By Starrla Cray
LESTER PRAIRIE, MN Going to war is never ideal, but Lester Prairie’s Don Splettstazer, 91, considers himself fortunate.
“I really lucked out,” he said, recalling his time in World War II.
Splettstazer graduated from Lester Prairie High School in 1940, and then took up welding and metalwork at Dunwoody Institute. Later, he found a job in the Butler Shipyard in Superior, WI.
“That’s where I met my better half,” Splettstazer said, referring to his wife, Helene. “She was the daughter of a lumberjack.”
Splettstazer joined the Marine Corps in 1944, the same year of their wedding.
“Then, I went to San Diego to boot camp,” he said.
He quickly learned that soldier comfort wasn’t a top priority.
“The first evening, they gave us each a bed, and I didn’t have a pillow,” Splettstazer recalled. “I told the drill sergeant I didn’t have a pillow, and he said, ‘you’re damn lucky you got a bed.’”
After boot camp, Splettstazer was put on a ship to Oahu.
“I was supposed to catch a boat out of Hawaii, for the K-9 Corps,” he said.
Because of bad weather, however, it took Splettstazer’s boat 12 days to get to the island.
“By that time, the other boat had left,” he said.
Splettstazer remembers being overjoyed that he didn’t have to go back to sea.
“I had been seasick for 12 days I didn’t know if I was coming or going,” he said.
On the Ewa Marine Corps Air Station in Oahu, Splettstazer’s first job was at a post exchange (PX) operation, which provided a variety of items to soldiers.
He later became a barber, even though he’d never cut hair in his life.
“Guys coming back to the states would wait in line for my haircuts,” Splettstazer said. “I was so slow, they thought I must be doing a better job.”
After 18 months in Hawaii, Splettstazer was stationed in San Diego.
“I had a good job there, too, as a meat cutter,” he said.
Splettstazer enjoyed California, but when he got out of the military in 1946, he and Helene came straight back to the Midwest.
“We never even talked about it,” Helene said. “This was home.”
Back in Lester Prairie, Splettstazer purchased a concrete block company, where he employed 12 people. He also served on the Lester Prairie Fire Department, the city council, the school board, and the board at St. Paul Lutheran Church.