The North Bend Eagle


 

One veteran's story: Francis Minarick

by Mary Le Arneal
Published 11/9/11

What follows is a story that is part of history. History whose tellers are rapidly leaving us. It is not meant to glorify a man or an action. It is a veteran’s story. There are many stories to be told that are not written in history books. This is just one man’s story.

Francis MinarickFrancis Minarick is the last of a group of 20 men from his company who kept in touch after serving together in World War II.

Francis Minarick graduated from North Bend High School in 1939, the tail end of the depression. There were no jobs to be had in the area, so he went to California where he found work with the Douglas Aircraft Company. In 1942 a new plant was opening in Chicago, and Minarick transferred there just as the U.S. was entering World War II. He tried to sign up for the Navy but received a medical deferment. In the fall of 1942, he was drafted into the Army.

“Sixty-nine years ago,” Minarck, 89 1/2, said with deep thoughts showing through his eyes.

After basic training in Ft. Lewis, Washington, he was assigned to the 33rd Infantry Division of the Illinois National Guard, a group he was to stay with until he was discharged. They went to the Mojave Desert in California, preparing to be sent to North Africa. Instead, they were sent to the South Pacific.

“I was trained as a surveyor, a task of no use in the Pacific,” Minarick said. “So I was a forward observer with the infantry to help direct artillery fire.”

The United States was concerned about a Japanese invasion in Hawaii, so Minarick was sent to Kauai, the western tip of the Hawaiian Islands, as part of a group watching for a Japanese landing there. With strong field glasses, he scanned the ocean, which was divided into a grid so that they could call out a number and the guns would know where to fire on incoming submarines.

Next he went to New Guinea where part of the division was involved in combat, but Minarick trained in the jungles, with, as he remembers, snakes, mud and other such obstacles.

The 33rd was then sent to Morotai, a small island in the Dutch East Indies near Indonesia, where Minarick tasted his first combat against the Japanese.

On Feb. 10, 1945, the 33rd Infantry landed in the Philippines Islands, participating in the recapture of the islands from the Japanese. Minarick’s division was sent to capture Baguio, the summer capital of the Philippines and headquarters of the Japanese commander.

“It was a different terrain,” Minarick said. “Very mountainous, like Colorado. Around every curve there was Japanese artillery fire or mines.”

One memory Minarick has of that campaign was capturing a cathedral occupied with nuns from Belgium.

His company went on past Baguio, encountering more Japanese.

In May 1945 the 33rd was relieved and went to the flat lands of the Philippines to train for the invasion of Japan. Those plans changed with the dropping of the atomic bombs in August. Minarick’s division was loaded on a transport and sent to Japan as part of the occupation forces.

“We were the first troops to land in our area,” he said. “We spent most of our time destroying arms, loading Chinese prisoners to send back to China, cutting up airplanes and hauling ammunition out to the ocean and dumping it.”

The Americans were afraid of an uprising, so small groups of troops were sent to city halls to make sure “nothing was brewing.”

“I don’t know what they were looking for,” Minarick said with a smile. “They didn’t understand the language.”

Minarick in 1939Minarick in 1939

He felt the reception from the Japanese civilians was good, but it took him a while to adjust his own attitude.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Minarick said. “When coming in with the convoy the old people would turn their backs (to us), but the kids were happy to see us. We threw out candy. There was no opposition I ever saw. There could have been guerrilla warfare for ten years.

“It was such a shock to meet them. You had this intense hate. You go in (to Japan) and it’s hard to hate. They were a hard working, peace loving people. It’s hard to understand the difference in the people. The soldiers mistreated us. We didn’t regard them as humans. Yet the civilians were just like we were.”

Minarick returned home after being discharged in Jan. 1946. After attending college for two years, he returned to the family farm in the Webster area and married his wife, Pat. He attended a few reunions of his battalion in those early years after the war.

“I was lucky enough to stay with the same outfit from basics on,” Minarick said when asked to look back on his military career. “They were a great bunch of guys. At first they were people you thought you couldn’t stand. But then you got to know them and saw their good points.”

He kept up with about 20 of the men, getting together in a different American city ten or so times when their children were grown.

“I’m the last one left,” Minarick. “There are a lot of widows left, but I’m the last guy.”

A number of years ago, the Minaricks went back to Kauai, Hawaii. Francis took Pat to Hanapepe, a small town near where he had been stationed.

“The town hadn’t changed much,” Minarick said. “Little stores, little theater. I met one women who remembered when the Americans were there.”

Minarick was in the military, in the war, from the age of 19 to 23.

"You couldn’t pay me to go back, but I wouldn’t give it up for anything,” he said. “I learned a lot. I did lot of maturing while in the service.”

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