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Wednesday, November 13, 2013 9:06 PM


Herald editor

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DELPHOS — St. John’s fifth-graders learned the harsh realities of a soldier’s life on Monday. Five local veterans spent an hour with three dozen elementary students sharing their combat experiences.

Harry Liebrecht, Army, World War II; Larry Luersman, Army, Korea; Mike Hughes, Army, Vietnam; Dave Mahlie, Army-retired, Vietnam; and Shannon Wagner, Marines, Korea told of their experiences and responsibilities while stationed abroad.

Liebrecht was drafted in the 1940s and had several pictures of Nagasaki, Japan, after the atomic bomb was dropped in August 1945. An area about 2.3 miles by 1.9 miles was destroyed but other parts of the city were saved from the blast. In 1953, a report by the US Strategic Bombing Survey put the number of deaths at 35,000, wounded at 60,000 and 5,000 missing. In 1960, the Japanese put the number of dead at Nagasaki at 20,000 and the number of wounded at 50,000. Later, the Nagasaki Prefectural Office put the figure for deaths alone at 87,000 with 70 percent of the city’s industrial zone destroyed.

Liebrecht, who was deployed to the South Pacific and then stationed in Japan after the war was over as part of occupational forces, became emotional when talking about the bomb’s destruction.

Luersman was drafted in November 1951 and nearly missed his deployment due to his sister’s wedding. He spent his time in Korea driving trucks and jeeps with ammunition and food for the front-line soldiers.

“I always slept with my shoes on and changed my socks a lot to prevent gangrene,” Luersman said. “I saw those boys who got gangrene from wet socks and it wasn’t going to be me. It was terrible.”

He also talked about the food he ate.

“C-rations were good — if you were hungry,” he said.

Hughes served from 1968-71.

“When I joined the Army, they trained me in accounting,” he said. “What I ended up doing was operating heavy equipment. You just never know where you’ll end up and what you will be doing.”

He also touched on the cuisine the Army served as he looked at his fellow veterans.

“We had C-rations, too, and I believe they were the ones Harry and Mike didn’t eat,” he said only half jokingly. “Food didn’t have expiration dates back then. You knew if it was bad, though.”

Mahlie was in Special Forces and retired from the Ohio National Guard out of Lima.

“I passed the Special Forces test and then the training and extended my service to go to Vietnam,” Mahlie said. “I did reconnaissance.”

One of his covert operations was watching the Ho Chi Min Trail used by the North to move men and supplies to the South.

The trail was a complex web of different jungle paths that enabled Communist troops to travel from North Vietnam to areas close to Saigon.

“I bet you can’t guess the most common mode of transportation on that trail,” Mahlie challenged students. “It was the bicycle. Hundreds of them would pass through there and it was my job to keep track of what they were moving through there.”

Mahlie also shared the fact that many of the Vietnamese camps, hospital and troop sleeping quarters were underground and hard to find.

Wagner, even though quite a bit younger than Hughes, also served in Korea.

“We still have US soldiers there and its still a very tense situation with the North continuously trying to make the South Communist, ” Wagner said.

Wagner trained in demolitions but never really used the skills in the service. In fact, one of his last assignments was just the opposite — rebuilding school systems in Honduras.

“We built school systems. We weren’t replacing them; they never had them,” he said. “I feel really lucky to have done that. You really don’t know poor until you visit one of those countries. We are very lucky.”


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