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95-year-old veteran gets Quilt of Valor
Retired Major Dale Roenneburg examines his Quilt of Valor in the basement of his Brodhead home. He was given the quilt made by the local Sugar River Quilters group during a ceremony at St. Peters Lutheran Church in Brodhead on March 18. Roenneburg served 23 years in the United States Army before retiring in 1965. (Times photo: Adam Krebs)
BRODHEAD - Major Dale Roenneburg used to watch the National Guard at the armory in Monroe when he was a youngster growing up in the early 1940s. By 1943, in the midst of World War II, he felt a calling to join and told the officer in charge he would soon turn 18.

He was 16.

He was discharged once the Guard found out, but it wasn't long before he was able to join the ranks of the U.S. Army. He served more than two decades. Roenneburg served in battle in WWII in the Solomon Islands, before getting wounded and returning stateside. He became an officer in the Army during the Korean War and left the service just weeks before the Vietnam conflict escalated in October 1965.

On Sunday, at age 95, Roenneburg accepted a Quilt of Valor from the local Sugar River Quilters for Quilts of Valor branch at the St. Peter's Lutheran Church in Brodhead.

"I told them at the ceremony, 50 percent of this quilt should go to Louise," Roenneburg said of his wife of more than 70 years.

He and Louise Hintz were married in April 1945 at the same church where he accepted the quilt.

The Quilts of Valor Foundation is a nonprofit group made up of quilters across the nation. Their mission is "to cover service members and veterans touched by war with comforting and healing Quilts of Valor," according to a letter Roenneburg received.

His quilt was pieced by Linda Stolts of New Glarus, quilted by Pat Mason of Brodhead and bound by Nancy Dorl of Belleville.

Roenneburg's military career accounts for 32 medals and awards. He also wrote a book about his time in the service, working his way up the chain of command to major.

"When I (first) shipped out of Rockford, I was designated as fourth platoon leader. I had worked the 37 mm gun, the 57 mm all the way up to the 105," said Roenneburg, who was in a heavy artillery division. "They put us on a boat out of San Francisco headed for the South Pacific."

After landing in Fiji, Roenneburg was made commander and, along with 11 other troops, went to replace Marines who had been fighting for several months at Guadalcanal on Bougainville Island in the Solomon Island chain, north of Australia near Papua New Guinea. The 12 Army soldiers took over the shelling of a mountain during the campaign.

"The island was 19 square miles with a mountain. We started firing at the Japanese. And either they started firing back or one of our shells misfired - we weren't sure - but all five of my guys were killed. I am the only one living," Roenneburg said.

He was taken off the line for shell shock, now generally referred to as post-traumatic stress disorder.

"I had shrapnel in my leg, but it was never reported, so I didn't get a purple heart," Roenneburg said. "I also had shrapnel in my arm, and the report said a tree fell on me, which it did, so I still didn't get a purple heart."

He was taken to a hospital in New Caledonia and ended up back in California and later Wisconsin, where he was married. A year later, his first daughter was born.

In the years after World War II, Roenneburg served as a training officer in South Carolina, was stationed in Germany during the early days of the Iron Curtain and later on went to Korea. He was stationed for 3½ years in Japan and then worked for the United Nations prior to the Vietnam War. At one point, he was mistakenly assigned to the 37th Ohio National Guard despite not actively working for the Ohio National Guard. The Ohio general recommended all of his officers - even Roenneburg - get a promotion.

While serving in Europe, Roenneburg, along with his wife and children, attended a speech by then-General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Roenneburg chuckled as he reminisced how his daughter waved to the future president from the front row, distracting Eisenhower enough to look at her, wave and have a short conversation, disrupting the speech.

"We got in all the papers after that," Roenneburg said.

While living in Germany, Roenneburg said he drove his family all around Europe in his 1949 Studebaker that he had purchased in Brodhead and shipped overseas.

"We went around the boot of Italy, the mountains in Switzerland - and when I sold it, I got back three times as much as I paid for it," Roenneburg laughed.

But the family's time in Europe wasn't all carefree. After WWII, Germany was divided in four main zones - the French, the U.S., the British and the Soviet occupation zones. Once when traveling to Vienna, the Roenneburg's had to pass through Soviet checkpoints.

"I got out to use the restroom, and it happened to be by a Russian officer's home. My wife grabbed a camera that we had and took a picture of the soldier standing there. He shook his head 'no' to her and raised his gun at her. She sunk down in her seat, as if the door would stop the bullet," he said. "I came around the corner and got into the car and asked her what she had done, and we left right then and there. I told her we were lucky, because it was possible we wouldn't have made it out alive."

Roenneburg left Germany after falling ill with hepatitis, and on the flight back to America from Nuremburg, the plane lost use of two of its four engines over the ocean. A third engine went down over Boston and an emergency landing was in order.

Years later, while serving for the United Nations, Roenneburg was sent to check out the stability of Vietnam.

"I was at the command headquarters and the Vietnamese from the north came down and captured the town," he said. "That shaped me up, and I put in my retirement papers right away, and they approved it in one week."

Upon returning to Brodhead, Roenneburg focused on his family. As an officer at his desk for the Fifth Army, he designed his dream house and then built the home on County GG, where he's lived since. Among it sits two Japanese-style buildings, a pond and a swimming pool - he calls it his own Shangri-La.

In 1965 Roenneburg worked as the manager of an A&W and purchased the franchise after the owner died. He ran it for 15 years until a construction injury forced him to stop.

Roenneburg is considered disabled by both the employment office and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and at 95, he's still listed as a major in the active reserves due to the mix-up with the Ohio National Guard.

"You never know when they'll call you back in to sign papers and tell other soldiers where to go," he said with a smile.