January 25th….“TELL US MORE ABOUT YOUR PATERNAL UNCLE ERWIN. DID HE SERVE IN WORLD WAR II?”
Not one lugubrious ligament languished lazily in Uncle Erwin’s lithe young body. That vibrant eighteen year old Norwegian frame, of our very handsome uncle, was resplendent with energy from head to toe and plenty of muscles in-between. Erwin was one of eight beautiful children that were brought to life, in the northern Minnesota farmlands, by our family patriarch and matriarch, namely Edwin A. and Marie L. Noorlun. Uncle Erwin was, like so many of his generation, toughened by growing up and enduring the hardships of country life as well as being partaker of those who survived the Great Depression in America that lasted between 1929 and 1939. Like so many who lived through those lean years, Erwin learned and lived by the sage saying that went……..”Used it up, Wear it out, Make it do, Or do without!”
The surprise Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7th, 1941, had thrust America into World War II. Erwin (and his brother, Doren) were among the 16 million young Americans incensed by that aggression, and, when their time came, they responded to Uncle Sam’s call to serve our great land in her time of need.
It was customary, during the War, for our government to honor families who had sons, or daughters, who served in the military. That honor was bestowed by sending each military family a window banner that had a blue star for every loved one who served their country during that tumultuous global conflict. A banner personally honoring the Noorlun boys was proudly hung in the window of the family home for all passersby to see and admire. If a son or daughter gave the ultimate sacrifice of their life in service during the War, then a “Gold Star” banner was sent to the family with condolences for the supreme sacrifice in the death of their son or daughter. We, as a family, would always thank the Lord that both Erwin and Doren came home safely from that fight for freedom.
“Meeep Meeep!!!” went the short report of a Jeep’s horn as it kicked up dust while driving past Erwin and his Army buddies during Paratrooper Jump School in Fort Benning, Georgia. It was now 1944 and our uncle had matured to the point of now qualifying to join the ranks of the 16 million warriors that served in the War. It was one thing to join the Army, but it was a noble aspiration to step up the echelons to be the best and serve with the best……..The Paratroopers. Yes, the $50.00 extra a month in bonus pay was a big incentive for many a hopeful paratrooper recruit, but there was also the badge of pride that every man would wear, deep inside his heart, if he could survive and thrive through some of the most grueling training that the Army could throw at you. To become one of the Army’s elite, you ran till your lungs felt like bursting, you climbed up and down every obstacle imaginable (with full pack and rifle), hand to hand combat was taught because you’d be dropping behind enemy lines, and, above all that, you had to be able to learn to jump and parachute out of an airplane (with full gear) five times, in order to get your jump wings. When Erwin accomplished all of those goals, he was then given the honored privilege to spit-shine his jump boots, blouse his trousers over those boots and proudly wear the parachute patch on his garrison cap with accompanying Parachute Jump Wings on his uniform coat. He was now a full-fledged paratrooper and member of the United States Army 17th Airborne Division.
In early 1945, the war in Europe was now in the Allies favor and victory seemed imminent, so the Army “big brass” (leadership) began planning for the proposed invasion of the main islands of Japan. In the meantime, on March 13th, 1945, while on the Atlantic Ocean bound for Europe, Erwin was one of hundreds of paratroopers onboard the USS J.W. McAndrew troop ship. That night, under the cloak of darkness, and thrown about by heavy seas, the French aircraft carrier, Bearn, collided with Erwin’s troop transport killing up to 130 men who were sleeping peacefully down inside the McAndrew’s hold. Our uncle’s life was thankfully spared, but he was forever impacted by the tragic loss of so many young men that would never see marriage, family and other enjoyments of life, having died so young.
In early August of 1945, Erwin was again onboard a troopship that had come through the Panama Canal, in Central America, and was on it’s way towards Japan. Operation Downfall was to be the actual invasion of the Japanese home islands and Erwin’s paratroopers were to make air jumps onto military targets. One day, joyous pandemonium broke out among the men onboard ship when the Captain of the troop transport got on the overhead speakers and relayed wonderful news. Due to the two atomic bombs having been dropped, Japan had finally surrendered. The War was over!!! The ship’s new course setting? Home to the good old USA and the port of Newport News, Virginia.
With peace restored to the world, Erwin came home to Minnesota for a well-deserved family celebration and a ninety day leave for rest and recuperation. In welcoming Erwin (and brother Doren) home from the War, there were lots of family hugs n kisses….well, at least from his three sisters ;-). We even have a photo of Erwin’s siblings giggling with laughter. They had indulged in some “well-lubricated” and inebriated silliness while they partied with their soldier brother.
Then, on January 1st of 1946, our uncle then decided to re-enlist with the Army, at Minnesota’s Fort Snelling where he received initial training in various forms of telephone communications. The Army then sent Erwin to Salt Lake City, Utah for more communications training. He was finally sent to San Francisco, California to climb aboard a ship heading for the post-war Japanese Prefecture of Okinawa. For the next 30 months, Staff Sargent Erwin Maurice Noorlun faithfully helped to rebuild everything that was needed to repair telephone and telegraph systems that had been destroyed during the World War II battles that consumed that island between the Japanese and Americans. When Erwin successfully completed that tour of duty in Okinawa, he received his honorable discharge from the Army on September 29th, 1948 at the rank of Staff Sargent.
We were all so proud of our patriotic and talented Norwegian former farm boy who could “do it all”……..be it jumping from airplanes, to climbing telephone poles for Uncle Sam.
Thank you, Lord, for the uncle of this Norwegian Farmer’s Son.