Vern Truemper remembers France about as well as he remembers his own backyard. Though it’s been decades since he flew over Europe dropping bombs and napalm in support of General Patton’s Fourth Armored Division, he effortlessly remembers the relevant names and dates, and more than a handful of wartime anecdotes.
More than half a century removed from the end of his military career, and nearly 30 years after retiring from DuPont, Truemper still puts his formidable mind to good use on a daily basis. As a volunteer with Clinton’s Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) center, the long-time Camanche resident helps retired or impoverished residents with income taxes. He’s served on various boards and committees, and had a lengthy stint as school board president in Camanche.
But the community- minded Truemper’s story did not begin in his longtime home of Camanche. It began in a small town in Arkansas, where a young kid had a big dream.
“I’ve always wanted to fly,” Truemper said.
A fresh-faced Truemper enlisted in the Air Corps, the precursor to the Air Force, in Pine Bluff, Arkansas in 1942. The young aviation cadet bounced around Texas, going through basic training, and eventually logging some supervised time in the skies. Eventually, he was flying single occupant P-40 fighter planes around the American South, ready for a chance to prove his mettle.
That chance came on Dec. 5, 1943, when Truemper received his wings, and was sent to Panama. There, for eight months, he kept a lookout for enemy submarines from the cockpit of a P-39. Eventually, after being trained to fly a P-47 Thunderbolt, one of the USA’s signature flying terrors in the World War II era, he was sent to Europe on the Queen Elizabeth.
Truemper remembers the five-day boat ride across the Atlantic Ocean. While the Queen Elizabeth was deemed fast enough to not warrant a gunship convoy, the omnipresent threat of German U-Boats made necessary constant course corrections.
“There was a ‘zig-zag’ wake,” Truemper said. “We couldn’t be targeted by torpedoes.”
After arriving in France, Truemper was assigned to the 393rd Fighter Squadron, and became a member of the group known as the “Dynamite Gang,” which provided air support for the Fourth Armored Division. Every day, Truemper said, he and his squadmates would help keep the ground clear for the infantry below. Advancing Allied troops was the squadron’s primary objective.
“There were times when we’d become engaged with the Luftwaffe (German air force), but our primary concern was defense,” Truemper said.
The defense proved to be particularly challenging, but not simply because of the German military’s strength.
“One of the biggest problems was that Patton was moving so fast, we had a hard time keeping up,” Truemper said.
Eventually the war in Europe ended and Truemper’s watchful eye was no longer needed in the skies.
But Truemper said that Patton, appreciative of his air support, was generous with collected contraband. German lugers and other “souvenirs,” collected during the ground campaign, were made available and Truemper wasn’t shy about indulging a bit.
“I left a trail of armament on the ground on the way home,” he said.
But war was not quite finished with Truemper. The Japanese conflict was still in full swing, and Truemper said that an invasion was imminent.
“It was going to be done,” he said. “There was no way around it.”
However, while he was being transported to Okinawa, the war abruptly ended.
Rather than endure what was assured to be a bloody occupation of Japan, American forces dropped two atomic bombs on heavily populated cities, effectively ending the war. Truemper said he was still in the air transport when he received the news.
At the behest of the pilot, the transport plane, stocked with five extra days’ worth of food, was devoid of rations by the time the plane returned to the United States.
“We ate like kings on our way home,” Truemper said.
In 1946, Truemper separated from the Air Force, and began civilian life.
A military buddy encouraged Truemper to check out Iowa State University because of its strong engineering program, advice Truemper was keen to take. There, he met his wife, with whom we would have three sons, and received a degree in chemical engineering. After a brief stint in his native St. Louis, Truemper was hired at DuPont, where he worked until his retirement in 1982.
However, chemical engineers don’t simply retire. They’re not wired that way. Truemper began studying for certification to help with income taxes, and began volunteering at RSVP.
He said the volunteer work is a good way to exercise his mind, and he likes socializing with those who utilize RSVP’s senior services.
Truemper finds plenty of other ways to keep busy, as well. Though he no longer carries a gun, he still enjoys hunting trips with his sons, and likes to fish every now and then.
Truemper has always enjoyed technological advances, (he even built his first computer in the 1980s) and he enjoys keeping up to date on new tax software.
Ninety is just around the corner, but that doesn’t phase Truemper in the slightest. He’s already preparing for this year’s tax certification, and is ready for a week-long vacation with his sons.
“I guess I’m still going,” Truemper said.