As Memorial Day was observed earlier this week, four gentlemen at Boyd Cottages Assisted Living in Waynesboro shared memories of their long-ago military service and friends they lost during World War II, when these gentlemen and their lost friends went from being boys to men practically overnight.
Martin Duesterhoeft, Charles Schisler, Ellis Butler, and Ernest Taylor, all in their nineties now, were just young men (some may even say children) of seventeen and eighteen years old when they enlisted in the military in the early to mid 1940s. All four of these fine gentlemen reside at Boyd Cottages now, and Mr. Duesterhoeft, Mr. Schisler, and Mr. Butler all felt well enough and graciously agreed to speak with us last week. Mr. Duesterhoeft, who originally hails from Minnesota, brought several pictures to share that he is most proud of, especially one taken when he got to meet the great General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Mr. Duesterhoeft was first a member of the Minnesota State Guard, and at the age of 18, joined the United States Army, which was combined with the Air Force until the two became separate military branches in 1947. Although Mr. Duesterhoeft never saw action overseas during World War II, he trained extensively to parachute out of airplanes, which he says is an indescribable feeling, and was an artillery specialist. His knowledge of weaponry is very evident just in speaking with him for a few minutes.
Mr. Schisler is originally from the state of New Jersey, where he enlisted in the U.S. Army and was put on active duty at the age of eighteen years old. Although Mr. Schisler never saw overseas action, he served his country for many years as a career military man, and eagerly describes his years in the service during World War II, the Korean War, and the Cold War era. At the age of 93, his mind is still very obviously sharp (perhaps sharper that many half his age), and he enjoys talking about the years he spent serving his country.
Mr. Butler, a 93-year-old Wayne County native, enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1943 when he was a mere seventeen years old. When asked what made him want to enlist, he says that he was “just young and gung-ho to serve his country and do what was right.” Mr. Butler spent his years in the Navy during World War II on an aircraft carrier in the Pacific theater. He has a book which he shows with pride that is full of pictures of his fellow servicemen on the ship, and contains detailed maps of the areas where the ship traversed the Pacific Ocean and was involved in great battles. Mr. Butler describes very simply yet eloquently how he stood on the bow of the ship, watching Japanese aircraft heading right for him before they were shot down by the ship’s gunners or American pilots just in the nick of time. He says with a look of wonder in his eyes that he’s not quite sure how he survived, while many of his friends and shipmates did not.
Speaking with these fine gentlemen, who are truly heroes that today’s generation surely do not appreciate nearly enough, puts things in perspective in a way that nothing else can. Their outside appearance reflects all their years of hard work in their respective careers and the many difficulties they have faced. But only in speaking with them and listening, really listening, to their stories, can you see the honor and love for their country and fellow man that they continue to carry in their hearts.