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. We would like to post these stories on our website. 

Allen Hellesund

On February 26, 1942 Allen Hellesund was drafted into the Army at 21 years of age. He underwent five weeks of basic training at Camp Waltors, TX before being moved to Camp Edwards, MA. While at Camp Edwards, he served as a sergeant in the 591st Engineer Boat Regiment.

Hellesund was shipped overseas on August 3 and landed in Scotland with the invasion boats.  The group moved up the English Channel until they invaded North Africa on November 8, 1942. ³The date stands out in my mind because it was also my birthday,² said Allen. After the invasion on Oran, Africa, the regiment worked as stevedors, unloading ships.  The regiment worked its way east of North Africa, from Algeria to Tunis.  At Tunis, Hellesund got on a destroyer and headed to Naples, Italy, where he received training to become a combat engineer. He had contracted malaria while in Africa and suffered from it in Naples.

Mt. Vesuvias, which was about eight miles out of Naples, was erupting at the same time we were there,² he recalled.  ³It was quite a sight. From Italy, Hellesund was sent to Marsais, France, where he spent the winter of 1944.  His regiment, the B-company 27 55th Engineer Combat Battalion, worked with trucks and bulldozers and built bridges. They also built a hospital while they waited for the Japanese to surrender. On March 26, 1945, the battalion crossed the Rheine River at Mannheim, Germany. They moved quickly through Germany on account of the retreating German troops.

While in Germany, one of Hellesund¹s primary jobs was detecting land mines. It was nerve-wracking work. Some of the mines contained so little metal that they could not be detected until they were accidentally triggered by someone, he said. Hellesund was near Munich, Germany when the war ended in May of 1945.  Three days after the end of the war, he left Germany and eventually reached Miami after stopping at Marsais, France; Casablanca, Morocco; Dakrr, Africa; Brazil and Puerto Rico.

On September 14, 1945 he was officially discharged from the United States Army after serving three years and seven months without a furlough.

Submitted by the Timber Lake Topic, 11/10/2000

 

Wilfred Kadlec

Served in the US Navy as a Petty Officer 2nd in the Pacific/South Pacific Theatre from 1944-1946.  He was assigned to the destroy, USS Radford DD446.  On December 24th, 1944 their ship was damaged and the crew was ordered to abandon ship.  Out of 178 men, only 13 survived.  He later was assigned to the USS Klondike AD22.  Discharged in April of 1946, my grandfather left with many medals and honors, but after 56 years, he was recently awarded with the Defense of the Phillipines.  Further investigation is pending for the awarding of the Purple Heart.  He resides with his wife, Orlean on their farm and ranch near Loyalton, SD

Submitted by his granddaughter, 12/14/00

 

Wilfred Kracke

Wilfred was a veteran of World War II.  He was born May 25, 1927 and died May 28, 2000.

Submitted by this family, 12/1/00

 

Gillard S. Sween

Gillard served in the navy from November 1, 1943 to January 24, 1946.  He passed away March 23, 1999.

Submitted by his wife, 12/05/00

 

Wesley E. Hejl

Wesley served in the front line during World War II earning a Purple Heart.

Submitted by his daughter, 12/13/00

 

Walter J. (Bud) Wieser

I am a World War II veteran, having honorably served with the U. S. Navy from 1942 to 1945.  In 1941, I was working construction at Ellsworth Air Base, SD until the United States declared war on Germany and Japan.  I enlisted and underwent basic training at the U. S. Naval Training Center, Great Lakes, IL.  Upon graduation, I was assigned to LST 7 (Landing Ship Tank) and had seen action in the four major European allied invasions of Africa, Sicily, Italy and France.

I was honorably discharged at the end of the war  (1945) with an enlisted rating of Signalman First Class (E-6).  I was excellerated in rating to Signalman First Class (2 years into service) due to my maturity, professional conduct and courage under fire that was noted throughout my tenure aboard LST 7.  Having earned three battle campaign ribbons in addition to numerous other medals and devices, I am one to say that I was one of the lucky few that had had made it back home after the war in good health.  Those service members that were either killed in action or wounded in action are the “true” hero’s of this war.

We are fortunate today that there are memorials being constructed (Nationally and Local) to honor all those that had served (on the Front and Homefront) in World War II.  Although I was never one to be modest, I feel it is very important that this war is never forgot and the memorial will ensure us of that.  Additionally, the supreme personal sacrifices of all that had served should continue to be a mainstay of educational historical rhetoric to the generations of young to come, with emphasis on;  “how fortunate we are to be living in a democracy today”.  My memories of this war remain with me to this day.  I remember the good and bad.  The friends I made and the ones lost.  My travels and journeys bring me to the ocean once again for I am remembering that cloudy, rainy day on June 6th, 1941 (D-Day, Normandy Invasion).

U.S. infantrymen wade, gaze from their landing craft toward Omaha Beach.  An earlier assault wave lies broken on the shore

The Normandy Beachhead, June 1944

      

Artillery equipment is loaded aboard

The Normandy Beachhead, June 1944 Artillery equipment is loaded aboard
Photo of soldiers wading to shore from a landing craft        Photo of soldiers heading to shore in a landing craft


LSTs at Brixham,England, 1944

Allied losses had been high: 2,500 men at OMAHA Beach (Omaha and Utah Beaches were assigned to the Americans) alone, another 2,500 among the American airborne divisions, almost 1,100 for the Canadians, and some 3,000 for the British—more than 9,000 men in all, one-third of whom were killed in action.  As for the Americans, the landing on OMAHA Beach had been a near-disaster averted only by the courage of unsung sailors and soldiers. When air attacks and naval gunfire had failed to silence German guns and the momentum of the assault had begun to lag, those heroes had pushed their frail landing craft to shore despite the traps and obstacles blocking their way. Rallying to the directions of their commanders, they had then climbed the bluffs overlooking the beach and advanced inland, often at the cost of their own lives. In the same way, although Maj. Gen. J. Lawton Collins' VII Corps captured the port of Cherbourg on 29 June, the American advance bogged down in the hedgerows. Bradley's First Army absorbed forty thousand casualties while slowly advancing twenty miles to St. Lo.

Our mission, a daring seaborne assault on Point du Hoc, France (D-Day) by U.S. Army Rangers, who scaled its cliffs with the aim of silencing artillery pieces placed on its heights (Pointe du Hoc was an ominous piece of land jutting into the English Channel 4 miles (7 kilometers) west of Omaha Beach and 7 miles east of Utah Beach). It provided an elevated vantage point from which huge German guns with a range of 15 miles could deliver fire upon both of the American beaches. Allied intelligence and photo reconnaissance had identified five 155-millimeter guns emplaced in reinforced-concrete casemates on the Pointe, and Allied commanders had determined that the neutralization of these guns was the key to the fate of the Omaha and Utah landings. The area of the Pointe was defended by elements of the German 352nd Infantry Division.

Cliffs of Pointe du Hoc, rising 100 feet (30 meters) above the English Channel, as pictured from a photo reconnaissance airplane before D-Day
Cliffs of Pointe du Hoc, rising 100 feet (30 meters) above the English Channel, as 
pictured from a photo reconnaissance airplane before D-Day

The task of neutralizing the guns, and of cutting the road running behind the Pointe from Saint-Pierre-du-Mont to Grandcamp, fell to the 2nd and 5th Ranger Battalions. Companies D, E, and F landed at the Pointe at 0710 hours, 40 minutes later than their planned landing time. They were the victims of heavy seas and winds, one of their landing craft having sunk on the way in. Once landed, however, the rangers engaged the Germans on top of the cliffs in a heavy firefight, and within minutes the first man was up. In small groups the rangers fought their way to the casemates, only to find them empty of the big guns. They moved forward and cut the road behind the Pointe, and then a two-man patrol went down a narrow road leading south and discovered the guns some 550 yards (500 meters) from the casements. The guns were zeroed in on Utah Beach, and a German force, totaling some 100 men, was assembled a short distance away. Using thermite grenades, the two rangers melted and destroyed the guns' elevating and traversing mechanisms, rendering the pieces immovable. They then returned to their positions.

The Germans had removed their big guns from the concrete casemates to escape destruction by bombardment--as is shown in this photograph, taken after D-Day
The Germans had removed their big guns from the concrete casemates to escape 
destruction by bombardment--as is shown in this photograph, taken after D-Day

German prisoners are led past the rangers' command post, set up in the wreckage of an underground shelter. This photograph was taken on D plus 2
German prisoners are led past the rangers' command post, set up in the 
wreckage of an underground shelter. This photograph was taken on D plus 2

Although early reports characterized the attack on the Pointe as a wasted effort because the German guns were not there, the attack was in fact highly successful. By 0900 hours the rangers on the Pointe had cut the road behind the Pointe and had put the guns out of action. They were thus the first American unit to accomplish its mission on D-Day--at a cost of half of their fighting force. By the end of the day they were holding onto a small pocket on the heights of the Pointe, and the Germans were counterattacking. The rangers held out for two days until help arrived.

Landing Ship, Tank,

Landing Ship, Tank,

abbreviation LST, naval ship specially designed to transport and deploy troops, vehicles, and supplies onto foreign shores for the conduct of offensive military operations. LSTs were designed during World War II to disembark military forces without the use of dock facilities or the various cranes and lifts necessary to unload merchant ships. They gave the Allies the ability to conduct amphibious invasions at any location on a foreign shore that had a gradually sloped beach. This ability permitted the Allies to assault poorly defended sectors, thereby achieving operational surprise and in some cases even tactical surprise.  As depicted in the LST diagram above and outlined in the Encyclopedia Britantannica, Inc., the LST ranked with the aircraft carrier and submarine as being one of the most significant ships of the war.  I remember when the battleship was the leader in ship recognition.

The Normandy invasion consisted of thousands of ships and men and I assume that you (and readers of this) can imagine the confusion and turmoil on that cold, dreary day.  One of our methods of protecting the LST was to suspend balloons, or dirigibles (see Normandy Beachhead picture above), filled with helium above our ship.  The purpose was to stop (cable attached to the balloon) German airplanes from low-level bombing and strafing runs.  To my amazement and thanks, they (balloons) seemed to have worked in most cases.  The Germans had the Junkers Ju 87, we called them “Screaming Mimmi’s” because when they were in a vertical dive, there was a deafening high-pitched (scream) noise (caused by the tiny propellers mounted on the wingtips of the plane) that they produced.  On several occasions, these planes dived on our ship to drop their bombs.  Of the numerous attempts to bomb our ship, only once did a bomb hit our ship causing little damage and no loss of life. Most exploded precariously close, rocking the ship and spraying water into our faces.  We were lucky and thankful for our dirigible balloon, they seemed to keep the enemy at a distance which made it much more difficult for them to drop their bombs.
 
The Junkers Ju 87 served as a two-seat dive bomber

The Junkers Ju 87 served as a two-seat dive bomber and close support aircraft for Germany between 1937-45. This famous plane is better known as Stuka, an abbreviated name of Sturzkamfflugzeug, the German word for a dive-bomber. The U.S. Navy was the first to develop the technique of aiming bombs by diving steeply toward the target and aiming the whole aircraft like what a fighter pilot does to bring his guns to bear

   There were also the torpedos that the German submarines fired at us.  Luckily for us, the LST sat so low in the water that all the torpedo’s fired at the ship either went under, to the front or back of it.

   Although the Normandy landings are probably the most heard of today (Saving Private Ryan, etc.), I compare this invasion to the one’s in Africa, Sicily and Italy.

   In 1942, we were in support of operations to defeat the axis forces in Africa.  LST 7 operated mostly in and around Oran (sp?), Tunisia, unloading and picking up supplies, vehicles and personnel.  Even today, I equate the dangerous situations associated with the Normandy landings to the operations in the Mediterranean Sea.  We didn’t have the allied air superiority as we did in France and it seemed that the Germans were throwing everything they had at us (Africa).  The air was so thick with enemy airplanes that I just knew we wouldn’t last very long there.  Remarkably we did though.

   After the allies had secured Africa, we were off to clear the enemy out of Sicily (1943).  I remember the many mine fields there.  On our way there, our ship ended up in the middle of one.  Our skipper (Commanding Officer) was good.  He backed us out of it the same way we went into it without hitting a mine, all under complete darkness and radio silence.  Events like this were common.  Leaving the shores of Africa (end of 1943), and growing a couple of inches in the process, we took part in the invasions of Salerno, Italy.  The British were landing on the southern tip of Italy and the Americans started the initial invasion at Salerno.  LST 7, while beached at low tide at Salerno, came under fire by German 88-millimeter artillery.  We had our bow of the ship open at that time and a shell traveled between the open doors, down the middle of the ship and exited out the rear of the ship (crew compartment).  The Germans were using armor-piercing shells so the damage was minimal.  All personnel were off the ship at that time, having been evacuated and dug into the sea wall waiting for the high tide to come in.  During our stay on the beaches of Salerno, a British Officer had been severely hit by shrapnel, completely losing one of his arms.  Having the officer’s blood type, I was tasked with giving him a blood transfusion by our medical personnel.  He was a jolly fellow I remember.  He could not understand why his butt was not shot off too (his tobacco tin located in his hip pocket stopped some shrapnel there)!  After showing me his chewed up tobacco tin and halfway through the transfusion, he slowing slipped away and died.  With 600 plus prisoners of war and the invasion forces moving north, we left the Mediterranean Sea and headed to Ireland.  Upon disembarking the prisoners there, we were sailing to England in preparation for the invasion of France.

Bronze Sculpture that was dedicated to the men of the LST's in Washington DC.

Bronze Sculpture that was dedicated to the men of the LST's in Washington DC. at the Navy Memorial on Pennsylvania Avenue, Thursday October 26, 2000.  The sculpture was designed by Mr. Leo C. Irrera.  It is called LARGE SLOW TARGET

After the Normandy landings (3 months), I was transferred to the East Coast and upon completion of my enlistment, moved back to my parents’ farm in New Underwood, SD.  Prior to the war, I was dating Martha “Joan” Morris (formerly of Rapid City, SD) and in 1948, we were married.  Two years ago we celebrated our 50th anniversary with our children and friends.  Together, Joan and I raised six children (3 girls, 3 boys – Becky, Rosann, Ben, Colette, Jim, and Tony), all who are alive and well today.

Joan taught 1-8 grades in Creston, SD until we married.  Moved to Biewfield, SD (1948) to own and operate the post office and grocery store there.  In 1953 I took a job position with the Homestake Mining Company in Lead, SD.  I retired with 30 years of employment in 1983 and we currently reside in Spearfish, SD.

Although this is just a fraction of some of my memories of the war, I hope the readers of this can appreciate what most of us endured during that time period.  I would write about the depression era of the 1930’s and the “dust bowl” period but I will put that burden on the exertions of the historians and educators.

We now live in a period of peace, without the fear of a major-armed conflict hanging over our heads.

Let us not forget the personal sacrifices of all that contributed to our present day living status.

Submitted by himself, 12/24/2000