As we all know, war is an unscripted exercise in mayhem. During this kind of unpredictable event, all kinds of bizarre situations can arise. These situations can range from tragic to odd to humorous. Springfield’s veterans, like all veterans, have plenty of such stories to relate. I have taken all of the information I have obtained in the past and gleaned some of these stories and put them together in a narrative that the reader should hopefully find stimulating. The stories need not necessarily occur in combat, but are related to the war in some way.
Luckiest Man in the Navy!
JOE UKEN JR may have been the luckiest man in the United States Navy during WWII. He was transferred from two submarines that were shortly thereafter sunk with all aboard lost. He later was on the crew of the submarine Darter, the submarine that before running aground located the Japanese fleet, sank two Japanese ships and became one of the most important parts of maybe the most decisive naval battle in the Pacific War, the allied victory in the Battle of Leyte Gulf.
Do you remember what you were doing one week after your 19th birthday? Charles (Chuck) Dawes does! In a scene you won’t see in the movies, Chuck and 65 of his colleagues were surrendering to the German Army in a farmhouse in France in November of 1944, less than a month after entering WWII at Marseilles, France. After days of being subjected to artillery fire, Chuck and his unit and some medical personnel found a farmhouse to take refuge for the night. During the night Chuck and his colleagues were taken prisoner by the German Army. Were they the survivors of a frontal assault by the German Army on the farmhouse or were Chuck’s guards overwhelmed by the Germans. No, a polite German officer knocked on the farmhouse door, where the Americans were sleeping and asked them to surrender or he threatened to grenade the farmhouse. At that point Chuck and the rest of the group were lined up and marched to a German prison camp.
Springfield has plenty of veterans with military service worthy of a motion picture. In fact, Springfield has a veteran who was part of a small force in the Philippine Islands whose heroics were depicted in the motion picture “They Were Expendable” starring John Wayne. The individual was Grover DeLong, Springfield native and 1937 graduate of the Naval Academy. Grover got caught right in the middle of the darkest period for the United States in the Pacific war. After Pearl Harbor, the Japanese turned their attention to the Philippine Islands where they systematically pushed the American contingent down the Bataan Peninsula to the island of Corregidor. During the first six months, Grover DeLong skippered his Torpedo boat as it harassed the advancing Japanese. The exploits of the DeLong and the Motor Torpedo Squadron Three would be depicted in the movie “They were Expendable.” DeLong was eventually captured by the Japanese and executed.
Luckiest Man in the Army!
FRED C HORNSTRA may have been the luckiest man in the United States Army during WWII. As Fred and the 11th Calvary put the finishing touches on the German Wehrmacht in Germany near the end of the war, Fred had the misfortune of having one of the German's famous 88 artillery rounds land near him, which is not a good thing. However, the round was a dud, still blowing Fred off his feet, causing injuries that Fred, under the circumstances, was willing to accept. Fred acknowledged that he may owe his life to an anonymous Jew who was busy sabotaging the ammunition the German’s were forcing him to make in the work camps.
When reading about WWII, it is easy to forget what the veteran’s loved ones were enduring back on the home front, constantly aware of their family member in harm’s way in a far off land.. Gertrude Namminga Ludens, wife of Clarence Ludens, had a penchant for recording in writing what she was experiencing and thinking while her husband was away. Following is an excerpt from her writings that will give one and idea of what a family member was experiencing and thinking while her loved one was away at war.
“After coming home (from seeing her husband off to the Pacific) more and more 18 year olds were called up and sent to camps for training. Jake (brother), received his notice and left just shortly before Dad. I vividly remember the morning Jake left. My dad sat in his usual place by the window in his favorite chair. He was crying.
Shortly after Dad (Clarence) left for training in Texas, I was staying with my folks. One morning the telephone rang; word had just come that Allen Palsma had been killed on a ship in the Pacific. The ship had been torpedoed. It was the last week in May 1945. He was Jake’s age and we were stunned. Everyone grieved with the families when such news came but life just had to go on. After a period of time the casket arrived and the funeral service was held.
There were many others who served, some in very dangerous situations. I think of Lawrence (brother) fighting in the Battle of the Bulge as a forward observer for the artillery, Phil Odens, Bernard Kastein, Tom Ruppelt, Ode Odens, and John Palsma. There were many more and it seemed as though every family was touched. Another thing comes to mind so clearly; a memorial service for Jake Den Ouden, who was killed in Europe. Since he was buried over there, there was no casket, just a large picture of him placed on the communion table.
Life continued on and as Dad settled into the routine at camp he started writing letters and we were able to write him. After his furlough there were times he was not able to let us know where he was and he did not get our letters either. These were some of the hard times. At home we settled into a routine. It seemed to me life became a little easier because there were jobs and so more money. Crops were better and we got better prices for them and best of all there were no dust storms and no grasshoppers. Oh, we still needed ration cards for gas, tires, some food items such as sugar and coffee. Good meat was sometimes hard to come by. Oh yes, we did a lot of substituting and many cakes were made with corn syrup, though not always successfully. But by making adjustments we usually managed to get by.”
Gertrude Namminga Ludens
Movie in the Jungle!
Excerpt from letter dated June 24, 1944 from Lieutenant Jack Martin to his uncles in Springfield:
“I just got back from the show. It was “Song of Bernadette”. I wonder if that’s been to Spfld yet. If you folks haven’t seen it and it comes within driving distance – that must be on your must list. If you can visualize an outdoor theater with a broken down screen, and a sound system in which you could hear a word every now and then. Plus a battalion of soldiers sits in a hushed silence strains patiently for two and a half hours to hear what they could and when it was all over leaving without a word being said. That was “Song of Bernadette”.
We’re coming along O.K. working pretty hard as usual but that’s only to be expected. The war seems to be coming fine on all fronts. We don’t have any radios. But have to wait for the daily communiques which don’t arrive every day unfortunately.”
General Douglas MacArthur Wades Ashore!
On January 9, 1945, the flamboyant and publicity seeking General Douglas MacArthur waded ashore on the beaches of Lingayen Gulf in one of his two highly public demonstrations of the fulfillment of his pledge “I shall return” to the Philippine Islands after the Japanese had ignominiously driven him out of the Philippine Islands at the beginning of the war. In the landing assault force that day was Lt. Jack Martin with the 160th Infantry Regiment. Jack did not make the publicity photos that day but he did make it to the next six months of brutal combat on the Philippine Island of Luzon driving the Japanese out of the Philippine Islands and fulfilling General MacArthur’s pledge. Two days later, Bob Slade, with the 161st Infantry Regiment landed at the same spot. Both Martin and Slade’s regiments were scheduled to spearhead the invasion of Japan when the war ended.
Rich Man!! (Almost)
Bob Slade spent three months on Luzon Island in early 1945 as part of the liberation of the Philippine Islands. One of his unit’s assignments was to trek into the mountains to dig out the Japanese who were known not to surrender. While investigating a cave, Bob and another soldier came upon bags and bags of Japanese Yen, which was going to be used to pay the Japanese soldiers. Since the Japanese were losing the war, Bob figured the Yen was worthless, so he kept a few bills for souvenirs and burned the rest. When the war ended, Bob was deployed into Japan as part of the occupational force where he found that the currency they had found was legal tender.
After being part of the defeat of the German army in Europe, Lawrence Namminga Jr. pulled off an unimaginable feat by obtaining a jeep with five days leave and the proper clearances and driving 390 miles from Grafental, Germany to his ancestral home of Friesland in northern Holland. There, he was received as a heroic American soldier and was able to connect with many close relatives. It was an unexpected joyful reunion at the end of a great war. During his short stay, Lawrence, with his jeep, was able to aid his relatives in transporting relatives to the service for the family patriarch, killed by the Germans. The five days was a fitting end for Lawrence to a great war and an adventure that would live big with him for the rest of his life.
Anyone who has been in the military knows how important the “luck of the draw” is during their service. It appeared John Palsma had won the lottery and would spend the war in Corsica, South Dakota, 47 miles from Springfield. A closer look at his orders, however, revealed John wasn’t so lucky because it was the island of Corsica in the Mediterranean Sea, 5500 miles from Springfield, that he was headed for.
Former unsuccessful haberdashery business owner from Independence, Missouri, Harry Truman, should be retroactively named most valuable member of the 1965 Springfield High School football team. Coach Westling’s 1965 Springfield High school football backfield most likely owes its existence to President Harry Truman. Quarterback Dick Martin’s dad, JACK MARTIN, and left halfback Jerry Slade’s dad, BOB SLADE, and their regiments were both scheduled to spearhead the invasion of Japan. In addition fullback Larry Lang’s parents, LEROY and EVELYN LANG, were in a Japanese prison camp in the Philippine Islands and right halfback Bob Poelstra’s dad, BILL POELSTRA, was in the Philippine Islands preparing to provide some kind of a support role if the invasion of Japan had been necessary.