From surviving internment to going AWOL for love, these wartime heroes share their stories.
THE HOMESTEAD AT HICKORY VIEW RETIREMENT COMMUNITY
Following in the footsteps of his three older brothers, Alyn Wehmeier joined the Navy in 1950. The farm boy, born in Newburg, Missouri in 1932, headed off to St. Louis to begin his service. During his service, Alyn worked in the electrical unit and saw combat in Japan and Korea. The electrical experience served him well, and upon his return from service, Alyn went into an apprenticeship and spent his life working as an electrician.
While on a minesweep in the sea near Inchon, Korea, his boat with five passengers hit a mine. Alyn was the sole survivor and spent two days adrift before being rescued. He spent 17 months in the hospital, and the only person in naval history to have survived such an incident. He credits his Bulova watch with saving his arm from a piece of shrapnel from an explosion.
Alyn spent 50 years as a Shriner supporting handicapped children at a St. Louis hospital and the children’s burn unit at a hospital in Cincinnati, Ohio. He started his burn unit fundraising by selling raffle tickets for a shot at three half gallons of whiskey at the electric plant where he worked. The company only allowed it because it was for a great cause.
HIGHPOINTE ASSISTED LIVING & MEMORY CARE
Edith Horiuchi’s wartime experience as an Army wife was the bittersweet shift away from the struggles of childhood. She was born in Portland, Oregon, in 1920, and had two brothers and a sister. When Edith was six, her mother passed away during childbirth and by age nine she was orphaned when her father died of pneumonia. Her 12-year-old sister became the head of the household, and Edith along with all her siblings worked on the family’s 40-acre farm. With help from a neighbor, the clan managed to keep the farm going, and they all graduated from high school with college scholarships. Despite the scholarships, none of the children went on to college as it was still financially out of reach.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Edith’s oldest brother was drafted, and the rest of the family was interned in Pocatello, Idaho, at Camp Minidoka. They lost everything. While she doesn’t remember exactly how long they were in the camp, she does recall the horrible living conditions. There was always a man in a tower with a machine gun overlooking the camp. All campers were responsible for their
own cooking, maintenance and more. There were four people in one room, with two bunk beds, a blanket and pillow for each bed and a closet. The rooms were unfinished; the 2×4 studs that made up the walls were showing. It was dusty, and when it rained, it was extremely muddy. The camp had a mess hall in the middle, along with the public showers and army-style barracks surrounding the mess hall.
Edith met Harold Horiuchi at the internment camp, and they were married in 1943. Harold was later drafted into the segregated army, a sergeant in the Japanese American Battalion 442.
While Harold was overseas, Edith gave birth to their first baby, Jeraldine “Jeri” Horiuchi. During this time, Edith lived with her sister-in-law in Peoria, Illinois. When Harold returned, Jeri was
already nine months old. Her other daughter, Barbara Jean, was born after the family moved to an army base in Seattle.
In Seattle, Harold worked at Boeing before opening his own gardening business. Edith was a full-time mother and housewife. During this time, Harold started skiing. He loved it so much that one day, he came home and said, “We are moving to Colorado!” And off they went to start a life in Colorado. Harold used his G.I. Bill to attend a watchmaking school. He worked with Mr. Grusin at Henri’s Jewelry. When Mr. Grusin retired, he sold his store to Harold, who finally sold it in 1971. Edith worked at the store as well. After they sold the store, Edith dedicated her time to becoming an accomplished golfer.
When Harold died after being married to Edith for 72 years, they had two memorial services, one in
Highlands Ranch, Colorado, and another in Winter Park. In Winter Park, the ski patrol carved H.H. onto a tree on one of his favorite slopes, dedicated a run in his name called “Harold’s Hideaway” and had
a “ski down” with the ski patrollers and friends. To continue his legacy, their daughter Barbara and her husband teach skiing/snowboarding in Vail, Colorado.
“We had a wonderful 72 years, and had a lot of fun!” Edith says. “We sure enjoyed our life. We never fought. Harold knew how to read people, and he was friends with everyone.”
DON “COACH” WILLIAMS
WESTBROOK SENIOR LIVING
Don “Coach” Williams served in the Navy from 1951 to 1956. In 1951, Coach was re-assigned from Memphis to the Naval Outlying Landing Field Imperial Beach approximately 14 miles south of San Diego, California.
Coach would go on to assist the helicopter squadron in maintaining and repairing sonar equipment to track submarines. Coach would prove to be quite the mechanic!
Coach’s sudden assignment to San Diego threw a twist into planning his upcoming wedding scheduled in Evansville, Indiana. So, he went AWOL with his bride-to-be Marilyn, whom he had known since 5th grade, left the base, drove 290 miles from Memphis to Evansville to get married. They immediately turned around and went back to Memphis where Coach informed the Navy that he was newly married — there were no consequences for going AWOL in the name of love. He was granted a week off for a honeymoon.
After the Navy, Coach continued his college education at Evansville University and ultimately received his master’s degree in physical education and history from Indiana University in Bloomington. Eventually, he moved to Hoffman Estates, Illinois, where he and Marilyn could be closer to family. Coach taught physical education and was head football coach at Mt. Prospect High School. He was able to balance a great family life with his career, and he and Marilyn loved raising their three daughters.
Coach retired in 1990, and the couple traveled many miles in their R.V. between Evansville and Phoenix, Arizona. They took up permanent residence in Phoenix until April 2016 when they moved back to Illinois to be closer to family including their grand- and great-grandchildren. They chose Westbrook Senior Living as their new home. Coach continues to enjoy life with Marilyn and their growing family. They have created close-knit friendships and enjoy all that Westbrook offers!