Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Kenneth Thate 

Born in 1924 in Fairmont, MN
Currently lives in Fairmont, MN
U.S. Army World War II Veteran

Like many young men of his generation, Fairmont, MN resident Kenneth Thate joined the military to help serve our country and fight the enemy during World War II. Thate joined the local National Guard unit in Fairmont. “The armory was in downtown Fairmont at the time,” Thate recalled. “After two years in the Guard, I enlisted in the Army and was sent to Camp Livingston, Louisiana. We were camped in bivouac and for two full weeks it rained the whole time,” he remembered.

He was 19 years old and said he was making $21 per month in the Army. “I sent $10 of it home,” Thate said. After basic training, he was shipped to the Army’s Camp Adair training facility near Corvallis, Oregon before heading to California for deployment in the South Pacific. “We were headed to the Philippines, but the war ended,” Thate said. “I joined and they were so scared of me they surrendered,” he joked.

His unit, the U.S. Army 64th Division Battery “H” Heavy Artillery, was diverted from their Philippines assignment to occupy Japan following the dropping of the atomic bomb and the Japanese surrender in 1945. “I saw the carnage,” Thate recalled. “You couldn’t believe the destruction. Eight-by-eight steel beams were twisted and looked like pretzels. People wandered around in a daze not even knowing what day it was,” Thate said.

Thate was in Japan for about a year, and lost his hearing shooting the big guns. “I was in charge of a 105mm Howitzer canon,” he said. “We didn’t have ear protection back then. It was loud and I shot that gun okay. When it was fired, the wheels would jump off the ground.”

Thate went over to Japan as a corporal and was up for master sergeant rank and recommended for officer training school, but decided to come back home to Fairmont. Taking a moment to reflect on his time in the Army, Thate looks back with amazement on how quickly time goes by. “That was over 70 years ago,” he added. “It just doesn’t seem like it was that long ago that I got out of the service.”

“That was in 1946 and I was 22 years old. I got out of the Army and came back to help dad on the family farm,” he said. Thate did farming for most of his life. He has been married to his wife Betty for more than 66 years. They have six children – four sons and two daughters.

Story and Image © 2017 Joseph Kreiss Photography

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Willard Simon

Born 1922 in Martin County on the family farm near Fairmont, MN.
94 yrs. old
Currently living in Fairmont, MN
U.S. Army World War II Veteran

Following Willard Simon’s graduation from Fairmont High School, he decided to join the Army National Guard in the fall of 1940. “We were going out from Fairmont with our unit on a one year maneuver,” Simon remembers.
They were shipped to the Army Camp Haan in Riverside, California where the guard troops were addressed by Col. William “Wild Bill” Frazer. “He told us we had two choices. We would either go to the Philippines or Kodiak, Alaska,” he recalled. “’Wild Bill’ said we were all going to Kodiak because he wanted to shoot a bear!” Simon admitted because of the fierce fighting in the South Pacific at that time, “I probably wouldn’t be here today if we hadn’t gone to Alaska.”

When he and his fellow soldiers finally arrived in Kodiak in the fall of 1941 they became part of Battery H 215th Coastal Artillery unit training on various anti-aircraft weapons. “I was 22 years old, standing guard December 7, 1941 when I found out the “Japs” had bombed Pearl Harbor and we were at war,” he said. “We never had ammunition for the guns up until that point,” he admitted. “They could have taken us.”

Simon spent three long winters in Alaska during his tour, and he said weather conditions during each one seemed different. They wore white uniforms to blend in with the snow as camouflage. “We stole a lot of stuff from the Navy,” he said chuckling. “We took lumber and paint so we could build shacks by our guns to try and stay warm.”

He eventually was transferred from Alaska and sent, via a South American banana boat and by railroad train to El Paso, Texas for desert training on 40mm guns. In the spring of 1945 he headed to the battlefields of Europe, sailing aboard the Queen Mary to join up with the famous General George Patton. “I was in a Jeep on advance patrol in Germany when we had to stop at intersection because Patton was standing there directing his tanks through the streets,” he said. “I was about 150 feet from him.”

Simon got to head home by fall of 1945, but he remembered it took eight days on a troop ship in very heavy seas with 40 foot waves to finally reach American soil. He was discharged October 17, 1945 and headed back to Fairmont to continue farming.

Story and Image © 2017 Joseph Kreiss Photography
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