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.
Walter Grotz was drafted and entered military service just one week after he graduated from Delano High School. He flew raids in a B-24 until he was shot down over Germany and sent to a POW camp in Poland. Later, the Germans marched Grotz and his fellow American prisoners to Berlin, a harsh 520 mile journey.
Claude Williams, pictured here in 2014, was shot down while on a bombing run over Belguim and held as a prisoner of war by the Germans. Williams was held in a POW camp in Barth, Germany, kept with 19 other men in one small room. The friendships formed in those close quarters lasted long after the war was over.
After joining the Women’s Army Corps, WAC Jeanne Bearmon was assigned to helping to recruit other women to join the military. Because women had never officially served in a U.S war before World War 2, it was quite a challenge to educate female recruits and the public about the contributions that women were needed to make.
After Bernie Lieder completed his Army service on the front lines in the European theater in World War 2, he came home to Minnesota and his history of service continued. Lieder went on to be elected to the Minnesota legislature, where he was the last serving WW2 vet and championed veterans causes, including the sponsoring the bill that established the state’s WW2 memorial at the State Capitol, pictured here.
Growing up in Minnesota, Herbert Gager learned to play many instruments and loved playing in bands. When he began his military service in the Marines, he played in a military band. But Gager had to give up playing music when he was assigned to be a stretcher-bearer in battles in the Pacific theater. He was injured and earned the Purple Heart.
Post traumatic stress disorder had not been identified yet in the World War 2 era. Many returning soldiers struggled and often suffered in silence. Veterans Axel Holmes, Gerbert Gager and George Vandersluis talk about their efforts to put the difficult and sometimes traumatic memories of war behind them after they returned home to Minnesota.