Saying Good-bye to 2 Special Vets

It’s part of the nature of my project of interviewing some of our nation’s eldest military veterans so I should expect it. With many of them well into their 90s, I have to face the fact that they will all someday be deceased.

Still, it is hard to receive that kind of news.

Recently, I learned that two veterans from my latest book, They Did It for Honor: Stories of American WWII Veterans, had died.

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Lorraine Hook Davis (1920-2018) was a kind, quiet lady whom I interviewed two years ago in her apartment.

As a college graduate, she automatically became an officer upon joining the Coast Guard. That made her an extraordinary veteran to me because she was

  1. a) female- really rare to find these days,
  2. b) Coast Guard—really hard to find in Indiana!
  3. c) college graduate—it’s amazing she had the funds and determination to attend and graduate from college during the late years of the Great Depression.

She didn’t consider her military service during World War II as any great achievement. My word for her – and every other female who volunteered to serve during that ‘Man’s War’– is plucky.

I don’t know if I would have had the courage to sign up, leave home to live across the country for several years and live as a soldier.

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I was thrilled to visit with Lorraine at my book launch party in November 2017. Her appearance belies her age of 97! She signed dozens (maybe hundreds) of copies of books for people and looked happy while doing so.

She just reached her 98th birthday a few weeks ago, leaving a long legacy of military service to be proud of among her family.

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Oren Huffer (1924-2018)

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This was one of the quietest, sweetest men I’ve ever met. I thought he was reserved during our interview but as I got to know him I realized that was his way. He never hesitated to tell me about his work with gliders during World War II.

You don’t have to know anything about gliders to imagine how dangerous these things could be with no motor to guide them. Landings were especially hazardous. When I asked him about them, he admitted that they were but looked as though it didn’t faze him. He had never been injured which is quite a miracle, in my book.

After the war, he worked as an educator in the Fort Wayne area, which made him extra-special as I’m from a family of teachers.

Huffer

He also attended the book launch in Nov 2017 which made me very happy. The book launch was designed for the veterans so they were seated around a large room. The public was invited to come and meet them and thank them for their service. If they wanted to purchase a book, the veterans could sign them.

Among the 17 veterans present was Oren, who appears relaxed in this photo. I think he enjoyed the day and I hope he had good memories of it for weeks to come.

Oren and Lorraine were both very special people and I’m honored to have known them. I don’t always hear about the deaths of the men/women I’ve interviewed. Thanks to those of you who notify me with updates.

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Good news!

A few weeks ago Fort Wayne Community Schools (IN), purchased enough copies of my two World War II books to put one in each of their middle/high schools. As this is one of the largest school districts in the state, you can imagine my excitement.

I have worked in a middle school library so I know what kids like to read. I’ve also written 15 children’s books (here is my Amazon page listing).

My books could be understood by students in grades 6 and up. My goal is to promote patriotism among readers – what better age group to learn about patriotism than students!

If your group would like to order 10+ copies, please contact me for information about bulk rates.

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As always, thanks to every veteran reading this for your service. This wife/mother of Air Force airmen appreciates your dedication to our country.

 

 

 

Coast Guard Seaman Sailed on USS Wakefield

James ‘Jim’ Joseph Meyer was my first introduction to a member of the US Coast Guard. It’s hard to find Coast Guard members in the Midwest! I’ve since interviewed two others who served during WWII. I salute all of our branches and thank each vet for his/her service!

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Upon graduating from Central Catholic High School in 1943, Jim Meyer of Fort Wayne enlisted in the US Coast Guard.

He spent 16 weeks in basic training at Brooklyn, NY. Meyer already knew how swim, but the Coast Guard had a special challenge. “We had to swim in water with oil in it to simulate a possible accident at sea,” he said.

At Providence, RI, Meyer learned to shoot rifles, 38-caliber pistols, and 20-mm gun. “We learned how to take apart our gun and reassemble it while blindfolded,” he said.

Meyer was transferred to Portland, ME, where he had lighthouse duty. “We reported ships coming in or going out and planes in the area,” he said.

In late 1943 Meyer boarded a ship, the USS Manhattan. In 1941 the Manhattan had been leased by the US Navy and commissioned as the troopship USS Wakefield. The Wakefield was assigned a Coast Guard crew and became the largest vessel ever operated by the Coast Guard.

Note:  During times of war, the Coast Guard transfers from the Department of Homeland Security to the US Navy.

In 1942, the Wakefield caught fire. It was rebuilt as a troop ship with a crew of 600 including 20 Marines as guards. “Every morning we had general quarters. That meant every seaman manned his guns,” said Meyer. “My duties were with the 20-mm gun. We also washed the decks and painted the ship every time it was in port.”

Seaman 1st class Meyer suffered seasickness on his first trip, but thankfully it never recurred on his 43 other trips across both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.

Meyer’s first ocean crossing was in 1944 to Liverpool, England. “We hauled 5000-6000 mostly injured Americans troops and German POWs to the US on each trip,” he said.

According to Meyer. German POWs had cleaning duties on the ship. Meyer thought he detected a certain attitude among them.  “The German POWs acted as though our ship would not make it to the US because German forces would destroy us,” he said.

There was a possibility of danger from German subs in the Atlantic. “We zig-zagged during our route so they would not find us,” he said. “We also posted lookouts on the top of the ship to look for torpedoes.”

Despite their status as enemy forces, German POWs were treated civilly. “When a German soldier died at sea aboard our ship, he was given the same funeral ceremony as if an American seaman had died,” said Meyer.

The Wakefield sailed to LeHavre, Marseilles, Pearl Harbor, Panama Canal, Guam and Naples, Italy, China and Japan. Meyer traded for two Japanese rifles which he took home as souvenirs.

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Meyer recalled one time encountering particularly rough weather while at sea. “We were hit by a 50-foot typhoon,” he said. “We lost three guns and life rafts. We were scared because the typhoon raised our ship out of the water several times.”

The storm slowed the ship by two knots, which caused the Wakefield to arrive late in Boston. German forces spread propaganda that the ship had been sunk. Damage to the ship necessitated it be in dry dock for repairs for 30 days. (Listen to Meyer tell about the storm in a live video here.)

Among the 215,000 passengers carried on the Wakefield was at least one Coast Guard member whose name was well-known.

Jack Dempsey had already attained fame as a boxer when he joined the Coast Guard during World War II. In 1944 he was assigned to the transport USS Wakefield. Dempsey remained in the Coast Guard and later joined the Coast Guard Reserve.

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Meyer and other Allied soldiers around the world thrilled to hear the announcement of VE Day (Victory in Europe) on May 8, 1945. That marked the formal acceptance by the Allies of Nazi Germany’s unconditional surrender of its armed forces. “I was tickled at the thought of going home,” said Meyer. The battle with Japan, marking the official end to the war, concluded on September 2, 1945, when a formal surrender ceremony was held in Tokyo Bay aboard the USS Missouri.

However, like many soldiers, Meyer had to await his turn to return to US soil. He had one last momentous event yet to experience before going home.

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On December 26, 1945, Meyer became a member of the Domain of the Golden Dragon. “It is an unofficial award given to crew members of ships which cross the International Date Line,” he said.

In February 1946 Meyer arrived at San Diego and by April 1946 he had earned enough points to be discharged. He married Barbara Gase from Decatur in 1948 and they became parents to two sons. Meyer later worked at Porter Tire Company in Decatur and as a diesel mechanic for Kroger for 37 years. Meyer has participated with Honor Flight of Northeast Indiana.

He thinks about his time in World War II often via photos, his uniform and other souvenirs from the war. “Somebody had to fight,” he said. “I liked being in the Coast Guard. It gave me the chance to go to a lot of places I’d never hoped to see and meet people from around the world. It was a good experience.”

The End