Local Veteran Recalls Serving in World War II
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By Emily Bontrager
It has been more than 80 years since the United States declared war on Japan. This declaration took place after the unprovoked attack by Japanese forces on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.
During World War II, millions of Americans signed up or were drafted to serve their country in a time of need. The draft required men of a certain age to register for military service.
Clark County native, Donald “Doc” Dieterich, 99, was one of the many men that was chosen to be drafted.
Doc Dieterich was born on April 28, 1923 in Medill, Missouri. His parents were Louis and Lelian Gibson Dieterich.
When Doc was 11 years old, his family moved to Chambersburg. When he turned 15, he started working for Floyd Howell as a farm hand. He then worked as a farm hand for Melvin “Slim” Kaylor.
The first time Doc heard about the bombing on Pearl Harbor was on the night of December 7th. At the time, he was 18 years old and still working as a farmhand.
“The Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on a Sunday morning and Roosevelt declared war the next morning,” Doc said.
This attack prompted the United States into entering one of the deadliest wars in history, World War II, which began in 1939 and ended in 1945.
On October 14, 1944, Doc was drafted to serve his country. He was 21 years old at the time.
“I wasn’t really scared, I just didn’t want to go and a lot of them didn’t,” Doc recalled.
“The neighbor boy, he didn’t want to go. He hated to go worse than I did. We both went the same day.”
Besides leaving his friends and family behind, Doc also had to leave his girlfriend behind, Wilma Kaylor, who he later married.
The first place that Doc was sent was a Navy boot camp in Great Lakes, Illinois.
His training began in October of 1944 and ended in January. During his training, he learned how to march and obey orders. “It was hard to get used to, but after you got toughened into it you were all right. Of course, I was on the farm and I did pretty good anyway,” Doc said.
“The duration of service was 18 months, that’s what they called it when we went in,” Doc said.
“If the war wasn’t over in 18 months, you had to serve more, but I served about a year after the war was over.”
Doc graduated from the boot camp in January of 1945.
“They then shipped me to Tennessee to the Naval Technical Air Base,” Doc said.
When he was in Memphis, Tennessee, he worked in the kitchen.
“They called it a mess cook. You worked in the kitchen, waited on tables, and served food,” Doc said.
After Tennessee, he was sent to New York where he served as a seaman guard. Doc’s job was to patrol the ocean and to stand watch on his post. He was then stationed in California.
“I was supposed to go on an oil tanker to start with and they didn’t get it done by the time they shipped us out,” Doc said.
Since the oil tanker was not finished, Doc was sent across the ocean to serve on the USS LST 635.
Doc first got on the USS LST 635 in Manila, which is the capital of the Philippines.
“I was shipped there from California, and I had to lay over in Pearl Harbor for seven days and catch another ship. There were a whole bunch of us that they shipped there,” Doc said.
The USS LST 635 was a beach landing ship that was able to transport troops, vehicles, and supplies. The ship was 50 feet wide and 300 feet long. Doc served as a deckhand while on the ship in the China Sea.
“I liked it out there on the water and the ship. It could get pretty rough sometimes, but most of the time it wasn’t bad,” Doc said.
Doc didn’t get homesick when he was on the ship.
“After you were gone awhile, you didn’t think about it because you’d write home about every week,” he explained.
Luckily, the USS LST 635 did not see any major combat while they were in the China Sea.
“Nothing amounted to anything. There were little skirmishes off the beaches when we landed there, when people tried to rush you, but it didn’t amount to too much,” Doc explained.
When the war ended in 1945, Doc was still serving overseas. He returned back home in July of 1946.
“I am glad I got back home, I was luckier than a lot of the boys,” Doc said.
Doc was honorably discharged from the United States Navy on July 2, 1946. He served his country for 20 months and 19 days. When he returned home, he went back to work on the farm.
Doc believes that the younger generation should learn about World War II.
We as a nation can learn a lot about our past, and if we recall the pain of war, we can appreciate the peace that the veterans fought for many years ago.
We should thank every veteran who served our country and helped the world in a time of turmoil. The veterans that served gave up their lives to secure freedom for all of us and this sacrifice for our nation should not be taken lightly.