November 10th…“DID ANY OF YOUR MOTHER’S SIBLINGS SERVE IN THE ARMY DURING WORLD WAR II?”
Manly shades of khaki, blue and olive-green military uniforms created a moving mosaic on the loading platform of the train station near Fort Snelling, Minnesota. Farm boys by the thousands were either coming or going on the constant stream of troop-carrying trains that belched out their engine steam from the hot metal sides of those powerful locomotives. For those soldiers and sailors saying goodbye, there were long, passionate kisses to wives and girlfriends whose tears mingled with those of their beloved as their man was about to embark for parts of the world he’d never seen before in military service to his country.
Out of thousands who were called by their nation to serve in this dire time of need, two of those young men were Norwegian farm boys from the tiny berg of Scarville, Iowa. To be exact, one of those soldiers was my Uncle Robert Shirley Sletten and the other was my Uncle Marcus Delmaine (better known as, “Del”) Sletten.
It is without a doubt that Uncle Bob and Del, along with the rest of our concerned nation, were glued to the frenetic sounds of the radio in their farm home, just north of Scarville, Iowa on that fateful Sunday of December 7th, 1941. The sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, by the Empire of Japan, was about to propel both of our uncles from being a child of the black, Iowa farmlands, to being a part of the 16 million men and women who valiantly served when “Uncle Sam” called. The way that our President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, called them was via what was known as the “Draft” (Selective Training and Service Act of 1940). It must’ve been unfathomable for Del and Bob to realize that, eventually, they’d both be leaving the peacefulness of farm life, then be compelled to climb on to and leave on a journey of train, steamship and truck that would propel them across the globe to the lands of Italy, for Del, and to France, for Bob.
Iowa farm boy that he was, Uncle Bob Sletten also had the added burden of saying goodbye to his farm wife, Doris. She and he had been blessed with their little son, Lyle, during those early war years. I can only imagine what would have traveled through their hearts and minds as Bob, in his Army uniform, gave his family a last kiss before leaving. Would this be the last time he would see them in this life? Would he be killed in a tank battle among the blasted out farmhouses of France? Or, would he be spared, by God’s amazing umbrella of protection and mercy, to not be one of those 420,000 names of our men and women killed in action during that global conflagration?
Our handsome Uncle Del Sletten not only stood tall in height, but also stood tall in his aspirations of life, both in his Scarville High School days, but also in his hopes of one day being an architect. Being the tallest of the two Sletten boys, Del was a natural who played on the school basketball team and was even Secretary Treasurer of his Senior Class back the Spring of 1942. In his love for our American ideals, and in obedience to her needs, Del responded to his draft notice, when called to serve, and enlisted into the Army at Fort Dodge, Iowa on April 20th, 1944. Trains had rolled through his boyhood village of Scarville many times, over his young years, but now, Del was to be a military passenger as he climbed aboard the troop transport train. The long line of coaches was yanked by a powerful steam locomotive engine as each troop car felt the jerk and clanking sounds while iron wheels rolled and they headed for Camp Roberts along the central California coast-lands.
Theoretically putting myself in Del’s shoes, I would be listening to the clackety, clack, clack of the railroad tracks below me as I gazed outside the miles and miles of scenery that lay between Fort Dodge, Iowa and my Boot Camp destination in California. Only the good Lord above knew Del’s thoughts as farmlands morphed to prairies to the Rocky Mountains and down to the desert-like flats of the 44,000 acres of Camp Roberts. There must’ve been a collage of emotions from trepidation, wonderment and even a bit of boyhood adventure mixed in as Del rolled onto the parade grounds of Camp Roberts. Boot Camp now behind him, Del was assigned to the “Blue Devils” of the United States Army’s 88th Infantry Division. This Division, created “from scratch” in 1940, was mainly comprised of young men from North Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa.
Under the command of Major General Paul W. Kendall, our beloved Uncle Del Sletten fought valiantly alongside his fellow Americans in the mountains of Italy. Their warrior zeal even earned them the Presidential Unit Citation for valor in combat.
Our mother’s other brother, Bob Sletten, after completing Boot Camp, was assigned to be part of a tank crew that fought in France. Like so many of the young men who served in those metal marvels, Uncle Bob’s hearing was never quite the same after suffering the high decibels of noise from the innumerable artillery shells his crew fired from their tank cannon against enemy emplacements. But, thankfully, enough of his hearing was intact because he needed that hearing to learn something new. Yes, I can still hear Uncle Bob playing a little accordion that he had found inside a bombed-out and abandoned French farm house during a lull in the fighting. He had grabbed it as a souvenir and brought it home to America where he taught himself to play it for family picnics and the like.
God, in His loving mercy, brought both of our uncles safely home again after World War II had ended. What a celebration there must’ve been for all the family as these dear maternal uncles could now continue their lives in this free nation that they had helped to secure for this Norwegian Farmer’s Son.