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World War II veteran receives medals 67 years late

The Akron Hometowner of Akron, Iowa

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It took nearly 70 years for a former Akron, S.D., man to receive his World War II medal honors.

Darcy Fletcher of Sergeant Bluff heard Congressmen were presenting medals to veterans so he wrote to Rep. Steve King before last November's election. King was able to get Fletcher's medals but was having a hard time meeting with Fletcher to present them. Finally, after the election, Fletcher sent his son to get them.

"I wanted to get those things," said Fletcher, who is 89 years of age. "I'm not going to live forever."

"Ain't that funny," said Fletcher, who received his war medals from the Chinese government at a special 19-course Chinese meal celebration in downtown Sioux City three decades ago. "You get your Chinese war medals 30 years before you have to write to get your American medals."

(See list of medals in photo caption.)

Fletcher was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1942, along with the late Elmer Anderson. He was inducted into military service at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., and took basic training at Camp Wallace in Texas. As a corporal, Fletcher began teaching radio communication skills to men at Camp Stewart, now called Fort Stewart in Georgia.

"I knew a little bit about communications - how to string lines, climb poles and take care of radios - all the good stuff," said Fletcher. "We were an anti-aircraft unit."

Soon, Fletcher headed overseas, traveling from Newport, down through the Panama Canal.

"I crossed the equator on July 25," said Fletcher, who has a certificate of the event. On Saturday, it will be the 67th anniversary of his crossing it.

His communications unit manned the guns during the voyage.

"I was right under the ship's bridge," said Fletcher who repeated his superior's words to the men manning the guns.

Fletcher's ship traveled to Australia and then onto Bombay, India. The whole voyage lasted 42 days.

"I remember the smell," said Fletcher, explaining that 125 men lived in the "hold" of the ship. There was no air conditioning. They bathed with salt water but sometimes the water was shut off on them while taking a shower, "So, you got so you didn't take a shower very often. It smelled pretty bad."

In India, they crossed the continent by train to Jorhat.

"This is where we found out about malaria," said Fletcher. "Nobody had told us about malaria. We didn't have mosquito netting. I think everybody got malaria."

Fletcher was hospitalized for a couple of weeks.

"You got hot," explained Fletcher. "You'd sweat clear through the mattress. Then you'd get so cold your teeth were chattering. It's a terrible feeling."

The nurses were so good, he said. "I was lucky it wasn't the reoccurring type."

As soon as the men were released from the hospital, they headed into Burma, where they were building an airport.

"Can you imagine landing a plane where they were building an airport?" said Fletcher. "The planes would come in packed with grass in their wheels. It's kind of funny today."

Burma was where Fletcher earned his battle stars.

"Burma was kind of a rough deal," said Fletcher, down-playing the fighting there.

The American and British forces were "kicking the Japanese out of there," said Fletcher. "The Japanese were coming up there pretty hard; the U.S. Air Force kind of stalled them and began kicking them out."

"You'd get infiltrated at night," he said. "They weren't too far away."

Being one of the communications unit, Fletcher's duties included stringing communications wires to each gun crew and making sure it worked.

"A lot of times, the Chinese would cut out about 20 feet of wire," said Fletcher. "You'd be out there in the dark of night. You didn't dare have a light on trying to find where they cut it out."

"I keep thinking every time I use that stupid little (cell) phone now, wouldn't that have been good back there," said Fletcher. "(Keeping the lines working) kept a guy busy."

The communications were pretty well protected, he said, explaining they filled 50-gallon tin cans with dirt. Each unit had two cans on the bottom and one on top covered with canvas.

"The first night we had an air raid there, I thought I'd better get there," said Fletcher. "When I got there, it was full of officers - captains, lieutenants. I couldn't get in there. I had to go to trenches in the graveyard."

"I thought this is really great," said Fletcher. "All they have to do is cover you look back and you see the funny part now."

The men decoded and encoded handwritten messages to the gun crews. They didn't use Morse Code.

"We didn't have any typewriters," said Fletcher. "We had a list of equipment you wouldn't even feature. I don't know how we kept them darn radios going to tell you the truth."

The men used to listen to "Tokoyo Rose" on the radio.

"We didn't take her seriously," said Fletcher, explaining she broadcast that she was going to have our American Army dog tags in about a week. "In other words, we're going to kill you all."

"That didn't happen," said Fletcher. "I guess there's no good place in a war. It was tough."

"I look at my friends - either buggered up or didn't make it," said Fletcher. "I guess if you got through it, you got lucky."

He recalled that Alan Tindall and Merlin Harkness were killed in action. Lawrence Dague was a Prisoner Of War for more than four years, and Earl Hultgren lost his hand when the bomber plane he was piloting crashed.

"That many guys that close to your age from your locality is quite a few guys," said Fletcher. "Those were the unfortunate guys."

Fletcher admitted there was "a time or two" he didn't think he'd make it through. One such time was during the 42-day voyage to Asia.

"We were running by ourselves in just that little bucket of bolts," said Fletcher, who worked four days on, eight off. When he was working, he was in the radio tower on the ship. When he wasn't he was down in the "hold" of the ship. "They have an 'abandon ship.' There was so many you couldn't get up the stairs so I got so I just lay on my bunk. The lieutenant would get madder than heck. I just smiled at him. If we'd get torpedoed and I'm down here, that's it so forget (the drills)."

Overall, Fletcher spent about 18 months overseas. He returned home to his South Dakota farm. He and his wife, Joy, had one son, Dennis. About seven years ago, Fletcher moved to Sergeant Bluff to be close to his son and his daughter-in-law, Sue of Sergeant Bluff. Joy passed away two years ago. Fletcher enjoys his grandchildren: Melissa and Gene Koler; Cameron; and Ashley and Bob McClarity. He has three greatgrandchildren: Abby, Andrew and Blake.

"I probably would have gone into the war even if I hadn't been drafted," said Fletcher. "The war was getting kind of bad."

"I got a trip around the world," said Fletcher.

"I'm happy they dropped that bomb because our outfit was getting issued submachine guns," he said, "and we were starting to run up and down the road to get in shape."

"If they hadn't dropped that bomb, we'd probably still be over there somewhere under the ground," said Fletcher.

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Original Publication Date: July 22, 2009

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