Thursday, June 6, 2019

World War II Veteran, Jerome J. Einck, Celebrates His 100th Birthday on June 6, the 75th Anniversary of D-Day

Following is the article that I wrote on my Grandpa, Jerome J. Einck.  It was published in the Decorah Newspapers today, June 6, 2019 on his 100th Birthday:

By Kendra Kleve (Jerome’s granddaughter)
June 6, 2019 is a historical day worldwide, as it marks the 75th anniversary of the Invasion of Normandy, also known as “D-Day”, a critical turning point in World War II.  For World War II Veteran, Jerome J. Einck and his family, it is an extra special day as they celebrate Jerome’s 100th birthday.   
D-Day on Omaha Beach
Jerome Einck served in the U.S. Army assigned to the 967th Quartermaster Service Company attached to the 6th Engineer Brigade, a special unit formed to land early at Omaha Beach in Normandy, France on D-Day in June 1944.  On the morning of his 25th birthday, Jerome was among the soldiers crossing the English Channel on a cargo ship carrying tons of ammunition to Omaha Beach.  Their job was to bring the ammunition off the ship for the invasion; however, due to the condition of the sea and the approaching gunfire, they were forced to debark further from the shore than desired, and the cargo was loaded onto DUKWs (amphibious boats) to be brought onto the beach.  Jerome recalls unloading the supplies while under fire.  This was especially dangerous since the ship was at risk of a major explosion due to the large amount of ammunition they were carrying.  All around him, allied troops fired at the German soldiers while they retaliated from their pillboxes or cement bunkers.  Jerome comments that the pillboxes were very well made; therefore, the rangers had to get up close to destroy them with grenades.  I remember so much noise, and everyone was scared to death” Jerome explains, and he still can’t believe how lucky he was as so many young men were severely injured, crippled for life, or lost their lives.  Records indicate that Omaha Beach was the deadliest of the five beaches with over 2,000 casualties.
Jerome arrived onto the beach as the fighting ensued and landmines still lurked underground.  Soldiers, including Jerome, were without sleep for up to three days as they fought their way up the beach in the rain.  They dug fox holes and attempted to sleep in them as the fighting and rain both persisted; and although they covered the holes with tarps, they still got wet.  Jerome recalls waking one morning in a fox hole to find a lizard on his stomach staring him in the eye.  They ate food rations and eventually slept in tents (4-6 men in each tent) when the conflict began to quiet.  Once they took a stronghold of the area, they were finally able to gather the deceased soldiers, placing them in bags and burying them in trenches.  Jerome describes it as “the biggest disaster you’ve ever seen!”  He recalls having to walk past the bodies, noticing that they all seemed to have photographs of their loved ones lying next to them.  He still wonders if the men had been looking at their photographs as they died or if someone had come along and laid them out for them.     
Like many soldiers, Jerome has vivid memories of that day and his time in the war, but he does not share those memories easily – his family has had to piece together his story from the fragments he has imparted throughout the years; though he recently commented “I thought I would never forget, but now some details are just gone – maybe that is a good thing.”
Life Leading up to the War and After
Jerome was born on a farm near Castalia, IA, the youngest of four children born to Bernard (Ben) and Julia (Doerr) Einck.  He attended country school near his home, and he also recalls attending school in the town of Castalia for a while, where he thought nothing of the long walk to school every day.  Due to his mother’s ill-health, Jerome and his parents moved to Ossian, where his mother passed away when Jerome was 14.  He quit school after 9th grade and they moved back to their family farm near Castalia where Jerome continued to work until the land was sold about the same time that the army was looking for men to fight the war.     
Jerome was drafted into the army in May 1943, reporting to Camp Dodge in Des Moines, IA before traveling by train to Fort Warren in Cheyenne, Wyoming where he went through basic training.  At Fort Warren, the new soldiers spent time at rifle ranges and built up endurance by hiking and camping in the mountains.  In an attempt to ease their anxieties, they were entertained by actor/comedian, Mickey Rooney.  Joe Louis, the heavy weight champion at that time, also put on a show for them.  After basic training, Jerome was sent to motor maintenance school for eight weeks until he was sent by train to New Jersey where he waited to be shipped to England.  Their troopship set sail for England in March 1944, surrounded by destroyers for protection.  Although the ship was huge, the waves were rough, and Jerome illustrates it as “jumping around like a little toy ship in the ocean.”  Everyone was seasick, not only from the turbulent waves but also from the smell of paint, as the ship had been freshly painted on the inside.  Jerome recalls eating meals and notes that they had to stand up and hold onto their plates to keep the food from sliding away.  At night, they slept in hammock-type cots in bunk-bed style down below.   When they arrived in England, they stayed in private homes throughout the town and met each night to eat supper together.  Jerome continued his training in England, practicing boat maneuvers for a week at a time, until June 5th – the day they had originally planned as D-Day – but they were delayed by storms until June 6th.  For a few days before the attack, they were kept in confinement so they couldn’t accidently leak information to the Germans.
 After the invasion, Jerome continued his tour of duty in France and eventually stood guard over critical areas during the final months of conflict.  He recalls spending Christmas there and giving some of his rations to the kids in the town.  Rations included soap, candy and cigarettes and they were paid just $50 per month by the army.  The first year after the invasion, Jerome and his company moved to Belgium where Jerome worked as an honor guard at Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery.  The bodies of the fallen soldiers had been removed from war-torn areas and laid there to rest.  Jerome recalls looking at the names of the soldiers while he was there.  The men in his company were like brothers to him and he has quite a few stories of his time with them.  While in Antwerp, Belgium, Jerome was also assigned to work as a telephone operator.  He alternated day and night shifts with the other soldiers spending his occasional time off swimming in a pool near the large house that the army provided for them to live.  He recalls sleeping on mattresses filled with straw from area farmers.  He admits that he hardly had time to feel homesick except when he first went into the army and again when the war was over and he was waiting for his turn to go home.
Returning Home.  A Love Story and Family Life on the Farm
Jerome returned home on February 4, 1946.  He points out that it only took them around 10 days to get to Europe, but it took them 24 days to get back as their ship, the “George Shiras”, was rerouted due to storms and they ended up having to stop at the Azores Islands to refuel.  When he was discharged from the army, Jerome took a train from New York back to Cedar Rapids, IA where he got off at the bus station.  There, he waited until morning when he could contact his soon-to-be-wife, Norma (Koch), who was living in Cedar Rapids and working at Rockwell Collins for the duration of the war.  She immediately quit her job and the two of them headed home together to Ossian, IA.  The young couple was eager to marry but Lent was coming soon and the Catholic Church did not allow weddings to be performed during Lent.  Therefore, the couple quickly planned their wedding and they were married just weeks later on February 28, 1946.  They did not have time or money for lavish wedding attire, so Norma wore an aqua suit and Jerome purchased a wool suit which was the only one he could find at the time.  They exchanged private wedding vows on a wintery morning and celebrated with lunch at the Green Parrot in Decorah and a reception after at Norma’s family’s farm.  Since Jerome did not own a car yet, friends drove them to a hotel in Oelwein, IA where they spent their honeymoon.  If you would ask Jerome, he would tell you that the love of his now wife, Norma, is what got him through the tragic days of war.  He carried her photograph with him throughout his years as a soldier and he continues to carry it in his wallet yet today, proudly displaying the now-tattered photo for family from time to time.  He says he looked forward to her letters, which she sent daily and spritzed with her favorite perfume.  He tried to return her letters when he could, via V-Mail, which the army censored by blacking out any information they viewed as confidential.      
    Jerome and Norma spent the next several years farming and raising a family together.  They started out living with Jerome’s father until they could get back on their feet.  Jerome worked for a telephone company laying telephone wire underground and also helped his sister and her husband farm.  Their first daughter, Sandra (Thuente), was born in April 1947.  Shortly thereafter, they heard about a farmer north of Decorah looking for someone to run their land.  Jerome’s brother-in-law allowed him to use his machinery, in return for labor, so he could rent the farm on half with the owner.  Jerome credits the help of his sister and brother-in-law as being vital to their future in farming.  During the first months renting this farm, they lived in a small, previously abandoned house nearby, paying just $5 a month in rent.  They have fond memories of that little house even though it was nothing fancy and did not have running water or electricity.  Once the landowner got to know them, they invited the young couple to move in with them, allowing them to make their home in a few rooms of their house.  Their daughters, Annette (Bohr-Wiltgen) and Dianne (Trytten), were born during that time in 1949 and 1950.  Soon after, the family rented a farm west of Decorah where they remained until 1955 when they moved onto another farm, southwest of Decorah, which they would make their lifelong home.  There they raised pigs, beef cattle and chickens and milked cows.  Their fourth daughter, Linda (Ludwig), was born there in 1958.  They rented the land on half until 1974 when they purchased the farm as their own.  The couple continued to work hard and make memories there until 1998 when they retired to a home they purchased in Decorah where the two of them still make their home together today.  Their farm is now owned and run by one of their grandsons.  
In addition to their four daughters, Jerome and Norma have eight grandchildren and fifteen great grandchildren so far.  Throughout the years, Jerome has expressed that he hopes his grandchildren and great grandchildren never have to experience the tragedy of war. 
The family will be celebrating Jerome’s 100th birthday with a private gathering the following weekend.

1 comment:

Delores Koch said...

This is a beautiful tribute, Kendra. After I saw your post on FACEBOOK this morning I called the Decorah Newspaper so they could send me a copy as I found it difficult to read as I tried to enlarge it. Glad you made this available so I could read it on this special day.