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.
Decades after World War 2 ended, US veteran Lester Schrenk spent many hours trying to find out more about the German pilot who had the chance to shoot his plane down–but did not. Schrenk first corresponded with –and eventually traveled to Germany to meet — the enemy pilot who spared his life.
Jeanne Bearmon joined the Women’s Air Corps and was stationed in London as the bombs fell during World War 2. She ultimately earned the rank of captain, but found that some of those who served under her were not prepared for a woman with rank.
It wasn’t just the battlefield that posed a deadly danger to US servicemen in World War 2. George Vandersluis, pictured here in 2014, survived a bout of Dengue fever. Minnesota veteran Axel Holmes contracted a nasty case of hepatitis. Both servicemen were exposed to the diseases while serving in the Pacific theater.
The Serviceman’s Readjustment Act, more commonly known as the GI Bill, allowed millions of returning World War 2 veterans to go to college, making higher education widely available to the American middle class for the first time. Veterans Jeanne Bearmon, who had been a WAC, and Sherman Garon, an Army veteran originally from Duluth, recall how their military service allowed them to get a college education at the University of Minnesota.
Claude Williams was flying a bombing mission from England when his plane was shot down and he was taken prisoner by the Germans. He recalls the event, and his sister remembers how the family heard about his capture. She also tells about how the family on the home front in South St. Paul tried to reach the imprisoned soldier with packages shipped through the auspices of the International Red Cross.
The American public was horrified by the surprise Japanese attack of Pearl Harbor, which pulled the U.S. into war. The dramatic event prompted many patriotic young Americans to join the military. Minnesotans Bill Olson and Herbert Gager recalled how they were inspired to enlist immediately after the shocking events of December 7, 1941.
Minnesotan George Vandersluis was early in his six years of military service in the Marine Corps on December 7, 1941. Vandersluis was aboard the USS Honolulu that was tied up at the pier in Pearl Harbor as the Japanese began their surprise hit on the Pacific Fleet. He witnessed the attack that pulled the USA into the war.
Bruce Cottington, pictured here at a 2014 Memorial Day event, joined the military during World War 2 in 1942, when he was just 16 years old. Although 18 was the legal age to enlist, Cottington’s widowed mother allowed him to enlist during his sophomore year of high school. He went on to serve with distinction in the Pacific.