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From Cyclone to Corporal: Bernie Lammers recalls time in U.S. Air Force

Sometimes in life you have to cross a path you don’t want to visit. However, Bernie Lammers chose his own detour when he chose to join the United States Air Force instead of returning to college.

“It was kind of funny, though,” Lammers said. “I went to Iowa State just one quarter, and I came home that Christmas. I was thinking about it (joining the military). I was checked with the draft board, and they said, ‘You may, get through to the next quarter (without being drafted).’

“Dad was taking me back up to school, and I was driving. When I went across to get to Highway 69, I turned south,” he continued. “He asked me, ‘Where the heck are you going?’ And I said, ‘I’m going to join the Air Force,’ and that’s where I went.”

Lammers went into the service in February 1951 and got out in February 1955. He said he spent time in eight to 10 locations within the U.S. and spent one year in Korea. Lammers said he met a lot of famous servicemen while in Korea.

“A lot of people have probably heard of this, but Ted Williams crash landed on our base K-13 in Suwon,” Lammers said. “We got to meet him. They told us who was coming, and we were watching it. And before the plane stopped moving, he was out on the wing.”

“As soon as it got stopped, he was running down that wing and jumped down off it and took off across the field,” he continued. “’Cause he was afraid it was going to blow up. He talked to us and told us he was sorry he tore up the field.”

Lammers said there were too many guys there for any of them to try and get an autograph from Williams, who is a Major League Baseball Hall of Famer and primarily known for his time with the Boston Red Sox.

“Very nice guy,” Lammers said. “He had the eyesight. They said he could tell whether a ball was going to be a curve by watching it rotate coming down.”

While he admired Williams’ abilities, Lammers said his time spent in Chicago’s then O’Hare Air Defense Command field made him a Cubs fan.

“Then I went to Chicago, which was a great liberty town,” Lammers said. “(A liberty town) is time off, three day passes, etc. It’s a Navy term, really. In fact, I can’t really remember a time ever in downtown Chicago where we had to buy a drink. You walk into a bar, and somebody was going to buy you a drink, and you wouldn’t even know them. A drink would just magically show up.”

Lammers said being a man in uniform helped them score the free drinks.

“When you left the base, you didn’t wear civvies,” he said.

Although he enjoyed the perks of becoming a corporal and free drinks while in Chicago, his father, who was a Newton policeman for more than 35 years, helped get him through Korea.

“I was very lucky in the fact that almost every night, he would write me a letter,” Lammers said. “One time he didn’t think I was writing back enough, and he sent me a piece of paper and pencil in an envelope.”

He said his father also developed a habit of making fudge and would send him coffee cans full of it, which made him very popular around base. His father even sent fudge to another soldier who had no parents.

“If people realized how much those letters from home meant, I think a lot more would be written,” Lammers said.

Staff writer Ty Rushing may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 426, or at

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