Submitted by Mark Munn
From Presque Isle County Advance and Onaway Outlook
April 30, 2015
CAPTION: Wally Dagner
CAPTION: Fred Dagner
Seventy years ago in the spring of 1945 World War II was underway in the Pacific and while it may seem like a distant black and white documentary on the History Channel, it couldn't have been more real for two Rogers City brothers pictured here, Wally and Fred Dagner. They grew up on the shores of Lake Huron where summers were never ending and graduated from out local high school. Like so many of the areas young men and women, they evenutally joined the armed services, in this case the Marine Corps.
The United Startes was pushing Japanese foreces back across the Pacific in and island hopping campaign that led to two of the fiercest battles of the entire war, the invasions of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. These battles were fought as a prelude to upcoming dreded invasion of mainland Japan with Wally and Fred thrust right into the middle of it. The fighting was going to be brutal and casualties were expected to be heavy with neither side taking prisoners Fred would later say. Rogers City had already experienced a number of its military members killed or missing in action in Europe and the Pacific including one of Fred's shipmates from the old steamer John G. Munson, Gordon Jaeger, who had been killed in the fightin in Germany during February of that same year.
Wally, a company radio man was involved in teh Iwo Jima assault and when he came off the landing craft went into the ocean water right over his head where he almost drown. He let go of his M1 carbine, somehow shed his heavy radio, and swam to the beach. He managed to crawl over the volcanic ash beach into a shell crater that had had the remains of number of dead marines. He found an operating M1 Garand rifle from one of his dead comrades and right then looked up to see an enemy soldier looking down at him whom he promptly dispatched. the estimated time from coming off the landing craft to hitting the beach was approximately 15 minutes but seemed lie an eternity. Unfortunately he said, this was the best 15 minutes on Iwo. It got worse after that.
Fred had similar conditions with the invasion of Okinawa around a month later including the death of one of his closest friends, the best man in his wedding who was killed next to him in the foxhole they occupied in the darkness. Another one of Fred's friends from Alpena was wounded by enemy fire and thought to have been killed. Fred would learn months later that he had survived after being rescued by an allied tank.
Wally and Fred both survived the war and came back to Rogers City, Wally to be a policeman and Fred an electricican at Calcite, but it impacted them their entire lives. Now days they call it post-traumatic stress disorder, back then you were told to get on with your life and deal with it. Fred's family said he would say he couldn't stand the smell of a neighborhood barbecue because it reminded him of the smell of burning flesh and that on a hot summer day he was known to jump off the old coal tower over the boat landing slip at Calcite into the water. A considerable distance but he had no fear. After all, he had survived the war, what else was there to fear?
There were approximately 21,000 American servicemen killed at Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Twenty one thousand, who never had a chance to go home, witness a beautiful sunrise out of Lake Huron, raise a family, walk a daughter down the aisle for her wedding or find the joy and excitement of a new grandchild. The price is heavy.
The brothers are both gone now, with an American Flag presented to their families at their funerals with some of thw words spoken, "On behalf of a grateful nation," for their service and sacrifice for the freedoms that we all continue to enjoy in our day to day lives. You still see the flag flying at our cemeteries, our churches and our schools before each sporting event. The same flag leads our local parades in which both Wally and Fred marched in for years after the war, as a reminder of the great country these young men were willing to give their lives to preserve for the generations to come.
From the Presque Isle County Advance and Onaway Outlook, April 30, 2015 page 4A.
Retyped by J. Anderson