A salute to their service
VFW honors Veteran of the Year at annual ceremony
As Fort Dodge Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1856 honored the Webster County veterans who passed away over the last year, it also honored a World War II veteran who still lives to tell his story.
In honor of Veterans Day, the names of 75 veterans who died between May 2019 and May 2020 were read during a Thursday ceremony by Dan Lewandowski, director of Webster County Veterans Affairs, before the color guard delivered a rifle salute.
This year’s Veteran of the Year Award honors Eugene Yetmar, a World War II veteran who, at 94, is among the last of the Greatest Generation’s veterans.
The Greatest Generation, those born between 1901 and 1927, was largely shaped by the Great Depression and was the primary generation participating on the frontlines in World War II. Only 300,000 of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II are still alive today, according to the Pew Research Center.
Following in the footsteps of his older brother, an infantryman in Europe who was held as a German prisoner of war after participating in the Battle of the Bulge, Yetmar entered the Army in August 1944.
As soon as Yetmar left for Liverpool, England, he was in for quite a ride, starting with his ship’s continual zigzagging through the Atlantic to evade German submarines.
After leaving Liverpool, Yetmar went on to the Ardennes and the Battle of the Bulge’s battleground. An infantryman like his brother, the veteran was heavily involved in the Battle of Aachen in Germany.
He continued to fight for freedom in the same country as his brother, not knowing whether Melvin Yetmar was dead or alive, imprisoned or free.
As Yetmar continued to fight for the Allied Forces, his brother was liberated by Gen. George S. Patton’s army, only to be recaptured by German forces and held for another month.
Though the war in Europe was over less than a year into the honoree’s enlistment, he was reassigned to guard German prisoners of war at Camp Algona, while waiting to hear whether he would be reassigned to the front on the Pacific to assist with the invasion of Japan.
The atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 annulled the need for more soldiers in the Pacific.
With more than 10,000 prisoners from 1944 to 1946, Camp Algona served as the POW headquarters for branch camps in Storm Lake, Onawa, Tabor, Shenandoah, Charles City, Eldora, Waverly, Toledo, Clinton and Muscatine. After Melvin Yetmar’s second liberation, the brothers worked alongside each other as guards at the camp — the only pair of brothers to ever serve as guards there.
As German prisoners of war were returned to their fatherland, Eugene Yetmar’s final assignment was accompanying them on troop trains and ships home.