Memories of war remain vivid, even after 60 years
Sixty years ago this week, a young Nick Golz was hunkered down with his U.S. Army unit in Luzon, Philippines awaiting orders.
"The opposition at that point had pretty much been vanquished," he recalled.
At 17 years old, Golz looked barely 15 when he enlisted in the service.
"Maybe it's stupidity, but I thought I had to go over there and help out. At 17, you're kind of gung-ho and patriotic."
He was part of the major offensive that eventually helped bring an end to World War II.
His superior officers had indicated that Golz would be among a group of soldiers to invade Japan in the coming weeks.
"But then we heard this rumor that they dropped this big bomb," Golz said. "We wondered how it could be. Then we heard they dropped another one."
Within days, the Japanese had surrendered, marking the end of World War II.
"It was a big sigh of relief we had that day," recalls Golz, 78.
The field artillery gunner was still anxious when he heard he'd be part of the initial occupying force in Japan within days.
"We were some of the first to go into Japan, but we didn't exactly trust them yet," he said. "We were in full battle gear."
Golz was on an adjacent ship, anchored in Tokyo Bay, when the Japanese surrender was signed Sept. 2 on the U.S.S. Missouri.
The troops then went ashore. "It turned out beautifully," he said. "They bowed down to us."
Golz was part of the occupying force through May of 1946. He was discharged from the Army at the end of 1946.
"I was no hero or anything," Golz said. "There were millions and millions of us. I was just one of the boys who had a job to do and did it."
Golz, a New Richmond resident for about 20 years, admits that it hardly seems like 60 years since the end of World War II.
He expects to relive some of the memories of his service on that major anniversary Friday, but Golz promises not to linger on those thoughts.
"I haven't talked much about it, even with my family," he said. "There are things that you see that stick with you, but I never have thought that much about it.
"I put a big effort into putting things into the past. I live in the here and now."
Cyrel Frye, rural Star Prairie, was at Pearl Harbor when the U.S. entered World War II on the heels of a Japanese attack.
His ship, the U.S.S. Honolulu, was damaged in a second wave of air attacks but it wasn't sunk.
Later in the war, Frye was involved in numerous key Naval battles, including Guadalcanal.
Frye served in the Navy for four years, eight months and 12 days (not that he was counting) before the end of the war came.
Frye happened to be in Seattle, Wash. awaiting reassignment to a new ship when word came Sept. 2, 1945 that the end of the war had come.
His wife was trapped by huge traffic jams downtown as city dwellers spilled out into the streets to celebrate.
"It took her a good long time to get home that day," he said. "So I couldn't celebrate with her for a while. It was quite an exciting day. It was more than exciting."
As the 60th anniversary approaches, Frye thinks back to his days as an anti-aircraft gunner.
"Sixty years ... it's almost hard to believe that it could be that long," he said.
He notes, however, that upwards of 1,200 World War II veterans are dying per day, proof positive that time is marching on. The Pearl Harbor Survivor's Association, of which Frye is a member, is seeing a huge decline in numbers as a result.
"It's dwindling down to the point where they're considering disbanding," he said.
Bob Soderquist, 84, was an Army engineer who helped to lay and maintain a gas pipeline to serve the troops on the frontlines of the 1944 invasion of Europe.
A 20-year-old native of New Richmond, Soderquist was drafted into the Army and ended up serving more than three years overseas.
Soderquist was on a ship headed to the Philippines when word came that the war had ended.
"We had a bunch of recruits on our ship," he said. "The boats behind us turned around and went back. We kept going."
Because he had the misfortune of being with new recruits slated to join the occupying force in Japan, Soderquist ended up staying in the Philippines for two or three months even though he was eligible for his discharge.
Soderquist said his war experience wasn't all bad, giving him the chance to see a lot of the world.
"And we met a lot of nice people in France, England and Whales," he said. "But there was bad times, too."
Soderquist, who has been slowed in recent years due to emphysema, said every year he says goodbye to his fellow World War II vets.
"Every year we have 10 or so (American) Legion members who are deceased," he said. "Age has taken its toll ... the years have gone by fast."