Fort Snelling had a prominent role at both the beginning and the end of the military careers for thousands of servicemen and women who joined the armed forces during World War 2. The historic fort served as both an induction center and a separation point. Minnesota veterans Walter Grotz and Claude Williams shared memories of their passage through the old post.
Army veteran Don Wickstrom recalls his military service on the front lines in Europe and his training and use of the Browning Automatic Rifle. The B.A.R, as it was known, was an effective and innovative weapon used in combat in World War 2, but it was also heavy, hot, cumbersome–and dangerous.
Minnesota veteran Bruce Cottington didn’t know as he fought in the brutal battle of Okinawa that this would be the final battle of the war in the Pacific Theater. Cottington recalls how the dropping of the atomic bomb brought his years of fighting to a close.
A program launched by the armed services identified promising young men and sent them to college for specialized training for the war. Minnesotans Bernie Lieder and Sherman Garon were two student soldiers who the Army sent to college. But urgent manpower needs ended the wartime higher education program.
Lester Schrenk, pictured in 2014, and Claude Williams were both stationed in England, where they were assigned to fly bombing missions to Germany and German-occupied parts of Europe. They were part of the determined but dangerous effort by the Allies to destroy the industrial power of the Nazis.
A number of relatives in Minnesotan Bill Olson’s family joined the Navy during World War 2, including an uncle who died while serving. When it came time for Olson to join the military, he chose the Navy, too. His assignment was working on the relief crew of a submarine tender to help keep U.S. submarines in tip-top shape during the war.
When Bruce Cottington enlisted in 1942, he joined the Navy, but was later assigned to a new Marine Corps unit called the Amphibians. The unit fought on land and sea, and Cottington prepared battle sites in the Pacific during World War 2. (The amphibian unit was the precursor to the Navy SEALS.)
Many of the young Americans who signed up to fight in World War 2 were initially swept away by their patriotism and a passion for their cause and eager to go to war. Once on the battlefield, they found the reality of combat to be far more horrific than they could possibly have imagined. It’s one of the reasons veterans of the World War 2 generation have been reluctant to share their memories.
Not every member of the armed services saw combat, but many jobs that were not on the front lines were critical to the US effort to win the war. Jeanne Bearmon who served in the Women’s Army Corps (or WAC) explains the sensitive work that she was assigned to as a World War 2 personnel officer.
During World War 2, Minnesotan Walter Grotz was shot down over Germany and then shipped to a Polish POW camp. More than 60 years after he was released, he returned as an honored dignitary when the site was dedicated as a war memorial and was presented with the gift of a sculpture of a US aviator to honor all American veterans.