This summer I’ve interviewed dozens of WWII vets. My goal is to write their stories and publish them in volumes according to where each lives (county).
What a privilege to talk with each of them! They were all humble and still harbor a deep love for this country.
Hopefully, future generations will read these stories and not only know about what happened during WWII from personal recollections, but appreciate what has been done for them in keeping our country free.
This story was published in Ossian Sun Riser. Please leave a note if you know someone who served in WWII, the branch and any thoughts about their service.
“I saw jeeps that had been blown up,” said Ossian High School graduate Eugene Dettmer. “If I had been on the first wave, I would have been killed.”
Dettmer referred to the landing of American soldiers on the three-mile stretch of French land called Utah Beach. This section was the westernmost flank of the Allied landing during the D-Day invasion of Normandy beginning June 6, 1944.
Dettmer was a corporal attached to the third Army with the 468th AAA Battery C. After landing in England and moving through Scotland to France, Dettmer and 20,000 soldiers and 1,700 motorized vehicles landed on Utah Beach on June 18, 1944.
Heading into war was heady stuff for Dettmer who was born in Fort Wayne in 1925, but grew up in Tocsin. The summer following his junior year of Ossian High School in 1943, Dettmer, 18, was drafted into the Army. During the next several months, while his fellow classmates began their senior year of high school, Dettmer finished basic training at Fort Eustis, Virginia and additional training at Fort Miles Standish in Taunton, Massachusetts. In March 1944 Dettmer, along with thousands of other young American soldiers, disembarked by ship for England.
After landing, they moved through Scotland to France, then prepared for battle, little knowing they would be involved in one of the deadliest battles of WWII.
Although Dettmer saw much violence and destruction as he and the other troops took over their section on Utah Beach, there were thankfully fewer casualties of Allied forces (less than 300 men) compared to the landing on Omaha Beach which killed 5,000. “Our timing was off by a day due to weather,” said Dettmer. “That may have confused the Germans, but they still put up a good fight.”
Dettmer drove an anti-aircraft vehicle called a half-track 468. This armored vehicle was used heavily by the U.S. troops during the war.
He also drove jeeps for officers. “Dad had taught me basic auto mechanics so that prompted my assignment,” he said.
After Normandy, Dettmer moved with his platoon through Luxembourg into Germany. Their destination was Berchtesgaden in southern Germany.
The Nazis had purchased this area in the 1920s as its headquarters. Nicknamed ‘Eagles Nest’ for its lofty perch, Hitler’s mountain residence was located there. It was a prime target for Allied forces.
Allied forces secured the region in April 1945. Subsequently, American soldiers used the place as a resort. “We each had our own room to sleep in,” said Dettmer.
Dettmer and other soldiers stayed at Berchtesgaden until the war ended in September 1945 and several months beyond, maintaining peace. No fraternizing was allowed by soldiers with the German people in nearby villages. “We had little to do, but we were still not allowed to interact with them,” he said.
Finally, after serving 21 months overseas, Dettmer left Europe to return to the US. He arrived in Tocsin at his family’s home on December 29, 1945, too late for Christmas but still incredibly joyous. He credits religious faith for his safety. “God placed me with an anti-aircraft regiment to protect me,” he said.
Dettmer received five battle stars for his involvement with Utah Beach. He also received the standard $300 which the government issued to every GI at discharge. Although the GI bill was available, Dettmer did not use it. “Most GIs never went to college,” he said. (GI stands for ‘overnment issue’
Dettmer had plans for the future. “I wanted to make the best life I could,” he said. After marrying his childhood sweetheart, Jacqueline, in 1946, Dettmer worked for Stucky’s appliances in Fort Wayne for 43 years. The couple became the parents of three children and later 16 grandchildren.
Today, the Dettmers attend Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Fort Wayne where they live. Over the years Eugene Dettmer has volunteered with the Allen County Jail Chaplaincy and with an Optimist Club.
In the 1970 Dettmer completed his high school education at Central High School (now Anthis Career Center). Although Dettmer didn’t receive a diploma from Ossian High School, he was considered by members of the class to be a 1944 graduate and continues to participate in class reunions. “I enjoyed living in the Ossian area and still have many good friends there,” he said.
Dettmer, 87, credits many people from Ossian for serving as positive influences on his life. “Mr. Edwin Pribble, principal at Ossian High School, wrote letters to me during the war,” he said. “Other teachers, including Miss Ehle who taught typing and Max Lamar, our Biology teacher, made big impressions on me and I respected them.”