pilot's planes shot down?
How many died at sea?
How many foxholes were soldiers graves?
No, Freedom isn't free.
I heard the sound of taps one night,
When everything was still
I listened to the bugler play
And felt a sudden chill
I wonder just how many times
That taps had meant "Amen"
When a flag had draped a coffin
Of brother or a friend
I thought of all the Children,
Of mothers and the wives,
Of fathers, sons and husbands
With interrupted lives.
I thought about a graveyard
At the bottom of the sea
Of unmarked graves in Arlington
No, Freedom isn't free.

Submitted 5/22/01

 

James G. Peacock

Greetings from Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Home of a beautiful memorial to the U.S.S. South Dakota, BB57 and the men that served and died aboard her during WWII.

James and Mary Peacock are still alive and well as we approach the 60th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Their children put this account together.

The USS Oklahoma, BB 37, shielded USS Maryland, BB46, from torpedo attack on one side and Ford Island on the other. Two aerial bombs did inflict damage on the “Mary Maru”.

U.S.S. MARYLAND ORDERS FOR THE DAY: December 7, 1941 06:00 Reveille. Send 6 hands from anchor watch in stores boat equipped with cargo net to pick up ice at stores landing. 06:30 Scrub down weather decks. 07:30 Breakfast for crew. 08:00 Turn to- Duty Division rig church in 1st Division part of ship. 08:30 Send Catholic Church Party to U.S.S. OKLAHOMA.

As you can see it was going to be a “normal” Sunday if it were not for the Japanese Imperial Navy implementing their surprise attack. As the first wave of Japanese planes descended on a sleepy Pearl Harbor, dad was visiting with friends on the Maryland. He was dressed and ready to cross over to the Oklahoma where a Catholic Chaplain would be saying Mass. (Timing is everything, fortunately services did not start sooner or the attack come later, there may have been even more casualties and death suffered aboard the OK.)

When bombs at the air fields started going off and the first wave of torpedo bombers swept in on battleship row, most of the men were still in a state of disbelief, they were really under attack by “the Japs”. General quarters rang out and the men broke up to head for their various duty stations. Dad had studied and worked hard to get out of the deck division and into an engineering group. Upon arriving at battle station below decks, the refrigeration chief asked for men to go topside and turn on the water-cooling pumps for anti-aircraft gunnery. Dad was among the many responding to the call, and soon found himself running to various locations and flipping circuits on to activate said pumps. Zero fighters poured machine gun fire on Ford Island and BB row; with the Maryland returning fire on the attackers, dad and a few crewmates hunkered under cover of a twin 16” turret. When some of the smoke cleared and strafing subsided, dad crawled out to where he should have seen the Oklahoma but announced to the others in the area, “she’s gone, the Oklahoma is no longer next to us”. Upon further inspection they could make out the hull of the neighboring battleship (the 7 to 9 torpedoes that the Oklahoma stopped had caused her to tumble, vs. just roll over in place, some 100 feet away from original mooring next to the Maryland).

As the men continued their duties topside they were knocked down as the Maryland received two bombs dropped by Japanese Captain Mitsuo Fuchida, commander of the first wave. Fuchida had been watching the damage inflicted by his strike force, seeing the Arizona and Tennessee on fire he changed his target to the Maryland. Two of his four bombs found their mark. The first of many hits the Maryland would endure throughout the remainder of the Pacific war.

Dad recalls the rescue teams working to aid the survivors floundering in the oil soaked, flaming waters surrounding the Oklahoma. Wounded men screaming, bodies burned and broken, others quietly stare in a state of shock.

By the end of December, 1941 the Maryland was patched up enough to limp to Bremerton, Washington for permanent repairs (the patches put on in Pearl Harbor loosened up in the rough seas encountered in the trip to Puget Sound Naval base). See accounts by others on the National Geographic website.

It was a couple of weeks after the December 7 attack before word got to families as to whereabouts and condition of those stationed in Hawaiian territory. James G. Peacock and Mary Minahan were engaged to be married; plans for location and timing were altered by end of peacetime conditions. Our to be mother and father were married in a simple church ceremony, January 31, 1942.

Dad would remain on the Maryland through the end of 1943. Backup force for the carrier battle at Midway…”Miracle at Midway”, June 1942. Then on to south Pacific; Fiji islands, New Hebrides, Espiritu Santo etc. ready to help keep the Australian/New Guinea life line open should the great naval and land battles at Guadalcanal (“say a prayer for your pal on Guadalcanal”), have ended in the loss of strategic Henderson Field. The Gilbert Islands campaign in November 1943 was a proud moment for the flagship USS Maryland, retaliation at last. “Bloody Tarawa”, the 2nd Marine Division would, as dad said, “catch hell” in the deadly combat assaults ashore.

After returning to Pearl Harbor, dad took a transfer to new construction. He would be assigned to the USS Missouri, BB63, as part of the nucleus crew. Laying in parts, testing equipment as civilian work crews finished fitting out the new ship etc. The Missouri would then see action at Iwo Jima and sustain two hits by kamikaze planes at Okinawa. Of course being present on the Missouri when on the peace treaty was signed in Tokyo Bay, September 1945.

o The alpha and omega; unofficial records account for less than 60 sailors being present at both the Pearl Harbor attack and present in Tokyo Bay for formal surrender proceedings.

o State of South Dakota allows issuing Pearl Harbor Survivor license plates, by random order; Pearl Harbor Survivor #46 was mailed to dad (BB46 USS Maryland’s commissioning number).

o The USS Missouri as a floating memorial is now tied to pier F5 in Pearl Harbor, the same pier the Maryland was tied to at the time of the attack! (The Missouri is “bowing” to the Arizona memorial.)

A sincere thanks goes out to all whom have served their country, as service men and women in every war or conflict. As December 7, 1941 has taught us, we must be prepared to deal with the “dark side” of humanity. There will always be someone aspiring to dominate another person or group by whatever means necessary.

Taps: John Patrick Minahan, one of mom’s brothers, was killed 24, October 1944. He and 250 plus crewmates aboard the U.S.S. Birmingham perished when the carrier Princeton exploded. Battle for Leyte Gulf, Philippine Island liberation.

Submitted 5/22/01

Woodrow E. Anderson

Woodrow entered the U.S. Army with the 109th Engineers National Guard unit from Huron, South Dakota in 1941 or 1942.  He served ETOCD in North Africa and Italy.

Submitted 5/23/01

Robert Fluegel

Robert was a marine who served in World War II.

Submitted 5/23/01

 

Albert Elton Haskell

Albert was a Sergeant in DSC, BSM with DLC. He received the combat infantry badge. 

Submitted 5/23/01

 JOSEPH JACOB  FOSS

Rank and organization: Captain, U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, Marine Fighting Squadron 121, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing. Place and date: Over Guadalcanal, 9 October to 19 November 1942, 15 and 23 January 1943. Entered service at: South Dakota. Born: 17 April 1 915, Sioux Falls, S. Dak. Congressional Medal of Honor Citation: For outstanding heroism and courage above and beyond the call of duty as executive officer of Marine Fighting Squadron 121, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, at Guadalcanal. Engaging in almost daily combat with the enemy from 9 October to 19 November 1942, Capt. Foss personally shot down 23 Japanese planes and damaged others so severely that their destruction was extremely probable. In addition, during this period, he successfully led a large number of escort missions, skillfully covering reconnaissance, bombing, and photographic planes as well as surface craft. On 15 January 1943, he added 3 more enemy planes to his already brilliant successes for a record of aerial combat achievement unsurpassed in this war. Boldly searching out an approaching enemy force on 25 January, Capt. Foss led his 8 F-4F Marine planes and 4 Army P-38's into action and, undaunted by tremendously superior numbers, intercepted and struck with such force that 4 Japanese fighters were shot down and the bombers were turned back without releasing a single bomb. His remarkable flying skill, inspiring leadership, and indomitable fighting spirit were distinctive factors in the defense of strategic American positions on Guadalcanal.

Submitted 5/24/01

Lee Stanley Dexter

Lee was from Elkton, SD.  He served in the infantry during World War II.  He was wounded in action and received the purple heart.

Submitted by his sister, 5/29/01

Irving Tank

Irving was killed in action during World War II.

Submitted by the Beresford Business & Industrial Development Corporation, 5/29/01

Esquipula Gallegos, Jr.

Esquipula is from Edgemont, SD.  He served in World War II and was a Prison of War for a time.

Submitted  5/31/01

C.B. Wiles, J.D. Wiles, and Janie Wilchen Wiles

C.B. served as a dentist in the U.S. Army Occupation Force in Japan.  His brother, J.D. Wiles, also served as a dentist on Siapan.  S.D.’ s wife, Janie Wilchen Wiles, waded ashore on the beach of Normandy France, as a field hospital nurse.

Submitted 5/31/01

Mobridge’s Heroes

Bob Brown served in World War II and 1999 he passed on only to have Mobridge lose one more of our country’s “Great American Heroes.”  As a first grader, I barely recall December 7, 1941.  Even before that though, our family talked about neighbor, young Phil Erdahl,  “going off” to join the Royal Canadian Air Force.  Just down our street, Martin Biffert volunteered for the U.S. Navy.  Big Jim Byington, Bob Sherwood, and my cousins, Perry and Orn Hier were off to the U.S. Army.  There were even boys who hadn’t yet finished high school, like my classmate,  Kay Batson’s brother who volunteered for the Navy.  Perry Hier was only 18 or 19, as an MP.  His younger brother, Orn, was run over by a tank, but managed to participate in the Invasion of Normandy anyway.  As a grade schooler, sometimes I thought about these heroes as we watched FDR on “News of the Day” at the Mascot Theatre.  Then, we’d munch on our five cent bags of popcorn and hope for a good comedy, before we cheered for Hop-Along-Cassidy.

Submitted by Tom and Danielle Aman, 5/31/01

Delton R. Blake

Delton served in the U.S. Navy in Parrot Islands.

Submitted by his wife, 5/31/01

James H. Adams

James served in the U.S. Army under Patton.  He received the Purple Heart and Bronze Star.  He was born in Ethan, SD.

Submitted 5/31/01

“Let Freedom Ring” by Kyle Schock,

6th Grade, 2nd Place Americanism Poem Winner

Long ago in fourteen ninety-two
Columbus sailed the ocean blue,
Giving us a brand new land,
Not without God’s helping hand.

Our forefathers set forth a nation
To give us lots of celebration,
Its called the Fourth of July,
When we see fireworks in the Sky!

They fought such a fierce and gruesome war,
If I could have seen those bullets soar!
They fought for all our freedom,
And it wasn’t just for fun!

Submitted by his grandfather, 5/30/01