In Mt. Hope, one of the names that graces American Legion Post 229 is Clifford Wachter, who was killed in fighting Christmas Day 1944. Clifford was not the only son of Herman and Mertie Wachter who picked up a gun for his country as seven of their 10 boys wore the uniform. It is a family history that is filled with a number of medals.
Clifford was the oldest, and entered the U.S. Army in 1942. After basic training, Clifford was sent to Europe. He was wounded during the D-Day invasion, receiving one of his two purple hearts. Just prior to his death, Clifford was back home for a week’s leave, and had an inclining his time would soon be up.
“He said ‘I am not coming back’,” Mike, his brother recalled. “You never know.”
While Clifford was the oldest, he wasn’t the first to serve. Clifford’s younger brother, Carl, called Mike by anyone who knows him, actually went into the military in 1941, prior to the United States entering the war. Called in through Selected Service, Mike recalls being at the CC Camp prior to his callup. “Sergeant said ‘I think we will be seeing each other real soon’,” he recalled. Sure enough, Mike went to the South Pacific, and hopped islands during battles for the Pacific.
Mike was part of campaigns for Bismark Archipeligo, New Guinea, as well as the liberation of the Philippines, handling 81 mortars. He remembers that soldiers were fighting not just the Axis, but the heat and illness. “We used to take a lot of pills,” Mike recalled, noting that they worried about malaria. Then there were the bugs. “It was warm, and you had to wear a raincoat so the mosquitoes wouldn’t get you.”
One lasting image Mike has of combat is seeing dead Japanese soldiers floating on a river, or sitting on islands, left there by retreating armies.
It was during one of his missions in the summer of 1945 when Mike was hit. “They sent stuff back in at you, they just wouldn’t let you shoot them,” Mike joked. and was home on a furlough when the war ended. He was given an honorable discharge soon afterwards. Mike had received a Purple Heart, Service Stripe, and a four-bronze star among other awards.
To show how long it took to get a message during war time, Mike recalled it took six months before word reached him that Clifford had been killed in action. Mike recalled that the experience of war made the news less of a shock then in normal times. “You get used to that stuff,” Mike said.
Herman “Junior” Wachter was drafted in 1945 and spent more than a year in occupied Japan after the war. Then there was Donald, who entered the military in 1946 and served in Virginia for most of his enlistment. Edward went overseas in 1950 as part of the Korean conflict. The youngest to serve was Kenny, who went into service in 1954, serving as a radio operator in occupied Korea.
Louie Wachter was drafted in September 1951 and soon found himself in Korea. “When our turn came, we just went,” Louie stated, noting that he didn’t want any deferment. He was serving on Hill 1066 when he was injured by an exploding grenade that hit his position. “The gun jammed and they overtook our position,” Louie recalled. Louie made it to the opening when the grenade went off, sending schrapnel all over the place and taking out his four front teeth. “I thought I was dead,” Louie recalled. Because he was surrounded by the enemy, which even crawled into his foxhole to check around, Louie even had to play dead. “I was just hoping they didn’t throw in another grenade,” Louie quipped.
With him was a new member of his squad, who hadn’t been with the unit for more than a week. Louie recalls that the new soldier kept rolling him over onto his back, but Louie kept rolling back since he was bleeding from the moth. Bleeding and unable to move, Louie sat there overnight until American forces retook the hill the next day. He was sent back to Japan for treatment of his wounds.
Louie recalls that when he served, there had been a freeze on rank. “Our staff sergeant was a PE2,” Louie recalls. Despite being a squad leader, Louie’s rank never went above PFC.
Louie said he can’t think of one thing that his parents may have done to make them any more patriotic than anyone else, it was just a job they had to do. “I don’t regret ever going,” Louie said.
With the death last year of Donald and Kenneth, only Mike, Louie, and Junior are still around. They spend their time on their farms, as well as helping out with legion events, including the upcoming fundraiser June 11, which will be held to raise money for the memorial planned for Mt. Hope. Running from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., the event will include a hog roast and giveaway, and will also be connected to a poker run. Louie said he got involved because his brother’s name will be on the memorial, looking to further honor Clifford’s sacrifice.