Lloyd Wessel has spent all but two of his 89 years on this earth in Newton. For the two years he was away, Vessel was fighting for his country in World War II.
Wessel’s time serving his country took him all over the South Pacific as a machinist’s mate second class in the Navy. He faced snipers, posed for pictures next to bombs and befriended natives — and all of this was because of an incident that happened to his friend who joined the Army.
“I had a couple of buddies that signed up for the Army, and I didn’t like crawling around on the ground with them snakes and things,” Wessel joked. “One of the things was, one of our guys, a Newton guy, down in Georgia got bit by one of them cottonmouths. They sent him home on leave for about three or four months to get over that.”
“So that helped make the deal,” Wessel continued. “But really a couple of my buddies were in the Navy and we always talked Navy.”
While in the Navy, Wessel developed a zest for taking and collecting photos. He has several photo albums — including one he said is “a bit graphic” which he doesn’t show people. Wessel has stories behind most of photos, including a copy of the iconic flag raising photo at Iwo Jima.
“Well this is one of the first pictures ever developed (of Iwo Jima) and I developed it,” Wessel said. “I developed it. I had this little outfit on my ship that I developed pictures (with). And the guy brought in some pictures and I developed that. So that was shortly after it was done. Then later on that photographer got famous. Guys would razz me and say, ‘Wessel, if you would have took that in, look at where you would be.’ But there is no way to prove it; people just think you are making up a story.”
Other interesting photos Wessel owns are those of the island natives and some Japanese servicemen.
“These are native pictures,” Wessel said. “These guys are guides, police on the island (Emirau) and they hunt out the Japanese. The U.S. government paid these natives, this is on Manus Island, they paid the natives a dollar apiece for each (Japanese soldier) they brought in, a dollar a head. Well the natives quit bringing the whole body in and started cutting the heads off. And that got back to the government and that hit the news hard and they felt that immediately.”
In addition to taking and developing great photos, Wessel saw that weather could actually be worse outside of Iowa.
“In November of ’44, a typhoon swept the island (Manus) and it tore up our loading ramps and everything,” Wessel said. “They moved us out of there and didn’t repair the island. They moved us from there to Admiralty Island.”
Wessel described what it’s like to go through a typhoon.
“You’ve seen these storms over here on the TV?” Wessel said. “Well that typhoon, there was 15 foot, 20 foot waves coming in. And that’s a ball of water. Our LCT was only 150 feet long. We weren’t in the worst of it. We were anchored on the back side of the island, to break those big waves — to survive. It raised our bards up to where our screws were out of the water and the motors would just fall to pieces if we let them. But I stood watch on them so whenever we started to lift up I would cut the motors.”
“But we had to keep going,” Wessel continued. “We couldn’t go sideways, because it would offset us. So we had to go with the waves whichever way we were going. I was in three different typhoons. When we first got overseas there was a typhoon at New Caledonia. And when we were coming home we were in the tail end of a typhoon. Our skipper told us that we had only moved a distance of two miles during the night.”
After he served his two years in the Navy, he married his high school sweetheart and had three kids. He has some encouraging words for today’s veterans and veteran supporters.
“I wanted to thank everybody for their support in the memory of the veterans and the help they given,” Wessel said. “And to remember the veterans today … actually I think the veterans today have a worse time than we did.”
The humility Wessel showcased about his time serving his country demonstrated why his is called “The Greatest Generation.”
Staff writer Ty Rushing may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 426, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.