Life on Whidbey: Most vets keep mum on wartime service

  • Wednesday, April 11, 2007 8:00pm
  • Life

The last two surviving veterans of World War I, ages 105 and 107, died recently, turning the page on this important chapter of U.S. history.

Here on North Whidbey, a number of World War II veterans still enjoy good health and are so involved in life, they hardly pay attention to birthdays. I talked to a few of them last week.

Born and raised on Whidbey, DOC DYKERS is 90 now. A draftee, he and a handful of others from Oak Harbor took a bus to Fort Lewis on the first leg of their odyssey. A slow-moving troop train dropped them off at points around the country where they would receive individual training.

“You didn’t stay in one place for very long,” he recalled. It was at San Antonio, Texas, that he joined the 88th Division.

“We had a five-day crossing to Casablanca, the entrance to the Mediterranean Sea, on the ‘Andes,’ the 10th largest ship in the world,” he said. Their job was to make everything ready for the rest of the division.

Dykers was wounded twice, in the hand, which sent him to a Rome hospital and later, from shrapnel. Those earned him two Purple Hearts, but when a board determined he could not return to active duty, they put him on loan to the Air Force.

JOHN ALLGIRE, 92, served on the old Lexington from 1933 to 1936. He asked for and got duty in China and saw quite a lot of that country in his three and-a-half years there. “I was a baker on the destroyer tender Blackhawk,” he said.

“I came back on the battleship Nevada; USS Heywood, a transport ship, took us to Guadalcanal supporting the PBY. I was sent stateside after a year and-a-half and that’s how I got to NAS Whidbey Island.” He spent 20 years in the Navy, retiring in 1953 as a Chief Petty Officer.

Local insurance man HANK KOETJE, now 83, entered the Army Specialist Training Program at the University of Wyoming, and later joined the Infantry’s 66th Black Panther Division.

“On Christmas Eve 1944, our troop ship was torpedoed about five miles out of Cherbourg, France. We lost 802 men but I survived,” he said quietly. “I jumped from the deck of one ship to another.”

He saw combat in the Battle of the Bulge for 133 days until May 8, the end of the war.

“I think about it every day, but never talk about it,” Koetje said.

When retired Adm. JACK CHRISTIANSEN, now 83, joined the Navy in January 1941, he earned $21 a month as an apprentice seaman. He flew in the era of PBMs and PBYs.

“I put in a chit to go to flight school and got my wings and my commission in 1943,” he said. He was on the carrier Lexington for the Battle of the Philippine Sea and landings at Guam and the Marianas.

He went to law school when he got out but came back to active duty when the Korean War began. He never did practice law as a civilian, but he did work for Grumman’s field service division. He retired as a rear admiral after 34 years of service in the U.S. Navy.

Today, retired Navy Cmdr. DUANE KEMP, 82, works as director of Retired Affairs on board Whidbey Island Naval Air Station. Back in December 1944, he entered the Navy at his hometown of Prosser, Wash. He trained in Florida and carrier qualified on the Great Lakes on the converted luxury cruisers Wolverine and Sable.

He flew TBF torpedo bombers with Torpedo Squadron 9 (VT-9) and was on the first cruise of USS Essex before returning to Pasco and eventually going to the Lexington.

“I switched over to the Yorktown and stayed for two cruises,” he said. “I was at sea until the war was over in 1945 and eventually, put in 28 years.” Kemp was once executive officer of the naval air station.

The ladies’ turn …

ROXANN DUNN-TERRY, program coordinator at the Oak Harbor Senior Center, reports a couple of gals came to her with the idea of organizing a meeting so they can get acquainted.

The first such WOMEN OF WORLD WAR II GATHERING will take place on Wednesday, April 25, at 1 p.m. in the Senior Center. If you are a woman who served in one of the branches of the armed forces during that tumultuous time, meet others like yourself and share stories over a cup of tea. Please call 279-4580 if you plan to attend.

Raising the bar …

The ladies of Delta Tau have their sights set on selling 100 tickets to this year’s fundraiser and you don’t even have to know how to play bunco to have a good time.

The place is the CPO Club at 7 p.m. sharp on Saturday, April 14. Proceeds will benefit the American Cancer Society Relay for Life. Desserts, a no-host bar and prizes will be available.

Call DAWN TENNANT at 679-5632 to get your tickets at $20 a piece.

What’s your news? Inquiring minds want to know. Call me at 675-6611 or write to me at lifeonwhidbey@yahoo.com. See you on April 18!

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