In 1944, it had been five years since the second World War began — three years since the U.S. joined the conflict — and Dean Ward was entering his last year at what was then just called Newton High School.
Dean, like a number of his classmates, felt it was his civic duty to join America’s war effort. He said that he and four of his NHS classmates decided to try and enlist in the U.S. Navy together.
“I couldn’t pass the vision test. They went and I didn’t,” Dean said.
While he didn’t get to serve with his classmates, Dean was undeterred by this and eventually found another way to serve his county with military service.
“The U.S. Army came out with a program that they called ‘Limited Service.’ In other words, it was medics, quartermasters — basically the non-combative potions, which wasn’t really true. The medics were knee deep in it,” Dean said.
He said he then volunteered at the draft office for this new offering and was ready to go immediately. Although he was primed to join, he said a lady at the draft office told him to wait another month since he was so close to graduating from high school.
“I graduated on the 28th of May, 1944, and on the 29th, I was in Camp Dodge in Des Moines,” Dean said.
After he left Camp Dodge, Dean spent 13 weeks in a medical training facility at Camp Barkeley, Texas. He said even though he was a medic, the Army still required them to take six weeks of infantry training.
During his training, Dean said some of his officers noticed that he had potential — he has his personnel records to prove it — and they gave him two options: he could go to Officer Candidate School or optical school.
He chose optical school.
Some would question why a man who was willing to drop out of high school — with less than a month until graduation nonetheless — would chose optical school over the chance to become an officer. However, despite only being a teenager, Dean was thinking about the bigger picture in life.
Back home in Newton, he worked at a local optometrist’s office. By choosing optical school, he was giving himself an extra leg up for what he thought would be his chosen career.
Once he finished with optical school, Dean volunteered to go on assignment overseas in the South Pacific. While there, Dean served at a number of location in the Philippines and even took part in a surrender ceremony for 700 Japanese troops.
His job as a medic was to check on the well-being of those troops after they surrendered. He said only one had to be sent to the hospital and that he kept a flag and rifle as his trophies.
Although he declined his opportunity to go to OCS, Dean still managed to work his way up to staff sergeant. In addition, he said thanks to his course schedule at NHS — he had taken the commercial industry course load which included things like bookkeeping — he was transferred to a federal finance office in downtown Manilla, Philippines.
At that office, he served his final nine months of duty as a finance technical clerk. In that role, he supervised eight enlisted men and 30 civilians as they performed multiple financial services.
“Not bad for a kid that was 19,” Dean, now in his 80s, said before a chuckle.
Dean said he felt fortunate that things went in that direction. He said the original reason his unit — the 157th Regimental Combat Team — was in the Philippines, was that they were preparing to invade Japan. Dean said he discovered this fact after the atomic bombs that ended the war were dropped and a friend of his in intelligence let him in on the secret.
In May of 1946, Dean was discharged but remained on the inactive duty list. He returned to Newton to work for the same optometrist he worked for prior to the war. Then in September of 1950, Dean answered the call again to take part in the Korean Conflict.
He transferred back to the medical unit and served another 21 month. This time around, he stayed put on American soil and helped operate a mobile optometry unit in Fort Hood, Texas.
Once his second stint in the Army ended, Dean hung up his combat boots for good. He returned home to Newton and began a third stint working for the same optometrist’s office he started at in high school. When he finally left that job, he went on to work for Maytag where he spent years with the company.
These days, Dean volunteers for a number of services and organizations and is a member of Newton American Legion Post 111’s World War II Last Man’s Club.
It’s been 70 years since he initially answered the call of duty, and he credits his time in the service for teaching him discipline and proving him the necessary guidance to live a good life.
“You have rules and regulations and you better had abide by those. It’s a good lesson for a young guy of 18 who goes in. You go in with some fear of what’s going to happen, but I never I had any problems — I was treated very well,” Dean said.
Senior staff writer Ty Rushing may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 426, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.