This is the second consecutive column devoted to veterans on Memorial Day. Wednesday’s column centered on the beginning of World War II in the early 1940s. Today we take a glance at the closing years of World War II, 1944-45. The excerpts are from The Missourian’s Yesterday’s Heroes series published in the 1980s that featured stories about our men and women in uniform in World War II. Space permits only a glance at the series.
Where to begin is the problem. Where to stop is a problem. So much happened in the last two years of WWII and so many men and women were serving. Those were the years when the military needs were so great that 18-year-olds were drafted and many enlisted. The casualties were increasing in numbers, especially after D-Day, June 6, 1944. Of interest is that before that date, in February 1944 the local headline read: “Air Raid Wardens Are Retired Here; No More Blackouts Planned.” In other words, the fear of an air raid was over. Stanley Wilke was the chief of the air raid wardens. In the same month, Chief Petty Officer Ralph Bickers was home on leave after being in combat for nearly 18 months. He served on a sub chaser in the waters around North Africa, Sicily and Italy.
Fast forward to D-Day. The Missourian reported: “The day of the big invasion of Europe came as a complete surprise to the people of Washington Tuesday morning, although they had been expecting it to happen any day for several weeks. The day was calmly observed with a quiet prayer in every heart for final victory and a lasting peace.” Radios were turned on in many homes to hear the news and church leaders began planning special services for the success of the invasion and “for the safety of our boys.”
The first casualty of the invasion of France from this area was reported but it wasn’t by enemy gunfire. Cpl. Harry J. Holdmeier was killed June 13, 1944, in France due to an accidental discharge of a firearm. Letters from veterans of D-Day began arriving at The Missourian. One was from Cpl. Lloyd Jaeger. Another letter was from Cpl. Eddie Helm, who landed in France on D-Day.
Three casualties were reported in one week, along with two other servicemen reported missing in action. Wounded were Sgt. Richard Lauchstaedt, Pfc. Albert Gist and Pfc. Gerhard Scheer, all in France. Missing in action were S/Sgt. Harry E. Owens and S/Sgt. Carl G. Danielson. Two Air Force officers. Lt. Pete Riegel and Lt. Ervin J. Aholt, received decorations for combat missions over Europe.
In the Pacific, Pfc. Eddie Maschmann, serving with the Marines, wrote home about the bloody invasion of Saipan. Lt. James K. Maupin was wounded in France and his medals included the Silver Star. T/5 Victor W. Drewel was killed in action in France. After D-Day reports were steady about men from this area who were casualties: Pfc. Harold Monzyk, Sgt. Louis Hanneken, Eddie Riegel and Howard Mueller, all wounded, and Orville Jasper was reported missing. Pfc. Omer Maune landed in France before D-Day with glider troops. Week after week until the end of the war, reports came about combat deaths, those who were wounded, missing in action and captured.
These are but a few of the many stories and reminders about Yesterday’s Heroes that we can reflect on this Memorial Day. We must not forget the veterans of the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the other wars and battles fought by our military before the Iraqi and Afghanistan wars. Memorial Day is a day for remembering all veterans of this country’s wars. They paid a price, even if it was not the ultimate one, and their families also made sacrifices and felt the impact of wars.
Harry Truman once said that anybody who wants war is insane, but we always must be prepared. There never will be a war that will end all wars unless all of the earth is destroyed. For our veterans, it is not enough to say, “Thanks for your service.” It’s inadequate but it’s the best most of us can do.