Legionnaire of the Month
In our continuing series of stories we are close to our last remaining WW II Vets from Post 23—Dean Lerdal. This would be a good place to insert that if anyone is aware of other Garretson WW II Vets, please let me know. Also, if there are close family members who would be willing to “share the story of a family member who was a WW II Vet” give me a call. We have untold stories and I know there are more WW II experiences that would be of great interest.
When I called Dean and ask if he would talk with me about his service to our country in WW II he had similar reservations that some others had. He said, “I am not a hero and I don’t want any glory or front page picture”. With that understand he agreed and we will proceed accordingly. .
So let’s start Dean’s story with the basics. On 2-27-22 Dean came into this world with the help of Dr. Duval at their family farm. Dean had a typical childhood for a country boy growing up on this farm 5 miles north of Garretson. Dean enjoyed helping on the farm and attended White Willow Country School. After 8th grade he attended and graduated from Garretson HS (I understand he was quite a good BB player). He then attended South Dakota State University. Dean said “it cost me $37 a Semester and I got paid 35 cents an hour for washing dishes. But I didn’t think I was getting much out of college and the war was going strong by then. John Sanders told me ‘you are classified 2-C and don’t have to serve in the war.” At that time the government had determined they needed agriculture production and farmers were just as important to our war cause as military men. “But I and 3 buddies decided if we volunteered we could all join any branch of the service we wanted. I was always impressed with the Marine Uniform and that is what sold me on the Marines. In the spring of 44 all 4 of us went to San Diego for basic training. After that we were split up and I went to Camp Pendleton. I never saw my good buddy Clayton Nessan again—he was killed in Okinawa. Only 3 of us ever came back alive.”
“I was an infantryman assigned to the Navel Gunfire Section. At first I was sent to Saipan and then to Okinawa and back to Saipan again. It was interesting to see how much more ‘religion’ everyone had when we were on our way to a new island. On our way to Okinawa, the deck was full on Sunday mornings with devout worshipers. After we left and our fighting was over there were only a half dozen on deck for Sunday worship. I will never forget Easter Sunday on April 1st, 1945 when we were at Okinawa. Kamikaze pilots took out a transport ship that was only 200 yards from our ship. Whenever the Kamakazi Pilots came at us, anyone not required on deck was sent below where it was supposed to be safer. Down there you couldn’t see the planes coming in but could hear the sound of those Zero engines. After they were hit with gunfire the engine sounds changed. I can still hear that “sputtering sound” of those damaged Zero Engines.
(Side note: The battle of Okinawa, also known as Operation Iceberg, took place in April-June 1945. It was the largest amphibious landing in the Pacific theater of World War II. It also resulted in the largest casualties with over 100,000 Japanese casualties and 50,000 casualties for the Allies. The battle for the Island of Okinawa was described as the "typhoon of steel". When two United States Marine and two Army divisions landed abreast on Okinawa on Easter Sunday, April 1, 1945, they faced an estimated 155,000 Japanese ground, air and naval troops holding an immense island on which an estimated 500,000 civilians lived in cities, towns and villages. Operation Iceberg was to be, in every way, vast when compared to any other operation undertaken by Allied forces in the Pacific War under U.S. Navy command.) Taking this island turned the war as Allies would now have control of airbases only 350 miles from mainland Japan.
“After they dropped the A bomb and all the fighting on those islands was over I went to Japan. We were the first US troops to land in Nagasaki. The city was obliterated and the only thing standing was factory smoke stacks. After Nagasaki our unit was one of the first sent to Yamagochi, Japan after the raid of B-29 Bombers had devastated that city (located between Nagasaki and Hiroshima). We had to do clean up and provide security. By some strange turn of events, after the war ended and I headed back home, I met up again with all my buddies--except Clayton. The rest of us returned home together.”
“Some things I remember about after the war is how we disposed of equipment. It was amazing how much military equipment we left on those islands or pushed overboard at sea. Entire new jeeps still in crates were pushed overboard. The other thing I recall is how many cigarettes everyone brought back to the United States—there were cases and cases of cigarettes.”
When I ask Dean what he liked most about his military service, he said “the military discipline of the Marines” it was a cultural shock but the level of leadership and discipline that our Drill Instructor instilled in us is hard to put in words. When our DI, Sgt. O’Neil walked by us, we could just “feel his authority and presence. I’ve never had any regrets about joining the Marines.”
When ask what was the worst part he said, “Losing your good buddies and being shot at. I came within inches of death. On one occasion there was an explosion that knocked me off my feet. Hot metal fragments flew within inches of my head. Although I wanted to pick them up and inspect what they were, I didn’t dare as they were red hot.” Somehow I have a feeling that the Good Lord had more than one Guardian Angel watching over Dean to bring him back alive.
After returning to South Dakota Dean and his brother farmed. In 1974 he married Arlene (Holvig) Mosley. She had 3 children from a previous marriage. Dean said he was very active in Post 23 when he returned. “I took over Paul Lubke’s job in the Color Guard and folded dozens of flags at funerals. After WW II Legion Members wore their military uniform and we walked in parades all over the area. Eventually Post 23 raised enough money to buy Legion Blue Uniforms. We were one of the top posts in the state and marched at the head of the State Parade.”
When ask about any advice Dean had for young men and women considering the military he said. “If you can be a pilot, go for it. Otherwise, consider joining the Marines as there is no better place to learn respect and discipline”. Dean, on behalf of the American Legion we thank you for your 67 years of continuous membership in Post 23. On behalf of our Country we thank you for your willingness to fight for the freedoms we enjoy today. May God continue to bless all of us?