By David Fleet
Ask Dane Guisbert or Howard Brandt to share their Army World War II stories and the answers would differ.
Guisbert served in the South Pacific while Brandt was in France. However, more than 70 years later the local soldiers share a common thread as the last two WWII veterans members of Ortonville VFW Post 582.
When the Post 582 was chartered in 1984 more than 200 veterans joined, said Dennis Hoffman, post commander.
“At that point—34 years ago we had 72 World War II veterans—about a third of our members,” said Hoffman, who served in the Army during the 1960s. “Now it’s down to two. We’ve lost five World War II VFW members, Mathew Mersino, Arlyn Wise, Robert Green, Charles T. Kimbel and Clifford McGinnis just over the last year. I’m certain there are
WWII veterans still in the area but not members of the post—we’d like them to come join us. ”
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs statistics, 558,000 of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II were alive in 2017.
It was a different mindset back then, said Hoffman.
“World War II was a big war that included millions of people,” he said. “Many of the WWII veterans came home to be farmers or worked in the factories then folded back in society. It was a different world back then. So often the men that saw combat just never talked about the war or their experiences. Many never applied for veteran benefits either they just went back to work—many still have benefits coming if they need them.”
The Post 582 WWII veterans have been community members for many years.
In the spring of 1945 Guisbert was in the Philippine Islands when shrapnel from Japanese artillery knocked him down.
“It took my breath away,” recalls Guisbert, now a 92-year-old Brandon Township resident. “They sent me to first aid and then back to my unit.”
Guisbert, a Sanilac County native, was drafted into the Army in 1944. He was assigned to the 11th Airborne Division and following basic training was
sent to the South Pacific and served on the islands of Leyte and Luzon.
“I was on Okinawa when they dropped the atomic bomb on Japan,” he said. “A few weeks later the war was over and I was part of the first troops to go onto the mainland of Japan. We were no where near the cities where they dropped the bombs. The people were not hostile toward us Army men—they were glad it was over and wanted to get back to their jobs and homes.”
Despite his injuries he continued his service and returned home after the war in 1947.
For his sacrifice Guisbert received a Purple Heart presented for being wounded or killed in any action against an enemy of the United States or opposing armed forces. He married Elizabeth Butler in 1946 and the have three children Janice, John and Brian all Brandon High School graduates. The couple just celebrated 72 years together.
In 1945, Brandt was 22-years-old when he enlisted in the Army. The Goodrich native was born in a home on Hegel Road and worked on area farms while attending high school. During his freshman year of school he suffered a debilitating paralysis on the left side.
“I missed so much school, I just never went back (to school),” he said. “I worked on the farm and then enlisted in the Army. The war in Europe had
ended but the battles continued in the South Pacific toward Japan. I was not sure where they would send me.”
Howard married Louise in 1944 and had a son Howard Jr. when he joined the Army in 1945.
“We sailed to France then they shipped us across France on a train in cattle cars,” laughed Brandt, now 94. “It was a rough ride for about five hours. We just sat on the floor. It was mostly farm land—I remember people out plowing fields with horses as we crossed the French countryside. Everyone over there was good to us Army men the war was over. Many of the people were homeless in France.”
Brandt was assigned to the 1198 Army Engineering group in northern France.
“I drove an ambulance,” he said. “I was stationed at an engineering depot and POW camp. There was really no hard feeling toward anyone over there. The kept German prisoners for some reason even with the war over. They did not talk to us of course they spoke German—but many were happy the war was done. Each Monday I’d take some of them to the hospital in my ambulance. They never had any bad thoughts about Americans that I can remember.”
He was discharged July 19, 1946 and received the WWII Victory Medal and the Army of Occupation Medal. Howard and Louise had three children. She died in 2012. Howard still lives in Hadley Township.
Hoffman said the younger veterans just are not joining the VFW.
“We need Gulf War veterans,” he said. “We need to keep the voice of veterans going.” Call the VFW 248-627-627-1065.