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Dan Wegmueller: 'Hero,' like the uniform, still fits
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Growing up in the American Midwest, Jerry always had taken a special interest in electrical wiring, radios and engineering. As a child, Jerry and his brother built contraptions out of scrap, including a Ferris wheel that actually worked. The brothers shared a special bond that could not be broken even by military protocol. As Jerry and Ike made their way from Maine to Seattle to Hawaii and the Pacific, they found a way to stick together; they even shared a foxhole in the midst of some of the most vicious fighting of World War II.

The Japanese were not the only enemy men like Jerry faced during the Pacific campaign. Terrain, and especially climate, proved to be an even deadlier foe. Pacific battles sometimes were fought in locales that could receive rainfall in excess of 200 inches a year! During the rainy season it was not uncommon, in some places, for soldiers to get drenched in 8 to 10 inches of rain per day. December temperatures and humidity seldom fell below 80 percent. Almost every soldier suffered an ailment called "jungle rot", and Australians fighting in New Guinea would literally peel off skin when removing their socks.

Folks, the Pacific was not an agreeable place in which to wage war! For every two soldiers lost in battle, five were lost to disease, which ranged from malaria, dengue, dysentery and ulcers caused by skin disease ( In a strange environment, the Americans received help from aborigines:

"There were many insects and dangerous snakes on Leyte - they were around us all the time! In the Philippines we had these friendly scouts, and this one scout was always telling us what to do; he brought us food and whatnot. The spiders were bad, as were the snakes. Well, there was a snake on the ground and our scout said, 'him bite, you die!' They showed us what to watch out for."

What the scouts could not protect the Americans from was disease. Again, consider that for every two casualties of battle, five were lost to illness! Jerry elaborates, "Only one time my brother and I nearly got split up, and that's when I got the stinging fever real bad, and they put me in the ship's sick bay. I was in there for a couple days, and was getting better, but they wanted to ship me back toward Hawaii for rest. You know, we were practically skin and bones, for not having much to eat! Well, Ike came down and told me that they were thinking of shipping me back. I thought, oh no - so I got better real quick! I got better, and was able to continue with my Engineering outfit."

In light of the incredible conditions the men faced, Jerry explained how simple improvements almost felt like home: "In Leyte we had it pretty good - we were like the fifth wave or so [of the invasion]. Each guy would build his own hut, and my brother and I were in the same hut. We used telephone field wire for our springs. We'd take two bamboo shoots or tree limbs, and make bunks. Then we stretched the wire back and forth across [the limbs] and that was our springs, and we had our blankets on top of that. So we had pretty good living there! Also, we had plenty of fruit in Leyte; there were bananas right behind [our hut], but they were really small - really small bananas."

In hearing men like Jerry, Ken, and Bill Grinnell share their experiences in World War II, I couldn't help but ask an inevitable question. I have personally never served, certainly never seen combat, except in film. I asked Jerry, "Have you watched movies about the war? Do you think that films like 'Flags of our Fathers' and 'Saving Private Ryan' are accurate?"

Jerry responded immediately, "They're pretty accurate; they may be blown up a bit, but for the most part the movies are accurate, because things were really that rough. A lot of times in those movies they show buddies helping each other - we were that way too."

"In fact, during one invasion, there was this island where we got off the landing boat, maybe fifty feet from the shoreline. Well, we all carried a pack, an M1 rifle, and some radio equipment. I don't know how many pounds we had, but it was all I could do to walk with all that crap on me! Ike got off the landing boat, right in front of me, and there was a hole there [in the coral]. I've seen many bulldozers go off a boat to try to get to shore, and they'd go down in this big coral reef hole. I suppose they're still down there! Well, Ike stepped off the boat, there was a hole, and he fell. I quick reached down and helped him up, and we took a different route to get to the beach."

Jerry laughed nonchalantly, as if blowing the incident off. In such conditions, men could step off a landing craft and into such a hole, only to drown under the weight of their own gear. Certainly, the brothers watched out for each other in a way that went above and beyond an ordinary friendship. As if to emphasize the point, Jerry pulled out a newspaper.

There, on the May 27, 2006, edition of The Monroe Times, was a color photo of Jerry and Ike, in uniform. Jerry pointed to the picture, "This uniform is over 60 years old! That's [me and Ike], we march in that parade every year."

After more than 60 years, Jerry and Ike's U.S. Army uniforms still fit.

- Dan Wegmueller is a columnist for The Monroe Times. He can be reached at