By DAVID GREEN
They didn’t come home to grief counselors and psychiatrists, says Del Gasche. They just came back home and got married and opened up a gas station or went to school. They got on with their lives.
Gasche, a resident of rural Morenci, has collected the stories of 23 area veterans and published them in a book titled Memories of War: World War II.
The men featured in the book were previously the subjects of feature stories in the Farmland News, a weekly publication in Archbold where Gasche is a staff writer.
“Since I’ve been working at the Farmland News, I’ve talked to so many people who spoke about their war experiences,” he said.
The original story might have been about a person’s woodworking experience or life as a farmer, but when they talked about their lives, they brought up what Gasche sees as the most intense experience of their lives: combat action during the second world war.
“I decided to pull those stories out separately for a book,” he said.
This collection of stories is combat oriented, Gasche said. A second volume due out by next spring, incorporating 50 veterans, includes one World War I soldier in addition to men who served in Korea and Vietnam.
Variety of experience
The range of war experiences told caught Gasche by surprise.
“I thought it was very interesting for a group of 23 veterans to have experiences in so many different areas,” he said.
Gerald Otte of Defiance was one of the first Frogmen, the Navy division that later became known as the SEALS. Roy Kishpaugh of Weston flew a P-51 Mustang fighter plane over Germany.
Jack Jennings of Edgerton ended his service in China as an honorary major in the Chinese army. Jim Huff of rural Liberty Center was captured on the Philippines shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor and spent the entire war as a prisoner of the Japanese.
Keith Whitehouse of Morenci served as a Navy medic and witnessed the terror of kamikaze attacks by Japanese airmen. Don Thrasher of Wauseon was a victim of the war’s first radio-controlled glider bomb developed by the Germans.
As a member of the Navy Air Corps, Bob Switzer of Wauseon was part of the effort that resulted in the only capture of a German submarine during the entire war. Richard Seibel of Defiance, a Lieutenant Colonel with the U.S. Army, was put in charge of liberating the last concentration camp in Europe.
Omaha Beach. Bataan. The Battle of the Bulge. Liepzig. Remagen Bridge. Guadalcanal.
It seems that all the big names of World War II were covered among those 23 veterans.
“This many people within 50 miles of Archbold,” Gasche said, amazed at the wealth of experience—and horror—from the men he interviewed.
One of the most touching tales for Gasche was the plight of Art Rorhs who grew up near Liberty Center. Less than a year after he married, he was inducted into the Army.
While training in Louisiana, he received a telegram stating that he was the father of a baby boy. Another telegram soon followed informing him that his wife died in childbirth.
He returned home to bury his wife on the day of their second wedding anniversary, kissed his newborn son good-bye and headed back to the business at hand. A few months later, he was on his way to Europe aboard the Queen Mary.
Like others in the book, Rorhs was relieved to return home at the end of the war and get back to his regular life as a farmer.
For Gasche as a writer, he most enjoyed telling the exciting story of B-29 tail gunner Robert Franz of Deshler who was forced to bail out of his burning plane over Japan.
“For me, it was a moving experience [to collect the stories],” Gasche said. “I was born in 1938 and the first thing I can remember is the war.”
Gasche describes his book as “the memories of men comfortable with the word ‘duty’ but never with the word ‘hero’.”
“But, of course, they were heroes,” he writes. “They were ordinary people who did extraordinary things under dangerous conditions and that, by definition, is essentially heroic.”
It wasn’t always easy for the men to tell their tales. Tears sometimes flowed, and many had never before recounted their often horrifying experiences.
“You certainly can’t judge the morality of the individual acts unless you were part of it,” Gasche said. “You just had to be there.”
They left home, jobs and family to fight an army that was terrorizing the world.
“It was asking a lot from people,” Gasche said, “but that was a lot more of a clean cut war than any we’ve had since.”
Like Art Rorhs, who lost his wife, left behind his son and returned to duty, the suffering of many veterans was unfathomable.
“That’s the sort of thing that nobody gets a medal for,” Gasche said.
• Copies of Memories of War are available at the Farmland News office in Archbold. For information about ordering, call 1-888-445-9456.
Quotes from the book...
It was a big war and some parts were pretty bad. But I believe it was something that needed to be done. It’s history now and I’m proud that I’m part of it.
– John Bates (Arthur, Ohio)
It’s difficult to explain to anyone what we went through in World War II. We were trained to do something and we did it, one step at a time.
– Robert Franz (Deshler, Ohio)
Everybody in it just did their jobs and nobody expected any thank you certificates or medals. Those of us who lived through it came home and started doing different jobs. It’s hard to believe now, but that’s just how it was at the time.
– J.R. Frey (Pandora, Ohio)
People who weren’t in combat just don’t realize the things that happened. Your buddies get all blowed to hell and there’s blood soaked into the snow. You don’t forget stuff like that, you never forget, not as long as you live, not ever.
– Frank Miller (Walbridge, Ohio)
As we moved through the camp, I saw bodies stacked like cords of wood. For a small-town fella from Ohio farm country, it was utterly overwhelming. I cannot describe my feelings, except to say that my heart is still sick with sadness.
– Richard Seibel (Defiance, Ohio)
The Japanese, European and Russian civilians suffered terrible hardships. Those of us serving overseas in the military understood those hardships, but I don’t believe that the Americans at home ever really understood what the war was like.
– Bob Greek (Montpelier, Ohio)
Right from the start, I felt completely at home in a fighter plane. the flying just as natural to me as anything I’d ever done, including farming.
– Roy Kispaugh (Weston, Mich.)
I was discharged from the Air Force in October, 1945, and I haven’t been up in a plane since.
– Clair Lehman (Strkyer, Ohio)
I was so happy to see good old Wauseon. I wouldn’t have believed any town could look so good.
– Frank Fauver (Wauseon, Ohio)
[Upon his return home…] I got my barracks bag and started hitchhiking home. It was snowing and a guy picked me up right away. There simply are no words to express how glad I was to walk back into my father’s and mother’s house.
– Feroen Betts (Bryan, Ohio)