By Paul Struck, Editor
As we salute all of our courageous military veterans on this Veterans Day, it is crucial to pause to remember the many men and women who, steeped in patriotism, bravely answered the call of service in World War II.
To accomplish this, we proudly share with our readers a telling photograph and other information about 25 brave soldiers from Cherokee and the Cherokee area who, 65 years ago, volunteered as a group for military service at the start of WW II.
According to U.S. Army veteran Charles King, a member of that Cherokee group now living in Chandler, Arizona, the volunteers left Cherokee for Des Moines and were sworn in on December 11, 1940. King can now recall 22 of the men and admits he can't remember all of them. He estimates there were 25 or 26 volunteers from the Cherokee area who enlisted as a group that day to help defend America in World War II.
The local soldiers King recalls include Darrell Leonard, Jens Neilsen, Dale Bechtel, Bob Steward, Jim Stewart, Wayne Stewart, Waldo Berry, Otis Haley, Andy Cobb, Richard Busser, Allan Meecham, Verl Weicht, Chuck Cantine, Frank Powell, Tim Patterson, Robert Johnson, Red Sleezer, Ernie Crane, Forrest Johnson, Ellsworth Grove, and Bennie Zembsch.
"I don't know how many are still alive, but Wayne Stewart, Verl Weicht, Ernie Crane, and Forrest Johnson were killed on duty in Africa or Italy," said King in a letter to the Chronicle Times. "Dale Busser and I are the only ones left, as far as I know."
Sergeants Charles King and Dale Bechtel were later captured by the Italians as prisoners of war in Italy. That news was sent to King's and Bechtel's families in Cherokee through "Catholic sources," according to a local newspaper article announcing the men's capture.
The message was sent to Rev. F.P. Schultes, pastor of Immaculate Conception Church in Cherokee, by Rev. Bishop Edmond Heelan of Sioux City, who received the message through international Catholic sources.
Father Schultes then took the letter and delivered the news to the soldiers' parents - Mr. & Mrs. Perry King, and Mr. & Mrs. Earl Bechtel, all of Cherokee.
According to the letter, Sergeants King and Bechtel were captured "while on a commando raid somewhere in the Mediterranean war theater." They were imprisoned for several months.
According to King, after Italy capitulated, he and Bechtel wondered what was going to happen to them. They had a feeling they would be taken to Germany because there were German troops around the prison camp.
"A few of us decided to take a chance and escape," recalled King. "We took three of our bed slats that we slept on and tied them together from strips of our sheets and made a ladder. The first man to go over the wall threw a folded blanket and put it over the broken glass atop the wall and we followed.
"Dale and I were some of the few who made it (out). We stayed together until we joined up with another friend who made it out. Dale finally stayed with an Italian peasant and the other fellow and I went on. This was in early September, 1943. We then walked through the mountains until we finally made it to the front lines about December 9th."
"Of the 25 or 26 of us that left Cherokee that December 11, 1940, as far as I know, Richard Busser and I are the only ones left."
The accompanying photo includes nine of the soldiers, including King and Bechtel, and was taken just before they left for overseas.