By Natalie Conrad
Herald Staff Writer
While few Pearl Harbor veterans remain in the area, local Veterans of Foreign War are making sure their valiant efforts are not forgotten. Camanche VFW and Camanche American Legion are hosting a special service and supper to honor those who served in the pivotal battle that marked the start of World War II for the US.
“ If we don’t remember our history, we’re doomed to repeat it,” VFW Commander Glenn Williams said. “It’s important that we remember those who gave up so much, so that we can experience the freedoms we have today.”
The remembrance service will take place on the 71st anniversary of the battle that occurred on Dec. 7, 1941. On the infamous day, 3,500 people were killed or wounded, 18 ships were sunk or damaged and more than 350 aircrafts destroyed.
Not many understand the significance of Pearl Harbor quite like World War II veterans Vern Truemper and Bob Bolte. While the two vets did not fight at Pearl Harbor, the battle directly affected their lives as they enlisted in the Air Force and Navy not long after.
“I knew I wanted to be an aviation cadet and was going to school for the required two years,” Truemper said. “Pearl Harbor changed all that and I left for training in July of 1942.”
Early December has always been a significant time for Vern who was born on Dec. 6, 1922 and received his wings, and was sent to Panama on Dec. 5, 1943. He was later sent to Europe on the Queen Elizabeth and assigned to the 393rd Fighter Squadron.
“That’s why Pearl Harbor and this time of year is so meaningful to me, because so much has happened around this time,” Truemper said. “I suppose someday I’ll probably even die on that day.”
Near the end of the war, Truemper was set to go to Japan and face what was likely imminent doom. While he was in flight, American forces dropped two atomic bombs on heavily populated cities, effectively ending the war and diverting his mission. Truemper completed 37 missions during the war.
“It was estimated we would lose at least two million people in Japan,” Truemper said. “Even with dropping the bombs we still saved a lot of lives.”
Bolte, who left for war in 1943, spent most of his service to the Navy aboard the USS Ajax. The giant ship, the size of two football fields, served as a repair vessel for many smaller watercrafts throughout the war. He married his high school sweetheart not long before departing and said it was often a struggle to communicate with family.
“Letters were censored,” Bolte said. “It was weeks before we got any mail.”
The carnival and the old spit and argue club at Long Beach, Calif., remained some of his more light-hearted memories.
While Bolte has fond memories of Long Beach during training, the seriousness of the war soon set in.
“I learned how to take orders and how to stay alive,” Bolte said. “There were a lot of good times and a lot of bad times.”
Bolte was discharged in 1945. He will serve as the Chaplain of the ceremony on Friday and also plans to sing a song. He was a member of the Navy choir. Both Bolte and Truemper hope that the service not only honors the veterans, but also educates younger generations.
“We have events like this so people don’t forget,” Truemper said. “I’ve talked to some kids and they don’t know anything about Pearl Harbor. We need to make sure people acknowledge events like this that changed our country and those who have made the world we live in today possible.”
The Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day service and supper will start at 6 p.m. Friday at Garner Hall, 311 9th Ave. Cost is $5 for all you can eat. For more information about the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion, or activities of the post contact Glenn Williams at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 244-7135.