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Local WWII vets reminisce about their time in service
ARLINGTON World War II veterans shared their stories with patrons of the Arlington Library Nov. 1, giving them a glimpse of what life was like during wartime, both at home and abroad.
Loren Kraetz offered a civilian perspective on WWII, since he was only 5 years old when Pearl Harbor was bombed.
My parents were listening to the radio and there was quite a commotion, even though I didnt quite understand it at the time, Kraetz said. The first thing I noticed was the blackout, since we didnt have shades, so we had to blanket the windows.
Although Kraetz was less affected by rationing, since his family owned a farm, he still found himself short of relative luxuries such as sugar. However, his familys long relationship with the local grocer allowed them to benefit from the grocers generosity.
We wound up with these 50-pound sacks of sugar, to subsidize beekeepers, Kraetz said. Our bees didnt need sugar, though, so I suppose that was my experience with the black market.
The conservation of rubber and metal impacted Kraetzs childhood play, as well, since he became accustomed to toys made out of cardboard, wood and paper, and the balls on the school playground were patched so many times that children could hardly play with them at all.
You were told not to kick them, Kraetz said. If you did, you got a spanking.
After a work deferment, Harley Robb joined the armed forces in July of 1943, and by December of 1944, he found himself in the infantry in Europe, just before the Battle of the Bulge.
When it all broke loose, we lost three regiments, but mine held, Robb said. We fought the enemy, but we were also fighting the weather. We slept in 20-degree-below weather, and I was hospitalized for frozen feet.
Robb described his hospital as a school building with stretcher beds, and expressed his gratitude for being able to return to the same troops with whom hed been serving before.
You didnt have to reorient yourself to a new group, Robb said. They didnt prepare you very well. You didnt let anyone take your overshoes, because you might not have gotten another pair. We weathered a lot of casualties. By the end, we were down to about 50, out of 150 to start with.
Harry Yost enlisted in the Navy in May of 1942 and soon found himself steaming toward Guadalcanal.
We had cots you couldnt roll over in, Yost said. Our first day out of New Caledonia, we took a torpedo across the bow. When we pulled into the harbor of Espirito Santo, they told us, Either sink your ship or get out, because the Japanese fleet is right around the corner.
Yost was officially relieved in the Pacific Rim four times, but he and his fellow sailors remained stationed there.
Half of us were in sick bay at one point, Yost said. I had malaria and yellow fever. One day, Mrs. Roosevelt came out to see us. She took one look around her and said, Oh, it looks just like Coney Island! As soon as she said that, everybody took off.
Yost returned in May of 1944 and began serving at the Arlington airport, where he was soon joined by several of his friends.
Its also where I met and married my girlfriend, Yost said. After 62 years together, were in pretty good shape. I was real lucky. The heroes were the ones we left on that island.
Howard Christianson counted 21 amphibious landings that he made on enemy shores, without suffering significant injuries.
I didnt get hurt, and I was too dumb to get scared, Christianson said. I was in Borneo with the Australians when we lost a few guys. I learned how to drink whisky and I got a little good at it. Those Australians were rougher than hell. Theyd been at war for years, and it was fun to listen to them talk.
After Pearl Harbor, Christianson had sought to enlist in the Navy, but there was one problem.
They told me I didnt have enough teeth, but said I could go into the Seabees, Christianson said. When I asked them what the hell the Seabees were, they told me it was construction, and I said Id already done that. I joined the Army in August of 1942, and at the age of 21, I was the dad of the bunch.
Lyle Kell brought a painting hed commissioned, of the Battle of Okinawa, in which he served.
It was the last great battle of World War II, said Kell, who also showed his medals to the adults and children in attendance. They claim that island was secured June 23, 1945, but I wish someone had told the Japanese that back then. Im humbled to hear the stories of those who have served.
Kell also sailed though the Strait of Hormuz, his ship carrying gas and oil, knowing that he and his shipmates were acting as mineshaft canaries, to check whether the strait was safe for fellow supply ships.
I never got over that, Kell said. That was when my hair turned gray. When you spend years going to bed, not knowing if youll get up again, it gets to you.