Nov. 6, 2006
Army veteran was stationed in Japan during World War II
By Linda Scherer
It has been more than 60 years since World War II ended and George (Butch) Lachermeier, a retired dairy farmer from Winsted, came home from his tour of duty in Japan.
Still, when he recalls the 30 days spent on a ship in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and his first few nights when he and his Army buddies landed on the coast of Japan, those memories seem to come from yesterday.
When Lachermeier first heard the news of the Japanese bombing Pearl Harbor on the radio, he was working in town and was shocked. That was Dec. 7, 1941. He was drafted into the Army the following year, Oct. 17, 1942, at the age of 26.
Stationed first at Fort Snelling, Lachermeier said, “When we were supposed to be sleeping in our bunks, you could hear some of the guys crying because they weren’t used to being away from home and they knew they were not going to come home for a long time. It didn’t bother me so much because I had been away from home a lot, but we knew we were there until we were done.”
From Fort Snelling, Lachermeier was stationed in Clinton, Iowa; Cheyenne, Wyo.; and California.
For half of his three-and-one-half years in the service, he was stationed overseas. He was first sent to Hawaii, and from there to Hiroshima and Okinawa.
“We were on the ship for 30 days and it was windy, too. I didn’t get sick, but many of the guys did get sick, and if you weren’t sick, you got sick from everybody being sick around you,” Lachermeier said.
Lachermeier had never been on a ship before. He tells of storms on his way to Hawaii that had the ship tipped all the way on its side.
“When the water was higher than the ship was, I thought, for sure, our ship was going to turn over,” Lachermeier said.
Much smaller boats were used for the actual landing on the Japanese coast. Approximately 10 men were assigned to each of the boats. When they first landed, they were told all of the action came after dark.
Later that evening, they were to get a better understanding of what was meant. The sirens went off and everybody headed for the foxholes.
“There were beacon lights across the sky and when the sirens went off, you could see the Japanese flying up there,” Lachermeier said.
Their group remained in the foxholes for a couple of hours, and then returned to work. Another half hour and the sirens went off again, and they were back in the foxholes.
With all of the excitement and confusion of their first night in Japan, they managed to get their tents set up, but did not have time to dig a trench around them like they were told to do.
“About 3 a.m., it just poured, and the water went running through our tents. We were laying in water. And this was our first night’s experience,” Lachermeier said.
There were many close calls. Lachermeier was an engineer responsible for delivering gas and making repairs on vehicles and planes.
“We were on a boat one night unloading the gas and equipment, with a thousand gallons of gas on there, and the Japanese must have seen us and they dropped some bombs and the boat just rocked. If that would have hit us, there would have just been our bones left,” Lachermeier said.
By this time, really seeing what the war was like, Lachermeier shared with one of his Army buddies that he had little hope of seeing home again.
In fact, Lachermeier finds it surprising that he survived and did make it back home.
He was in Okinawa when the war ended. It was hard for him to believe the war was finally over. “We heard the war was over. Some ammunition was blown up and we thought maybe it wasn’t really over,” he said.
He had another 30 days on board a ship, but the voyage home did not seem as bad as the one going overseas the first time.
Returning home, Lachermeier had made up his mind, “if I made it out of the war alive, I was going to have a business where no one would tell me what to do. In the Army, you have a sergeant, a commander, and you do this and the next one tells you to do that.”
He decided that farming would give him the freedom he was looking for.
In 1950, Lachermeier married Elmerine Kieser and they moved to their dairy farm on Highway 261, located between Winsted and Lester Prairie, just a few miles from where Lachermeier grew up.
They raised two children, Patricia and Doug.
Ten years ago, they both retired from the farm and bought a home in Winsted, where they are enjoying their retirement.
Lachermeier said the war changed him quite a bit. To this day, he cannot stand to watch any kind of war movie.
Of the 10 brothers and sisters in Lachermeier’s family, only his younger brother, Al, served during World War II in Germany.
“I guess I am kind of like my brother, Al. Every time we would sit down and start to talk about it, he would start to get emotional,” Lachermeier said.
However, the war does not seem to have had an effect on Lachermeier’s cheerful disposition. He was even able to laugh recently when he received a letter telling him his social security benefits were to be withheld until he corrected an error in paperwork that showed his birthday on the wrong day.
Lachermeier found it especially funny, because he has been celebrating it on that day for 90 years.
Today, Lachermeier is very active in the American Legion, where he has been a member for 58 years. He has served as a second vice commander and a board member, and tries to attend all of the meetings.
He and Elmerine are at the Winsted Legion every Tuesday and Thursday, where they make the coffee, help with dishes, bring along snacks, and play cards.