(As the U.S. prepares to mark the 75th Anniversary of D-Day, June 6, 1944, Noonan native Albert Dhuyvetter was asked to reflect on his service during World War II.)
At age 94, Albert Dhuyvetter is one of the last few World War II veterans living in Divide County.
He remembers reading about the DDay invasion at Normandy, about a year before he was called up.
“I thought about how it could have been me,” he says, but he doesn’t ever remember being fearful or brooding much about what was to come as the war continued.
“It just seemed common. It just seemed like everybody had their part in the war. I just happened to be the right age.”
After receiving his draft notice in the mail, he left on a train from Divide County with at least one acquaintance — Tony Rivers — bound for Ft. Snelling, in Minnesota. At basic training, soldiers were taught 11 different weapons, including four types of rifles, a machine gun, and of course, grenades, among others. Having grown up as a rabbit hunter using a .22, Albert had no trouble catching on.
Some of the buddies he met from all over the United States during his time in the service — though they might be from bigger towns — didn’t necessarily know as much as guys from rural areas.
“A lot of my buddies were from New York — they had no experience whatever in life. In fact, they couldn’t hardly drive a car. That’s a fact!”
One gift those buddies did have, Albert says, he lacked.
“They were good at talking,” he says.
Dhuyvetter departed from California for the South Pacific in August.
“We were on the boat, oh, about a month I think, and that’s the time they had the bomb,” which fell on Nagasaki, Japan, Aug. 9, 1945.
As far as the war ending, “We didn’t really get all fired up about that . . .We were still thinking we’re going to do a job.”
In fact, “They signed the peace treaty when he was on his way overseas,” says Mary Lou, his wife of almost 66 years.
“That boat ride was something else,” Albert recalls.
A fire on board ship destroyed half their rations while they were at sea, so they received just two meals a day. The quarters were close, with hanging bunks.
“I had my twenty-first birthday on the boat, Sept. 14, 1945,” Dhuyvetter says.
Upon disembarking at Leyte, in the Philippines, “The first thing I did was find a coconut. They were all over the place.”
Did he like it?
“Oh yeah!” he says, eyes alight.
During his time at Leyte he volunteered for various patrols aimed at routing out Japanese troops, but he never saw combat.
It came to be known he had carpentry skills so he was put to work building latrines — eight holers. Another chore was keeping the roofs of office quarters’ patched against the rain.
“And then they asked for volunteers to go to Iwo Jima and I volunteered for that,” says Dhuyvetter, whose typing skills were put to use as a teletype operator. The move required him to transfer out of the Army and into the Air Force. He was struck at Iwo Jima by “all the crosses from the people and caves all over the place that they had been hiding in.”
Hostilities on the island ended months previously, but he learned later some Japanese holdouts were found even after he left.
“If I’d have known there were still Japanese in there I’d have been more careful,” he says.
During his time overseas he wrote lots of letters — including many to his future wife, who was just a young teenager at the time.
“I wrote a lot of letters to a lot of different people,” says Dhuyvetter, which helped him pass the time.
“I was happy to get them,” says Mary Lou, but she didn’t hang on to them. Today, she kind of wishes she had.
Albert says the good training he received ahead of his deployment gave him confidence and he never doubted he’d make it home from the war safely, marry and have a family.
When the war was over and he was flown to Washington state for his discharge, “It was just another chapter in my life,” albeit one that expanded his horizons.
“I learned things I would never have known except for the war,” he says.
He and Mary Lou married in 1953 and gave birth to five girls and five boys, making their home on the farm near Noonan.
Albert was active in the American Legion, he says, because, “It was a part of what I was.”
Looking back, he can’t figure how it is that he has outlived so many buddies.
“It just doesn’t seem possible,” he says.
In other ways, it seems like yesterday.
“I say life is short. You don’t realize how short life is until you get to be my age — it’s gone.”