'We all had our jobs to do': WWII vets share stories of Europe, US bases

By JONATHON SADOWSKI | The Journal Times, Racine, Wisc. | Published: July 6, 2019

RACINE, Wis. (Tribune News Service) — They were there, storming the beaches of Normandy, liberating France and pushing through to the Battle of the Bulge, the Crossing of the Rhine and Nazi Germany's eventual surrender. But their tales are fading.

As the Second World War becomes an ever-more distant memory, so do the stories of those who fought. Many World War II veterans have died – of the more than 16 million Americans who served in the war, only about 497,000 were alive in 2018, with 348 dying each day, according to the National World War II Museum. But some are still with us. At the same time, just over 10,000 WWII veterans were alive in Wisconsin.

The Journal Times located some local World War II veterans who served in Europe, the Pacific and in the United States, to help preserve the legacies of some of Racine County's bravest souls.

Saturday, The Journal Times will highlight Pacific theater veterans Harold Anderson, who served on the USS Indiana, and Joseph Schaub, who was stationed in Australia. On Sunday, The Journal Times will tell the stories of Helen Larsen, who recalled writing letters to her husband while he was away, and Charlene Smith, who talked about her father's military service on his behalf.

Here are the stories, as told to Journal Times reporter Jonathon Sadowski, of one local veteran of the European theater and one who served as a hospital corpsman in the United States.

Pfc. Charles Daceno, 94, enlisted in the Army in 1943 just days after his 19th birthday and wedding.

The reason I enlisted was because I knew I was going to get drafted, so I thought if I enlist, I'll have my choice to go in the Army, Navy or Marines. I didn't want to be in the Navy, no way, that's for sure. I used to get seasick. We went to Fort Sheridan, Illinois, and I was sick as a dog. The first day in, I was so sick. I thought, "What am I doing here?" Then I went to Camp Hulen, Texas, for basic training. We weren't used to it. The only thing that bothered me, and it bothered a lot of the guys: rattlesnakes. I never saw so many.

When I shipped out, I landed on Omaha Beach three days after D-Day. That was the first time I saw any dead American soldiers. I saw -- I'll never forget that kid -- a redheaded American soldier, but he was in a ditch. He was dead. When I saw that, I looked at my friend Frank and said, "Frank, you're never going to see Chicago again." He said, "You're never going to see Wisconsin, either." But we both came home.

We drove the Jeep off the landing craft at Omaha Beach. I knew everybody in the outfit, because I was the colonel's driver. There were quite a few from Racine -- Clarence Sumpter, who died in 2008, I remember pretty well. We spent 292 days in a combat zone. You couldn't walk in an upright position or the Germans would pick you off like pigeons. After we came home, we had to get used to walking in an upright position. A combat zone covers a lot of territory, and just because you're in a combat zone don't mean you're in hand-to-hand fighting. That combat zone could be 20 miles by 20 miles. I just tried to get away from the battles.

When the Germans retreated, they ran like hell. They wanted to get away, and they'd leave stuff. I found a box of six German Luger pistols, brand new ones with the holsters -- those big black holsters the Germans had. Nobody wanted them. We just left the holsters. I brought one Luger home because you were only able to bring one, and I sold it for $75 like a dummy. Now it's probably worth $2,000 to $3,000. I gave the others to the other guys in the outfit.

Our clothes would get filthy, dirty. Those German ladies would wash our clothes -- they did such a beautiful job, the clothes looked brand new -- for, guess what, a pack of cigarettes. We'd get so many cigarettes from the Army, like a carton a week or something like that, and I told the other guys that didn't smoke, "I'll give you $5 for that." I would pay $5 for a carton of cigarettes and I used to sell it for $150 to the German citizens. They were happy to get those cigarettes.

After the war, we took a boat back. When we saw the Statue of Liberty, when we were pulling into the New York Harbor, the guys were going nuts. Then I went back to Fort Sheridan to get discharged. When you get out of the service, you really do kind of miss it, because they do everything for you. When I got home in Racine, I was walking down the street and my mom was walking across the street. She didn't even know I was coming home. She started crying and grabbed me.

Pharmacist's Mate 2nd Class Clarence Ivanoski, 93, enlisted in the Navy in 1943 after graduating from high school.

I remember Pearl Harbor. I was in Downtown Racine at the Arcade Building on a Sunday afternoon. I was a kid, 16 years old at that time. I enlisted two years later, because in that day you had the draft. You were drafted for four years but enlisted for two. So I was a smart-Alec. I enlisted, but I ended up being in for three and a half years.

I did not go overseas. I was in the hospital corps. I went to Great Lakes, Illinois, for hospital corps school for six months. Then I went to the Norman Naval Air Station in Norman, Oklahoma. It had a hospital, and I met the captain of the base. Two years of shorthand in high school got me a secretary job with the captain of the base there. So, I worked a lot with him. I wasn't worried about getting shipped overseas. But then I got sent to New York for further transfer, and, would you believe it, they sent me to the Naval Convalescent Hospital in Asbury Park, New Jersey.

I was very fortunate. I was there almost nine months decommissioning the hospital, so I didn't have any opportunity to go overseas or fight any wars, but I was available. I did other jobs. I would help with funerals and stuff like that, raise the flag every morning for the captain. We all had our jobs to do.

Even to this day, I don't dwell on it. Everybody has their stories to tell, but even the people at home, they had a lot of stuff to put up with. They should get as much credit as I got. My wife, Mitzy, was home. She worked for the J. I. Case Co. making parts for tanks. Those people were important. They were home alone. Everybody worked, so I appreciate what the people did. Somebody had to do my job, somebody had to be home to do their job. All those Gold Star mothers, the mothers of soldiers who died, had a burden to take in. It wasn't easy.


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