Dwain Van Roekel was 15 years old when Pearl Harbor was attacked, and he decided to act. In 1944, he graduated and attempted to join the U.S. Air Force. He failed the eye examination but was drafted by the Army.
“I almost failed the physical because of my blood pressure,” Van Roekel said. “I couldn’t get it up to 100, which was their limit. They finally said, ‘Think of anything exciting,’ and I got it up to 99. They said, ‘Close enough.’”
He spent 16 weeks in Camp Walters, Texas, for basic training. Van Roekel was able to use his love of typing to his advantage.
“I pushed for the two-year (program in high school) and came out as a really respectable typist,” Van Roekel said. “In other words, I could keep up with the girls. I spent my extra time in company headquarters typing orders.”
While typing, he discovered an order asking for volunteers for Airborne training. He put his name on top of the list and was selected. His Airborne recruitment saved him from going to the battle of Okinawa, which was the largest amphibious assault in the Pacific War during World War II. The U.S. had 62,000 casualties and more than 12,500 soldiers killed or missing.
Instead he was sent to Fort Benning in Georgia for jump school training.
“I thought I was in very good shape, and I could handle anything,” Van Roekel said. “I thought I was the king, but after my first day in training, I had to be helped out of bed.”
Back in Camp Walters, he was a work horse. During forced hikes, he often found himself carrying more items than he started out with.
After finishing jump school, he was sent to additional training in Airborne combat techniques.
He then was sent to Fort Ord in California. Van Roekel discovered that some soldiers known as “Tankers” to be in the same vicinity. His troop was relocated to Camp Anza in California because of some fights between Airborne and the “tankers.”
Van Roekel and his friends attended a ball where they ran into some trouble.
“The troopers and the tankers got in a big fight,” Van Roekel said. “I did not get in the fight. Me and four of my buddies got out of there. We got into an old Chevy taxi. We went to a hotel in Santa Cruz. We went up to the top floor and bunked down in the hallway. The next day, we took some of the girls and went to the beach. We got word that they were shipping us out the next morning because the troopers and tankers got into that big fight.”
He was able to return to camp just in time to be shipped out to the Philippines. His ship-out time was 5 a.m., and he returned to base at 2 a.m.
While in the Philippines he saw something he would never forget.
“We were processing people who went to the prison camps, and they were nothing but skin and bones,” Van Roekel said. “They looked like they were 80 years old. That’s when I really woke up and really got the taste of war.”
Van Roekel was getting prepared for the initial invasion of Japan, but then the U.S. dropped the atomic bomb. He was then stationed at Sendi, Japan, and became part of the occupational forces.
“We took over a university over there,” Van Roekel said. “We were headquartered out of there.”
The citizens in Japan were very nice to him. He never saw an uprising or had any bad confrontations.
“I had a gun assigned to me when I was in basic training, and from that point on I never had a gun assigned to me,” Van Roekel said. “I could have had one, but I didn’t need it. I spent well over a year in Japan, and it was very rewarding.”
He was even able to attend a two week seminar abut journalism in Tokyo. He also was able to see the effects of the atomic bomb.
Van Roekel credits three things for keeping him alive: becoming a good typist, attending Airborne school and President Harry Truman’s decision to drop the atomic bomb.
Staff writer Matthew Shepard may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 425, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.