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Clark County Veteran Reflects on War in the Pacific as Pearl Harbor Anniversary Draws Near
By Kevin Fox
The attack on Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 7, 1941. The next day the United States declared war on Japan resulting in their entry into World War II. Many years have passed since that day, but the images of that war still are carried deep in the hearts of America’s veterans. Among Clark County’s veterans who served during that time was Wayne Meinhardt of rural Luary,who was a farm boy who would later serve in the Occupational Army in Japan. He would come home with the Good Conduct Medal, Asiatic Pacific Ribbon, Victory Medal, and the Army of Occupation Medal.
This past week I sat down and visited with an 86-year old Wayne Meinhardt and although his memory is not what it once was, it’s a fascinating look at what Clark County farm boys and citizen soldiers were thinking as they traveled thousands of miles from their loved ones.
Wayne was drafted, although it was something that he looked forward to because as Wayne put it, “Everyone was going and serving their country and I didn’t want to be left behind and be thought of as someone who wouldn’t defend this country. Besides it seemed like everyone in my family was serving including my sister!” Wayne left Kahoka on a bus and headed for Jefferson Barricks when he began his basic training. Wayne would later be a part of the 27th Infantry.
Some of the history of the 27th was (some of these accounts Wayne was or was not a part of depending upon the time frame), “Following a lengthy period of maneuvers and training, the 27th was ordered to California in December following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. While in California, the 27th awaited orders to ship out and concentrated on bringing itself up to the authorized field strength of 1,012 officers and 21,314 enlisted men. On April 12th, 1945 the division landed on Okinawa, where it would remain until September when it was sent to Japan briefly for garrison duty. The division was mustered out in late December of the same year. Since its arrival in the Pacific, the 27th Infantry Division had suffered 1,512 killed in action, 4,980 wounded in action and 332 who later succumbed to their wounds.”
What Wayne remembers most about Pearl Harbor was, “How beautiful and peaceful it was. It also seemed so safe with all the military that was there, but of course that had been proven false as there was no longer any place that was safe.” Wayne would serve the Army as a 2-½ ton truck operator hauling personnel, supplies and field equipment. He was also a very faithful letter writer to his parents because, “I could just see them sitting by the radio aand listening to the news. My parents had five stars in the window as they had two sons serving, a daughter and two son-in-laws. It might have been rougher on my parents than it was on their military family member. Thinking about what could happen wears you down to a point that you jump at every phone call. I had hoped I would make it home, but you never assume anything as a great many soldiers didn’t. It was while I was in Hawaii that the Atomic Bomb was dropped and I have to be honest and praise President Harry Truman for the courage it took do that, but it’s hard to guess how many American lives he saved by doing it!”
I remember when they announced that the war was over they blew whistles and we all stayed up all night talking about what it would be like to be back home and back with our families. I do remember getting home at midnight at the depot in Kahoka and my parents meeting me there. It was something that I thought about a great deal when I was away; you know getting home and back to them. As far as my memories, for the most part they are not the kind of memories that you want to keep. Sure I had some friends and I even met and served with Fred McCollister (also from Clark County) and we hung around together some. But for the most part all I remember more than anything else is that I wanted to get the heck back home.”
When asked what he remembers most about his garrison duty in Japan, it was the people.
“I firmly believe that the Japanese people were happy that the war was over. The long nightmare was over! I’m sure that they would have preferred to have won the war, but at least the fighting and dying had come to an end. The country, and this will not come as a surprise to anyone, was dirty and poor following the war and sanitation was not what we think of back here in the states. The Japanese people were very respectful of us. I don’t know what they thought about us personally, but they treated us very well. I went into many of their homes and sat on the floor and ate with them. I also picked up their language and could speak to them a little.”
Like most veterans, Wayne stated that while it wasn’t something to be enjoyed that if he had to do it all over again
he would. And despite the fact that Wayne and fellow servicemen of that generation literally saved the world from destruction he does not look at himself as any type of hero, “We were just doing what we were asked and to do what we felt was right.”
Thank God for such humble farm boys who left home to go off to war, many of whom never returned. May we never forget their service and sacrifice.