Legionnaire of the Month
In our continuing series of stories we feature another WW II Vet—Ordell Winterton. Ordell was born on the family farm NW of Garretson on 2-17-25. A neighbor, Severina Sande, helped with the delivery. Ordell says his early years were typical of a farm boy growing up with 3 brothers and 3 sisters. But the war changed his later teenage years. When he was 17 he wanted to volunteer for the Air Force. Ordell said, “After Pearl Harbor was bombed, everyone wanted to support the war effort. I was no different and wanted to be a pilot and get a few licks in to help our cause”. Soon he found himself taking tests at Camp McCoy, Wisconsin. To his surprise they told him, you can’t be a pilot, you are “Red/Green” color blind. So instead, Ordell volunteered for the Army and was sent to Camp Callan, CA. From there he went to Ft. Bliss TX, then Camp Stewart, Georgia and eventually Camp Gorden, Georgia. When he was sent to Germany in 1945 the “Battle of the Bulge” was about over.
Ordell started out as an Intelligence Observer in the infantry. However, the Army needed more riflemen. As a SD farm boy Ordell grew up with guns and learned to be a “crack shot” early in life. Ordell recalls being on the rifle range, when his drill instructor called everyone over to show the entire platoon Ordell’s target-- 9 bulls eyes. He told them “this is how you all should shoot” Ordell modestly told me, “We were shooting targets at 500 yards, rapid fire (9 rounds in 10 seconds which includes inserting a single round and a clip). You can’t get a steadier bench rest then having that M-1 in a prone position with the sling wrapped around your arm,”
And so it was that the US Army made good use of his marksman skills. For the next 15 months he was sent in as a “replacement infantryman”. As Ordell put it “I marched across Germany”. He started out carrying an M-1 but later was ask to carry a Browning Auto that weighed almost twice as much. Ordell said “I soon found out how rough the terrain was and that it was easier to march up hill rather than downhill. Going down steep grades, you had to jam your heals in at every step—that is really hard on your joints”. Ordell’s assignment as a “replacement infantryman” was to do “clean up”. Basically they marched from town to town, confiscating military weapons and taking prisoners. Toward the end Ordell said, “Most of the German Soldiers didn’t want to fight and were ready to surrender. The women treated us like we were their friends, giving us baked goods and food. That was a good thing as we had to live off the land and if they didn’t give us food we had to take what we needed to survive”.
Ordell commented,”because we were replacement men in this company we never got to know each other very well. We had to dig fox holes apart from each other and cover them with branches so shrapnel and dirt didn’t burry us. We could not even eat together or visit as we had to remain quiet and not bunch up or we would be an easy target”. That was both good and bad as he was not able to become close buddies with many comrades.
But Hitler was not ready to surrender. On April 27, 1945 Ordell’s Guardian Angel kept him from the “Pearly Gates”. At 5AM he and his company of 250 men were crossing the Danube River. Ordell was in front of the boat as a gunner with the Browning Automatic. The other 15 men were rowing. Ordell said, “The River was full of boats and we didn’t know it, but they were waiting for us. About half way across, I heard shots all around me and saw wood splinters from the front of our boat fling past me as the bullets struck. Then it was like someone hit me with a sledge hammer. That is the last I remember. When I woke up 12 hours later I was lying in a pool of blood with the boat beached on shore. No one else was left in the boat and I didn’t know what happened to the rest of the men (see last paragraph). I’d lost a lot of blood but managed to walk some distance and stumbled upon an American Fox Hole. They took me to an aid station where I blacked out again.
They must have thought I was going to die. But one day, after I’d come to, they were going to give me a shot and I asked what is that for. They said, it is penicillin—it looks like you are going to make it”. They then shipped Ordell to England where he remained hospitalized for 3 months. Ordell said, “They removed 18 pieces of metal (two in photo) and some still remains in my lung cavity. They couldn’t sew my wounds up because there was clothing, dirt and other foreign debris that didn’t show up on X-rays. That had to keep draining until it cleared up. Evidently the bullets first hit my 20 round clip and ricocheted up into my spine and lung area. Eventually he healed requiring 87 stitches and thought he would be headed back to his unit.
But after being released from the hospital Ordell was going to be sent to the Pacific Theatre. However, the Air Force took the boat he was to be on, so instead he was sent to Headquarters Company, At Headquarters his new MOS became “Company Clerk”. It sounds like Ordell’s wounds didn’t slow his typing speed, (90 WPM). This was “easy duty” compared to what he had been through. He did a lot of Jeep Driving and enjoyed the freedom of a “Class A Pass”.
Ordell had another unusual military experience at this time. Wild boars were terrorizing the residents and the town’s Mayor ask Ordell’s Commander if someone could help resolve this problem. The locals had few weapons left and you don’t want to face a wild boar with a club. His commander knew who the right man was for this job. He even made sure Ordell had an official hunting license. Ordell said “Any time I walked in the woods, I’d take my M-1 along for protection (more from wild boars then Hitler’s soldiers). Food was not plentiful so I always gave the deer or boar meat to locals who really appreciated it and would even invite me for a meal. They knew how to prepare it and even that big old boar and I was surprised how good it tasted (see photo).”
By April of 1946 Ordell had completed his military obligation and it was time to return back home to the farm. On May 2, 1948 he married Madeline Krogstad and they raised 7 children. Ordell said he was very busy farming and raising a family and never became as active in our Legion Post as he perhaps should have. The Post membership seemed small back then and they were not as active in community projects. He feels there have been some very positive changes in our post as time has gone on with much more community support and involvement.
When asked about his military service and what he would do different Ordell said “I would not want to do it over again, but I’ve never regretted being able to serve. War is not nice! I’m not a hero and didn’t do anything that anyone else wouldn’t have done. Everyone was making sacrifices for our country and NOT ONE PERSON complained about any of it. Even the media was positive”.
Anyone who knows Ordell knows how modest he is. Although some of the things he shared with us are not easy to talk about, it is important that we understand what many of our veterans went through. Ordell was told that of the 250 men in his company that attempted to cross the Danube River on on that April 27th morning in 1945 he was one of the only 5 men that survived.
Ordell, on behalf of The American Legion and the Garretson Community, thanks for your 63 years of continuous membership in Post 23. Even more important, on behalf of the United States of America and the tremendous freedoms we all enjoy in our country today, we want to thank you for your dedicated military service. We have all heard the phrase—“Freedom is not Free”. Ordell, talking with you and others like you, help drive this point home more than ever.