The Allied nations prevailed during World War II by working in concert to defeat the tyranny entangling several European and Pacific locations. However, what few people realize, one local veteran affirmed, is that not only did the men and women of the military help the Allies succeed, but there were also contributions made by “man’s best friend.”
Born and raised in the Brazito, Mo., community, Ralph Popp was in his senior year of high school at Eugene when he received his draft notice in January 1945.
“I was 18 years old at the time and didn’t even get to finish high school before they sent me to Camp Hood, Texas, for basic training,” said Popp, 89.
When his boot camp was finished, Popp explained, most of the recruits were immediately sent to fight in overseas locations, but he was instead assigned to a rather unique section of the U.S. Army.
"They put me in the K-9 Corps to train dogs for scouting purposes,” he said. “The only reason I can think that I was even selected for such a thing was when I had been asked about my hobbies, I told them that I was interested in coon hunting and hunting dogs,” he added.
Popp then traveled to Ft. Robinson in the northwestern corner of Nebraska, becoming part of the Army’s War Dog program. The program was born out of an initiative first “intended to train dogs to perform sentry duty for the army along the coast of the United States,” as noted in an article by Dr. Arthur Bergeron, Jr., accessed through the U.S. Army Military History Institute website. As part of the Quartermaster Corps, the program later became the “K-9 Corps” and was expanded to train scouting and patrol dogs, messenger dogs and canines that could detect trip wires, booby traps and mines.
During the months he spent at Ft. Robinson, Popp explained, he was placed in a platoon with more than two dozen soldiers and assigned two dogs that he would train for scouting purposes.
“The primary dogs we trained on the post were Doberman Pinschers and German Shepherds,” Popp said. “The dogs I trained were German Shepherds and they were so smart that you could teach them to count the number of fingers you held up by barking,” he grinned.
The former soldier also remarked that the dogs, in anticipation of the invasion of the mainland of Japan, were trained to become “fierce fighting dogs,” and the only ones that could handle them were the individual soldiers to which they were assigned.
“We taught the dogs how to detect people hiding in caves or up in trees,” Popp added. “The time we spent in Nebraska was kind of like a basic training for the dogs.”
In April 1945, his platoon placed their dogs in cages and boarded rail cars bound for Camp Butner, N.C., where they joined the Fourth Division, which had recently returned from combat service in Europe.
“We had to take care of our own dogs the entire time because no one else could handle them,” Popp said, “or else they’d attack.”
While stationed in North Carolina, they continued training in preparation for the invasion until Japan surrendered weeks later, which meant the end of the war and thus heralded the conclusion of the K-9 Corps.
“Everything was dissolved in the K-9 Corps and the dogs were taken somewhere to be ‘deactivated,’ they called it,” said Popp. “I’m not sure what happened to my two dogs but they tried to get all of them back to the original owners because they had only been loaned to the Army by their owners.”
Many of the dogs, the veteran said, were unable be separated from the ferocity that had been ingrained during their training, resulting in them having to be euthanized to avoid any potential dangers they might pose to civilians.
“I had to take part in bringing some of the dogs to a veterinarian—the ones they couldn’t deactivate,” Popp solemnly noted. “That was a very difficult thing for me to have to do.”
With nearly a year remaining in his term of service, the soldier was transferred to Ft. Sill, Okla., where he became a supply sergeant with an artillery battery until receiving his discharge in 1946. He returned to Mid-Missouri, finished earning his high school diploma and, in 1947, married Irma Sommerer, the woman who had patiently awaited his return from the service. Raising one daughter, Lora, the couple was married for 61 years when Irma passed away in 2007. In 1959, the veteran founded Popp’s Lawn and Garden Center in Jefferson City, operating the company for four decades. Though he is now retired, he enjoys spending his free time gardening, working around his farm and supporting Immanuel Lutheran Church at Honey Creek.
His military service, he adds, might not possess the flare and excitement of many of the combat veterans of the Second World War but, he affirms, his is a story that truly represents a unique type of sacrifice made by our canine friends.
“Really, it was a sacrifice for so many citizens to give up their dogs for military service during World War II,” he said. “I know I was very close to my dogs and I miss them as much as anything.” He added, “For many people, I’m sure saying goodbye to their dogs was like saying goodbye to a son heading off to war … not knowing if they would ever return home.”
Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America
In October of 1967, only months after receiving his draft notice from the U.S. Army, Lohman, Mo., resident Roger Buchta completed his boot camp and training as a combat medic, and then boarded a plane to apply his newly acquired medical skills in Vietnam. Upon arrival, he was assigned to a mobile army surgical hospital (MASH unit) and given an abrupt introduction to the harsh realities of war, treating various ailments and combat injuries.
When the Christmas season arrived two months later, Buchta witnessed an event that would help breathe some humanity into otherwise deadly conditions.
“It was sometime around Christmas 1967,” recalled Buchta, “and the winds swept in off of the South China Sea and lashed at our rickety tents. I was with the 18th Army Surgical Hospital and we were located in the Quang Tri Province, a small military outpost that was only three miles south of the demilitarized zone that separated North and South Vietnam,” he added.
As Buchta explained, it was a slow time for those working in the hospital while the medics and nurses endured the monsoon by tending to the few patients recovering from surgery. When not occupied with other duties, he said, the staff passed the time by “playing cards, drinking coffee and generally enjoying a break from the stress of receiving and preparing causalities for emergency operations.”
The howling of the wind and seemingly incessant splattering of the rain against the sides of the tents was soon interrupted when an older Vietnamese man slowly opened the door to the emergency room, accompanied by a young Vietnamese woman who appeared to be in a great deal of pain.
“We (medical staff) attempted to use our limited Vietnamese vocabulary to figure out the source of her discomfort,” said Buchta, “but it was to no avail. Finally,” he continued, “the man pointed to the lady’s stomach and pretended as if he were rocking a baby— and that’s when we realized she was ready to give birth. (A medical situation, he said, for which the medics were not trained to address.)
A nurse on duty quickly located one of the Army doctors who fortunately happened to be an obstetrician. After examining the patient, the doctor announced that the woman would not only give birth once, but twice.
“The doctor proclaimed, ‘She is going to have twins!’” recalled Buchta.
The doctor’s assessment also revealed that the infants would be premature, which then resulted in the search for an incubator. The MASH unit staff was able to locate one aboard a hospital ship anchored off the coast only a few miles away, but due to the storms ravaging the area, the helicopters needed to deliver the medical equipment were grounded.
The approach of dawn brought with it a small glimmer of hope when the sun began to pierce the clouds. As the harsh weather began to subside, a pilot was located, agreeing to retrieve the incubator from the hospital ship.
“After a brief time, a nurse from the operating room opened the emergency room door and announced the lady was the mother of twin girls,” Buchta smiled. “It was truly a novel experience for us all; after seeing and dealing with death and wounds day after day, this was new life … and, after all, it was Christmastime as well.”
The new mother and her twin daughters were taken to the post-operation area; the twins were healthy enough that the incubator was never required. Through the assistance of an interpreter, the mother asked to see all of the emergency room personnel who cared for her throughout the delivery, informing the staff she would like for them to name her children. Perplexed, the medics wondered what would be appropriate names for the girls when Buchta noticed the mother wearing a necklace with a cross.
“She was Catholic,” Buchta explained, “and I suddenly thought, ‘What about good strong Catholic names: Mary and Martha?’”
When the mother learned of the new names for her children, she was elated, Buchta noted—a joyous experience that served as the capstone event of the young medic’s Christmas celebration of 1967 and the year he spent in Vietnam.
Nearly five decades have passed since the birth of Mary and Martha during the Vietnam War, yet Buchta admits that throughout the intervening years, he has often wondered what became of the two young girls he helped to name.
“The girls were so small I remember holding each one in my hand,” he said. “(The family) disappeared soon after the girls were born; the South Vietnamese military came and took them away. They were probably taken to the civilian hospital a few miles away in Quang Tri,” he added.
In late January 1968, North Vietnamese forces briefly overran Quang Tri and several other cities in what is known as the Tet Offensive—a coordinated effort to collapse the government of the Republic of South Vietnam. Though the enemy forces were quickly repelled, it was a memorable event for Buchta, who remains uncertain as to how the twins were affected.
“Sadly, I have no idea what became of the girls or their family, but being able to experience their birth is one of the better memories I have from my service and was a rather unique situation considering the combat environment to which we were accustomed.”
Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.
An Aged Distinction - Cole County, Mo., farmer spent many years as area’s sole surviving Civil War veteran
With an estimated 2.75 millions soldiers fighting in the Civil War, there was little that could have distinguished Jefferson City veteran Charles Gustav “Gus” Loesch from his brothers in arms. However, his mere endurance to nearly 101 years of age would ensure that his story of service in the Union Army would be preserved for generations to come. A first-generation American, Loesch’s father, Gustav Wilhelm, immigrated to the United States in 1838 after having served six years in a cavalry regiment of the German military under Prince John VIII. He later chose to lay down roots in Cole County, Mo., and embarked upon a career as a farmer.
“Gustav was especially anxious (to immigrate) as he did not wish to be called into the military services again,” wrote Alvina Erhart Gottschamer in the book “The Loesch Family in America: 1838-1910.” As troubles continued to develop in their home country, the recently married Gustav Wilhelm also sought a better life in America for his children yet to be born.
Born March 26, 1843, Charles “Gus” Loesch was raised on a farm south of Jefferson City near the Zion community and soon followed in the military tradition of his father. Family records show he became a member of the Union Army on August 12, 1862, while the March 26, 1933 edition of the Daily Capital News noted he “joined up under Major W.H. Lusk, also a Jefferson City man.” In later years, as Loesch reached the age of ninety years and beyond, several Mid-Missouri newspapers began to chronicle his military service as one of the few, if only, surviving veterans of the Civil War in the community.
His military career began with training in St. Louis and assignment to Company G, 10th Missouri Cavalry under the command of Captain Henry G. Bruns of Jefferson City. (Bruns was later wounded during the Battle of Iuka, Miss., and died from his injuries on July 9, 1863, thus earning him the unfortunate distinction as being the first Jefferson City resident killed in the war.) Private Loesch remained with the regiment and preceded General William T. Sherman in his drive through the South during the war, participating in several major campaigns that he modestly described in the March 21, 1943 edition of Jefferson City Post-Tribune as, “We just started things and let the infantry finish them up.”
“(On) February 26, 1864, Rebels captured Gus in Canton, Mississippi and imprisoned him in Andersonville, Georgia,” wrote Gottschamer, describing the service of her great uncle. “He was released one year, to the day, later, February 26, 1965, and admitted to Hospital Division One in Maryland,” she added.
Mustered out of the service on June 24, 1865, Loesch married Sophia Kingery three years later and the couple went on to raise six children while living on a farm near the rural Cole County community of Hickory Hill.
On his 90th birthday on March 26, 1933, the Daily Capital News printed an interview with Loesch in which he described walking as his “life and health.” In the same article, he also noted that in the previous month he had traveled more than 137 miles by foot and that he “would pine away in a week” if he were unable to continue with his beloved exercise.
The Civil War veteran remained a prominent fixture in Cole County for many years following his 90th birthday, participating in Memorial Day services at the National Cemetery and frequently a distinguished guest at local events in the community.
During a meeting of the Brazito Republicans in the summer of 1940, when Loesch was 97 years old, he told candidate Forrest Donnell that if were elected as the state’s governor in the upcoming election, he wished to be present for his inauguration. Early the next year, Governor Donnell followed through on his promise by reserving a special spot for the Civil War veteran in his inaugural parade. Weeks later, Loesch’s family held a birthday party for the 98-year-old veteran near the community of Brazito with 300 guests in attendance, including the new governor.
The Sedalia Democrat reported on November 3, 1942, that the 99-year-old Loesch, “perhaps Missouri’s oldest voter,” had traveled “to the polls at nearby Brazito early this morning to keep intact his record of voting in every election since he cast his first ballot for U.S. Grant for President in 1868.” The veteran clarified his voting history by explaining that he “would have voted for Lincoln when he ran for re-election, but I was in a Confederate war prison at the time.”
With all the accolades and notoriety afforded a local hero, Loesch lived to witness more than 800 persons in attendance at his 100th birthday party held in Brazito on March 29, 1943. Sadly, on March 22, 1944, just four days before his 101st birthday, the veteran passed away, two weeks following the death of his son-in-law, Ira Mulvaney.
Maintaining a vivid recollection of the man she enjoyed visiting as a young girl, Loesch’s great niece stated, “While my grandmother was still living (Loesch’s sister), she would take me to go and visit Uncle Gus,” recalled Gottschamer. “I can remember, as a little girl, attending his 100th birthday party when the governor came.” Softly, she added, “He was always such a gentle person who never got too worked up about anything … which I always attributed to everything he saw and experienced during the war.”
Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.
The waning weeks of a young person's senior year of high school are generally filled with enthusiasm and awe as he or she anxiously seeks to embrace a world that is holding the keys to a bright future. But for Jefferson City, Mo., veteran Perry Coy, the deceptive hand of opportunity would find him embroiled in combat with unyielding Nazi forces not long after his graduation.
It was early 1943 - approximately a month prior to his high school graduation - when young Coy received word from his local draft board advising him to get his affairs in order. With World War II raging along both the Pacific and European fronts, scores of young men would find themselves drafted in support of the war effort.
"I was told that I had about two weeks after my graduation to get ready," said Coy during a 2010 interview.
The young draftee was first sent to in-process for the Army at Ft. Leavenworth, Kan., prior to traveling to Camp Hood, Texas, for his basic training. A few weeks later, he found himself at Camp Carson, Colo., where he would complete a difficult regimen of mountain training and learn to cut trails on Mount Manitou, next to Pikes Peak. The soldier rounded out his training on Hunter Liggett Military Reservation (HLMR) in the state of California - a site possessing European-like characteristics that was used as a realistic training environment to prepare thousands of deploying soldiers for combat in France, Germany and Italy.
"It was rough terrain out there and the toughened us up for sure!" joked Coy. "Everybody smoked back then, and they cut us out of our cigarettes during training," he added. (According to Coy, smuggled cigarettes would sell for as much as a dollar a piece amongst the troops while at HLMR.)
From his training in California, he was then sent to Camp Kilmer, N.J., and soon boarded the RMS Queen Elizabeth (an ocean liner converted to a troop ship) on June 21, 1944, bound for Liverpool, England. Upon arrival a few days later, Coy was equipped with about 90 pounds of combat gear and heading towards Normandy, France on an LCT (landing craft transport). Although arriving several days after the initial D-Day invasion, the LCTs delivering the troops to the French mainland were still targets for German mortar rounds.
"The Navy guys piloting our LCT were supposed to drop us next to the beach, but because of the shelling they had to stay out a ways. The dropped the back gate on the craft and told us to 'Get out!" Coy recalled.
Dropped into waters over his head and unable to support the weight of his combat gear, Coy was forced to dump his field pack for fear of drowning before ever reaching shore. When he finally clamored to the mainland, the infantryman was able to acquire gear from others who had not been so fortunate as to survive the invasion. Almost immediately finding himself in combat, Coy participated in the Battle of St. Lo and lucidly remembered the virtually impenetrable hedgerows and German tanks decimating the American tanks.
The young man from Bolivar, Mo., fought throughout Europe and received a shrapnel wound near the fortified city of Metz that would land him for a brief stay in a hospital in Nancy, France, earning him his first Purple Heart. On a separate occasion, Coy received a gunshot wound to his leg from a German rifleman, but considers himself fortunate that the bullet did not strike a bone or cause any serious damage.
"I just put some sulfadiazine powder on my leg and wrapped it in a gauze bandage," Coy said. "We were so short of troops that we really couldn't afford to have anyone gone." This injury would earn the soldier another Purple Heart.
A later occurrence near Dillinger, Germany would earn the soldier yet another venerable piece of recognition. A young medic, who had been shot and wounded by German forces, was lying exposed in a courtyard and in dire need of immediate medical attention. "We needed those guys (medics) badly and I knew that I had to go get him," said Coy. While under fire, Coy ran to the medic, grabbed him and pulled him to safety.
"I guess they thought I was pretty brave for going to get him," Coy remarked, as he lowered his head. "But the guy was shot in his stomach and died about a day-and-a-half late." Coy was awarded the Bronze Star for valor. However, heroic actions and accolades would not end for the soldier.
On another occasion - after having taken out a German machine gun nest - Coy jumped a wall in a small cemetery and discovered a group of German soldiers that were firing mortars at American soldiers from the safety of a tomb. Running to the door of the tomb, Coy yelled for the Germans to come out with their hands up or else he would fire a grenade toward them. Shockingly, more than a dozen Germans exited the tomb and were taken prisoner by the Americans. For his valor in the face of the enemy threat, Coy received the third-highest military award - the Silver Star.
After spending almost eleven months embroiled in combat and leaving his rural Missouri high school, Coy earned enough points to return stateside and was discharged from the Army in September 1945 at Jefferson Barracks, Mo. Working in several locations and industries throughout the state, Coy eventually relocated to Jefferson City and established Coy's Fire and Safety Equipment Company. In 1998, he sold the business to a company out of St. Louis and retired after thirty-five years in the business.
In 2010, Coy's legacy of accolades continued when he was selected to receive another esteemed recognition - the French Legion of Honor.
"It is my pleasure as Consul General of France in Chicago to inform you, on behalf of the people of France, that the President of the French Republic has named you Knight of the Legion of Honor for you valorous action during World War II," stated Sidy Diallo in a letter to Coy.
In his later years, the combat veteran remained active and enjoyed a good game of golf as much as three times a week. Additionally, he embraced opportunities to speak with others about his time in the military and the accomplishments of his generation.
Reflecting on his service with just a whisper of caution, Coy said, "I'm thankful for what we have today. Our freedom means a lot and we can't become a dictatorship; we can never let that happen."
Perry Eugene Coy passed away in Jefferson City, Mo., on October 14, 2013 and is interred at Hawthorn Memorial Gardens.
Jeremy P. Ämick is a military historian and author of the upcoming World War II novel "The Lucky Ones."
With over nine decades of life experience, Jefferson City resident Robert Miller has accrued many good memories throughout the years and met a number of interesting individuals, many of whom he calls “friend.” Despite all of the encounters he has to call upon in cheerful reflection, the time that he served in the Army during World War II remains the most poignant of his memories.
As a young man growing up in Columbia, Miller began making eyeglasses for a local optical company after graduating from Hickman High School in 1940.
“The company transferred me to their office in St. Joseph and that’s where I was working when I received my draft notice in 1942,” said the 93-year-old veteran. “I remember driving to Columbia in my 1932 Ford to report to the draft board and I got pulled over by the highway patrol for speeding along US Highway 40,” he said. “When I told the officer where I was going, he said ‘drive on.’”
Following his induction, the recruit completed his basic training at Camp Kearns, Utah, and then reported for training as a medical technician at Fort Oglethorpe in Atlanta, Ga. While in Georgia, he learned a variety of laboratory techniques such as how to perform blood tests and, in May 1943, reported to the ophthalmology clinic at McClellan Air Force Base in California. The soldier built upon his previous eyeglass experience by learning to refract patients’ eyes so that “the captain, an ophthalmologist, could go play golf at the base course,” Miller said.
Based on the test scores he had received on his military entrance examinations, Miller was soon accepted into the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP)—a college program “designed to keep troops busy until their services were needed.”
He then spent a short time at Stanford University, before transferring to Indiana University, where he would remain for several months in college completing courses related to engineering and chemistry. In March 1, 1944, Miller departed Indiana University for Camp Campbell, Ky., “to help form the 20th Armored Division.” He added, “Students from many of the ASTP colleges were included in the personnel arriving at the camp to help make up the division.”
Assigned to Company C, 220th Medical Battalion, Miller worked in the company’s medical supply section and, for the next several months, learned the duties of his new position in addition to participating in various training exercises. By Christmas, the division was prepared for overseas deployment and set sail for Europe weeks later, arriving in Le Havre, France on February 17, 1945.
Miller affirms that his movement with the division is well chronicled in the book “20th Armored Division in World War II,” but summarizes his time served overseas as “moving south through France, Belgium, and Holland into Germany.” Miller added, “We were close to the front lines and there were casualties, so the medical team I belonged to was very busy. I also remember it being cold with snow … and all that we had to keep warm with during the daytime was our uniform with an overcoat.”
The veteran further explained that occasionally there were field hospitals set up and they could enter for a short time “to try and warm up,” but then “it was back to working in the cold to get the much needed medical supplies.” After crossing the Rhine and Danube Rivers, Miller clearly recalls encountering one of the most distressing situations of his entire military career—the liberation of Dachau concentration camp on April 29, 1945.
“I did not go in (the camp) but I stood by the entrance for some time,” he solemnly remembered. “It was a horrible site—the people … they were just skin and bones. All any of them wanted to do was to get home as quickly as possible.”
While in Salzburg, Austria, the division learned of Germany’s surrender and remained in Europe for the next several weeks. They returned home later that summer to begin preparations for the invasion of Japan, but after the Japanese surrendered weeks later, the soldiers of the division soon began receiving their discharges.
Leaving the service in February 1946, Miller returned to Mid-Missouri and married his fiancée, Grace, later that year. The couple raised a son and a daughter, and Miller used his GI Bill to earn a bachelor’s degree in engineering and later returned to school to earn his master’s in public health. In 1983, he retired from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.
Relaxing in his charismatic home office surrounded by mementos from his past, Miller stresses that of all his interesting and intriguing encounters, the ones that seem most ingrained in his memory are those related to the time he spent alongside the soldiers of the 20th Armored Division.
“I have been so fortunate in my life and in my time in the Army,” Miller affirmed. “And when you witness things, like the horrors of Dachau, it is truly something that you never forget and hope that the younger generation remembers." He added, “It was certainly my privilege to have been able to serve my country during the war and I don’t believe anyone owes me anything for having served.”
Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America
A travesty in the preservation of military history is failing to capture the stories of our nation’s combat veterans before they are silenced by the grave. Fortunately, the voice of one local veteran has endured, thanks to the foresight of placing to paper his personal military experiences during combat—a legacy that concludes with a brother’s visit to the war memorials in the nation’s capitol.
Born September 1, 1923 in Columbia, Mo., Raymond Miller graduated high school in 1941. According to his biography titled “Action in Europe,” he worked in several low profile jobs, eventually entering a machinist program sponsored by the U.S. government.
“Raymond was one year younger than me and was a starting tackle for the Columbia Hickman (high school) football team,” recalled his brother, Robert Miller of Jefferson City, Mo.
Completing the course, Miller “took a job in defense at Curtiss-Wright Aircraft Company in St. Louis,” he wrote in his book. In September 1943, he wedded his fiancée, Helen Lewis, and was drafted into the U.S. Army the following year, after having received a deferment “for defense employment.”
Raymond’s writings explain that as a young draftee, he entered service in July 1944, traveling to Camp Hood, Texas, to undergo his conversion to a United States soldier by completing several weeks of basic infantry training. Weeks later, he reported to Fort Meade, Md., to receive his issue of clothing and equipment. From there, he boarded the USS Wakefield anchored at Boston Harbor—a luxury liner turned troop carrier bound for the war in Europe carrying thousands of soldiers.
“Aboard the ship, everywhere you looked, there was a poker game or dice game in progress,” Miller recalled, describing his time spent crossing the Atlantic.
When the inexperienced soldier arrived in Liverpool, England less than two weeks later, he moved by train to Southampton Port, loading on a British troop ship for movement across the English Channel. On December 21, 1944, five days after the Germans launched the major offensive known as the Battle of the Bulge, Miller arrived at an infantry replacement center, where he received his rifle and assignment to Company C, 334th Infantry Regiment of the 84th Division.
As the company prepared to enter combat, Miller wrote that a lieutenant who, after asking Miller his name, stated, “You are the squad leader of the new men in 3rd squad” — an unexpected appointment that found the soldier serving in a leadership capacity without any previous combat experience. His baptism of fire came on January 7, 1945, when he participated in his first combat in the town of Marcouray, Belgium, fighting from foxholes while enduring both enemy artillery barrages and the frigid weather.
“I was very cold, tired and hungry,” said Miller. “It was impossible to dig a foxhole in the frozen ground,” and he and a fellow soldier found a bomb crater full of snow, crawling inside to benefit from some semblance of protection.
He remained with his company for the remainder of “the Bulge” and, the following month, became part of a river crossing that characterized the violence and dangers of the remainder of his time in Germany.
On February 23, 1945, Miller was part a group of Company C soldiers scheduled to cross the Roer River in boats as part of an assault on a nearby German village. Departing in the early morning, the boats became targets for shelling and rifle fire as soon as they touched the frigid water. By the time the nightmarish incident ended, Miller’s boat was separated from the group and several soldiers had been killed or wounded. Miller and his group eventually reunited with the company and went on fighting across Germany.
During the early days of May, the “84th Division met the Russians at the Elbe River,” heralding the end of the war “for all practical purposes,” Miller transcribed. Throughout his remaining weeks in Germany, Miller kept busy playing on the regimental softball team and served with a quartermaster company as part of the occupational forces. In June 1945, he accrued enough points to return home.
“After he came home from the war,” said Miller’s older brother, Robert, “we both played softball on a team in Columbia. Raymond played third,” he continued, “and I played left field. He knew all the players on the opposing teams and how they played, and would tell me where to play (to intercept their hits).”
In later years, the younger Miller would go on to work for the postal service. His first wife, Helen, passed away in 1972, and he retired from his postal job the following year. The veteran then moved to Florida where he met and married his second wife, Audrey, who passed in 1999. Though he had no children, Miller remained in Florida until his death on July 26, 2007.
“Before he passed,” said Robert (who served with the Army’s 20th Armored Division in WWII), “we would talk on the phone every night … about the war and things.” He added, “He had said that he didn’t know where he wanted to be buried, so I brought him here (Jefferson City) to be buried with full military honors.”
Although the Battle of the Bulge survivor never received the opportunity to visit, in person, the World War II memorial in Washington, D.C., his older brother devised a way for them to make the trip together.
“I knew Raymond would have wanted to have been on the (Central Missouri) Honor Flight,” Robert remarked, “so I brought his military photograph with me and had our pictures taken in front of the memorials. That,” he concluded, “made me feel as though he was with me … that he we had the honor of making the trip together.”
Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America
Growing up on a farm in Taos, Mo., Norbert Bernskoetter rarely traveled any farther from home than an occasional trip to the state capital. Yet in 1944, with the war raging in the Pacific, he received a fierce introduction to the horrors of combat on a journey that carried him thousands of miles from the comforts of home. While working for his father in the early 1940s, Bernskoetter was twice able to secure a deferment to continue his work on the family farm, but in fall of 1944, the U.S. Army informed him that his services were needed.
“My draft notice came when I was 19 years old and they sent me to Ft. Riley, Kan., to train with the cavalry,” said Bernskoetter of Wardsville, Mo.
As Bernskoetter explained, he and his fellow trainees learned to serve their country as soldiers … but on horseback.
“During the training we had to get the horses up to a gallop as fast as they could run and then jump off,” he said. “Oh, and it was so cold there,” he added, “that one night when we were on bivouac, I got turned around and twisted in my sleeping bag after it got frozen to the ground.”
Completing his training in the spring of 1945, Bernskoetter received orders for deployment and traveled by train to San Diego, where he boarded a ship bound for the Pacific theater. Weeks later, the untested soldier was in Manila, Philippines, assigned to Troop A, 7th Calvary regiment, with whom his previous training as a cavalry trooper was modified to that of a ground-based rifleman. His new duties soon had him on the “front lines” heavily engaged in combat with Japanese forces. On more than one occasion, said Bernskoetter, he gained an unwanted familiarity with the volatility of warfare.
“Six of us went up an embankment—it was a hilly area with a lot of bluffs—trying to circle around where some Japanese soldiers were concealed,” Bernskoetter said. “Four (soldiers) went ahead, me and another guy were behind them. The Japanese opened up on us and killed the four guys in front, but luckily me and the other guy were able to escape.”
As the former soldier explained, P-38s (heavy fighter aircraft) were summoned to provide relief by striking the protected Japanese position with a well-placed bomb, thereby allowing the soldiers to return to the site and retrieve the bodies of their fallen comrades. During a separate occurrence, Bernskoetter, while spending an evening “on watch” in a foxhole, came face-to-face with a Japanese soldier prepared to deliver a deadly surprise to the American forces.
“He raised his hand to throw a grenade and I opened up on him (firing his rifle),” Bernskoetter recalled. “He fell forward like he was frozen and was still clutching his grenade. Had it gone off, it could have wounded or killed me.”
In early August 14, 1945, the veteran was participating in amphibious assault training when he witnessed American sailors jumping off the sides of a large ship.
“We wondered what was going on,” he said. “It wasn’t until we got back to shore that we learned that Japan had surrendered.”
Bernskoetter noted that on September 2, 1945, shortly after the signing of the peace treaty between the United States and Japan, the 7th Calvary Regiment entered Japan as part of the occupational forces.
“At first, nobody knew where we were supposed to go or what we were supposed to be doing,” he said. “That first night we just stayed in part of an old warehouse right there along the shore.”
While there, he and his company served as an honor guard for General Douglas MacArthur and performed various guard and security details, until returning to the states in September 1946. Following his discharge, Bernskoetter returned to Missouri. In 1950, he was engaged to his fiancée Nadine and they married the following year. The couple later relocated to Wardsville where they raised four children. He briefly returned to farm work after the war, but was soon hired by Delong’s Inc. in Jefferson City, with whom he was employed until his retirement in 1991.
Like so many veterans who have witnessed the unforgiving circumstances of a war, the former soldier explained it has taken the passage of many years before he was ever willing to share with others his own military experiences.
“When the Korea and Vietnam Wars were happening, I never watched it on television; I basically turned the other way and never followed anything that was going on with it … I’d had enough of war,” Bernskoetter said. “But after the bombing that happened during Desert Storm, that’s when it triggered something and I started talking about the war and everything that I had gone through in the Pacific.
“Most of the kids nowadays don’t know what we went through fighting the Japanese and it is a part of the war that I don’t believe they would really understand.”
Jeremy P. Ämick is a military historian and author of "Jefferson City at War: 1916-1975", "Cole County at War: 1861-1975" and "Soldierly Devotion."
‘The joy of self-fulfillment’ - Green Beret discusses military career spanning more than three decades
Graduating from Jefferson City High School in 1960, more than two years crawled by at the University of Missouri before Lynden “Lynn” Steele realized he was not prepared to excel in his academic endeavors—a perception that would inspire a break from his educational journey and eventually lead to his membership in an elite component of the armed forces.
“While I was in school at Columbia,” said Steele, 73, “my grades started to slip, so I decided to leave and go to work for the highway department. But then I cooked up this idea that it would be cool to become part of the Special Forces,” he laughed.
Enlisting on August 30, 1963, the young recruit was soon on his way to Ft. Polk, La., to complete his basic and advanced infantry training. From there, he transferred to Ft. Benning, Ga., to complete his “jump school” and then received assignment to the Special Forces Training Group at Ft. Bragg, N.C., spending the next year at the post undergoing the strenuous process of becoming one of the famed “Green Berets.”
“It was a very difficult training program and you could flunk out at any point along the way,” said Steele. “During that year, a recruit was cross-trained in several different areas that might be used during a mission, such as demolitions, engineering, language and medical,” he explained.
Graduating in early 1965, Steele received his green beret and assignment to the Seventh Special Forces Group at Ft. Bragg, where he soon discovered the swiftness of operational tasking when he deployed to the Dominican Republic with seventy of his fellow “berets” during the Dominican Civil War.
“We kind of snuck into the country because we hadn’t been invited,” he grinned, “and camped out on the runway for about a week or so. We spent the next month pulling security on a mountaintop near Santo Domingo.” He added, “It was jungle terrain, so we used demolitions to blow away the canopy to create an area for a helicopter landing pad.”
A month later, as the conflict on the small island nation began to subside, Steele returned to Ft. Bragg, but weeks later received orders for his next operational assignment—this time in the beleaguered country of Vietnam. Arriving at Bu Dop on September 25, 1965—a small border surveillance outpost on the Cambodian border approximately 60 miles north of Saigon—Steele recalls the Special Forces camp protected by a mixture of World War II weaponry ranging from 4.2-inch mortars to smaller weapons such as the M-1 Garand and the Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR).
As a “demolitions man,” Steele explained, he was “knowledgeable of field construction techniques” and “skilled in the preparation of camp perimeter defense systems,” all useful skills that he employed when helping rebuild Bu Dop shortly after his arrival. (The camp was one of several nearly destroyed during attacks from Viet Cong regiments in the weeks preceding his arrival.)
In addition to carefully disposing of unexploded ordnance left in the area, Steele participated in patrols with soldiers from two companies of Montagnards (a “Bronze Age” people indigenous to Vietnam) and a company of Cambodians also residing at the camp. While participating in patrols, Steele discovered the dangers posed by an enemy that was oftentimes greater in threat than one armed with a rifle and, which culminated in an incident leaving the unsuspecting soldier in the hospital.
“It was summertime and raining … and I thought about wearing a poncho but believed it would be like sitting in a sauna in the hot weather,” he explained. “I got wet and stayed wet, and the patrol lasted all day. Within a week after returning from the patrol, I had a fever and was sent to a field hospital with what ended up being pneumonia.”
Steele returned to Ft. Bragg in September 1966 after spending a year in Vietnam and went on to serve as a demolitions instructor for Special Forces recruits and, in 1969, attended training to become an infantry officer; however, he left the Army during a reduction in force in 1971 while serving with the 24th Infantry Division in Germany. Following eight years of active duty service, he remained with reserve units for the next 25 years, retiring in the late 1990s at the rank of lieutenant colonel.
In the years after his return from Vietnam, he earned both a bachelor’s and master’s degree and retired in 2006 from his full-time employment with the U.S. Department of Labor. For the past several years, Steele and his wife have resided in Florida, but he has remained active with organizations such as the American Legion, VFW, and Special Forces Association Chapter 85, leveraging his experience from 33 years in military uniform to share with others the lessons he has learned while in the military.
“When I was growing up, I remember watching Audie Murphy in the movie “To Hell and Back,” and there was a scene of him and his unit digging in for a nighttime defensive position somewhere in the French countryside … and it was raining and they were getting wet. I remember wondering, ‘How did they get warm and dry?’”
Grinning, he added, “Years later on patrol while it rained in Vietnam, I wondered the same thing—and never did figure it out! But I also learned that there is nothing the Army will ask of you that you cannot do; it will help you learn to recognize and control life’s lessons and experience the joy of sell-fulfillment.”
Jeremy P. Amick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America
With a sense of duty and patriotism signifying the character of those coming of age during World War II, Jefferson City, Mo., resident Ralph Kalberloh was honored to answer the call to service during a time of war. And, in spite of circumstances which later found him detained in an enemy prison camp, Kalberloh asserts his experiences have granted him a unique perspective on the true costs of freedom.
“During the (Second World War), I probably could have gotten a farm deferment, but at that time no one wanted to avoid the war,” said Kalberloh.
Growing up on a farm near Hardin, Mo., Kalberloh left high school following his junior year to enlist in the United States Army Air Forces—much to the disappointment of his mother.
The veteran recalls, “I knew I would be drafted…and I thought it would be better to fly than to walk and sleep in a foxhole.”
Inducted into service in September 1943, Kalberloh began his cadet training in Amarillo, Tex. Completing several months of training, he was then assigned to a B-17 Bomber crew as a tail gunner. Recalling the uncomfortable nature of the task to which he was assigned, Kaberloh noted: “(As a tail gunner) You were in a small area in the rear of the plane for sometimes eight hours—or however long the mission lasted—on your knees sitting on something similiar to a bicycle seat.”
“Looking back, I don’t know how I endured that,” Kalberloh quipped.
Kalberloh’s newly-formed crew was soon transferred to Lincoln, Neb., where they picked up a new B-17 and received orders to deploy overseas. Leaving Nebraska in December of 1944, they flew the plane to Wales following several refueling stops. Upon their arrival, the new plane was taken and assigned to another crew, while Kalberloh’s group was provided with one that had recently undergone repairs after receiving significant damage during a previous air skirmish.
“The ground crew chief told us to take care of the plane we had been given as a replacement since it had just been fixed up,” Kalberloh said. “It was shot down on our first mission…so I guess he wasn’t very happy with us.”
Named “Dixie’s Delight” in honor of the only whiskey the crew could seem to acquire during the war, the plane began taking flak while bombing targets near Berlin on February 3, 1945. The aircraft eventually sustained enough damage from anti-aircraft guns that the pilot gave the order for the crew to evacuate.
Forced to jump from the plane along with eight of his fellow crewmembers, Kalberloh’s parachute became entwined in a tree. The cords on the chute then snapped and he injured his back when he fell to the ground. Separated from his fellow crewmembers, Kalberloh roamed the German countryside for the next five days without food, maps or money, trying to evade capture. He eventually succumbed to his hunger and—on February 8, 1945—surrendered himself to a German farmer who fed him before turning him over to the town marshal.
The young prisoner was intially interviewed by a Gestapo officer before being sent to Frankfurt for further questioning. In Frankfurt, he was interrogated by an American defector originally from Chicago, but serving as a colonel with the German Luftwaffe (Air Force). His captors sent him to a POW distribution center in Wetzler, Germany, then on to a prison camp at Nuremburg. While in prison, he survived on a daily ration consisting of a loaf of bread containing 10 percent tree flower (sawdust) and shared amongst seven of his fellow prisoners, a can of watery soup, and an occasional Red Cross parcel.
“I was just a 19-year-old country boy who had never been farther from home than Kansas City,” stated Kalberloh. “After hearing the stories of what (the Germans) had done to the Jews, we didn’t know what to expect.”
Toward the latter part of April 1945, General Patton and the 3rd Armor Division were approaching Nuremburg. In response, the German military marched thousands of prisoners—including Kalberloh—97 miles to Mooseberg. However, the German plans of avoidance failed when—on April 29, 1945—Patton’s troops overran the camp and Kalberloh was finally liberated from his nightmare of captivity.
“I remember seeing a tank followed by a Jeep and another tank roll into our (prison) camp,” Kalberloh said. “Patton was standing in the back of the jeep saluting.” Tearing up, the veteran remarked, “That was…and still is…the best day of my life.”
Kalberloh returned to the states in June 1945 and was discharged from the service the following September. In later years, he went on to work in the insurance industry and the Missouri Jaycees, and in 1992 retired from the Missouri Automobile Dealers Association.
Past commander of the central Missouri chapter of the American Ex-Prisoners of War Organization, Kalberloh notes how his military experience has affected his perception of something many have never gone without.
“The service taught me many things—such as discipline, but more importantly how valuable life is and that you had better take care of it,” Kalberloh remarked.
“It’s definitely more difficult for others to appreciate the freedoms they have when its never been taken from them…and I’ll never take that for granted.”
Jeremy Amick is the public affairs officer for the Silver Star Families of America.
Jeremy P. Amick is a military historian and author dedicated to preserving our nation's military legacies.