Editor's Note: In April 2010, Clinton Herald Editor Charlene Bielema traveled to Washington, D.C. on an Honor Flight of the Quad-Cities. This column originally was published April 26, 2010. It details the story of Robert Soesbe, whose brother, Jim, was killed in action in September 1944, and the stories of other local veterans who were on that Honor Flight.
Marvin Zastrow of Clinton served in the U.S. Army in Europe from 1942 to 1945.
Lewis Randolph of Preston was an Army infantryman in the European Theater from 1944 to 1946, while Don Krambeck, now 91, was an Army Air Corp pilot from 1941 to 1945, enlisting at the age of 22. A fully licensed pilot at the time, the Clinton man decided to enter the military while at the same time having a wife and young son at home.
The three were among about 100 World War II veterans who traveled on the Honor Flight of the Quad Cities on Saturday to Washington, D.C., to visit memorials commemorating veterans’ military service. It was the seventh flight since the Quad-Cities hub began flying missions from that airport.
The group saw the World War II Memorial, the Korean, Vietnam and Lincoln memorials, the Air Force Memorial, the Women's Memorial and then visited Arlington Memorial Cemetery to view the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and see the Changing of the Guard ceremony.
It was an emotional trip for the veterans, many of whom had special reasons to see the monuments.
Bob Soesbe, of Clinton, was eager to see the two memorials commemorating the wars in which he fought — World War II and the Korean War. But that wasn't the 84-year-old Clinton man's only goal as he headed to the nation's capitol.
He also sought to reconnect with the memory of his brother Jim, who during World War II was listed as “Missing in Action, Presumed Dead.” It was a status assigned to him after Jim's plane was shot down flying a mission over Holland in September 1944.
“We all probably lost somebody,” Bob said of his reason for wanting to go on the flight. “You are going to remember the ones that didn’t come back.”
Just days from turning 22, his brother, Jim Soesbe, was flying his 10th mission as a bombadier/navigator in the Air Force. The family was notified he was missing in November 1944, after a six-week time frame in which they heard nothing from Jim or the military about his whereabouts.
His disappearance came just three months after Bob, who had been drafted alongside many of his classmates, was sworn into the U.S. Army days after graduating from high school.
Bob was 18 and, after basic training, was assigned to the 24th Infantry, seeing battle in the Phillipines. It was the same unit that had been bombed during Pearl Harbor. By the time he entered the service, many of the men in that infantry were well into their 20s and 30s, leaving Bob as the new kid.
He easily recalls the time spent in the Phillipines, and later Japan, where he was promoted to sergeant at the age of 19. In early 1946 he returned home, got married, started a family, and ended up being called to Korea during that war. As an active reservist, he spent 10 months on duty.
He later came back to Clinton, raised nine children with his wife, Ethel, and retired from the telephone company.
Elmer Ullrich of Clinton, another veteran who was on Saturday's flight, was reminiscent as he viewed the Iwo Jima Memorial. Ullrich, now a resident of Wyndrcest Nursing Home in Clinton, entered the service in February 1942 and after eight weeks of basic training was sent to Hawaii, where he operated a control station, search light and radar. From there he was sent to Iwo Jima. Aboard ships for 30 days, Ullrich saw that there wasn't much left of the island when he arrived and learned that 6,821 soldiers lost their lives in 36 days. A Bronze Star recipient for his participation in the Battle Of Iwo Jima, he was overseas for 39 months and discharged in October 1945.
Ullrich and his guardian, daughter Betheny McDaniel, were grateful to be on the trip. He suffered a stroke in May 2007 and after recovering the two had plans to go on the October 2009 Honor Flight.
But on Sept. 30, he fell and broke his hip. He had surgery on Oct. 1 and his participation in the trip had to be canceled. But this time around, his health had recovered to the point he could take the trip.
As McDaniel glided her father's wheelchair along the memorial’s perimeter, Ullrich told her of his memories and the devastation on the island.
Soesbe said visits to the many memorials would trigger deep emotions in the veterans, some of which would remain internal, others of which would be shared among them.
“Being with a bunch of World War II veterans and knowing what they did. There is a tie among us. There are thousands of memories and a feeling in the air of comradeship.”
As Krambeck stood inside the World War II Memorial he reflected on its detail and what it meant to be standing there viewing it.
“I love the fact that they have eagles,” he said, pointing out the ends of the memorial that detail the Pacific and Atlantic segments of the war and the large eagles on display there.
“It’s impressive,” he said. “It reminds me that I think God had an angel in the cockpit with me.”