Farm boy – Joe DeJaeghere – serving with the Army in France
We have been learning about Joe DeJaeghere, who grew up on a farm 7 miles southwest of Minneota during the 1930s and 1940s.
Joe graduated from the eighth grade in July 1945, but not all country school graduates continued to high school. Joe knew his father, Ed, needed him, “I never went to high school. I had to work.”
He helped his father farm, learning to operate a small, diversified farming operation. He also helped with his mother, who suffered from a heart condition.
Joe’s mom, Leonie, died in March 1950 at the age of 56. Joe was 18 years old and his brother, Morris, was 14. Just three months later, in June, his dad developed serious gum disease. Joe described what that was like.
“Dad could get up in the morning and help milk cows. About 10 o’clock he’d be kaput. He didn’t know what it was to start with. He went to the doctor and the doctor says you’ve got dental disease — a good dose of it. It’s infection. Your whole body gets (weakened) and that was what was happening to him.”
When Joe’s dad asked the doctor what he should do, the physician recommended pulling all his teeth. Ed DeJaeghere was 52 years old. Joe explained how the dental disease limited his father for a long time.
“Every morning about 10 o’clock he was done and would go to bed. When they pulled his teeth, he always had to go to bed. He’d have two or three pulled in a day. It got his body so bad that it took him three years to recover so that he could do a fair amount of work.”
But the livestock could not wait for Ed DeJaeghere to recover, nor could the field work. So, Joe and his brother, who started high school that fall, operated the farm while their father recovered. When Joe turned 18 that fall, he registered for the draft. He explained the draft statuses that dominated his life during his dad’s recovery from disease.
“2C was you stayed on the farm. 1A you went. I got 2C for a while because of my dad’s health. [H]e had to get a [form] from the doctor every six months or so to turn in.”
This continued through the fall of 1953 when Joe’s father began regaining strength. When Joe’s draft deferment again neared expiration in the spring of 1954, he discussed it with his dad.
“I said to him, ‘With Morris graduating and being able to help you, we’re never going to get out of this. I might as well go.’ I volunteered [for the draft] in March and my number came up that I could go in May. That was just perfect because I could get the field work done that spring.”
Joe finished planting corn for his dad the day before he took a bus to Sioux Falls, then caught a train to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri and Army Basic Training. He laughed when he recalled the misery of eight weeks Basic Training during a Fort Leonard Wood summer.
“You know what they told us and I almost believed them, ‘If you’ve got a soldier in Korea, write to him. If you’ve got one in Leonard Wood, pray for him.'”
Joe completed his Basic Training; went home on two weeks leave; and returned to Fort Leonard for more training at Cook School. When he completed his training, he prayed fervently for assignment to Germany so that he could visit his Dad’s family in Belgium. He literally jumped for joy when assignment orders came through for Germany.
He traveled by train to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey to process for overseas assignment and boarded a troopship headed for Bremerhaven, Germany. Our farm boy enjoyed the early days of his first time at sea.
“We were playing cards out on the deck. We were going overseas to Germany. What more could I ask? I loved the first days until we got in that storm. That scared the dickens out of us and so long — 3 days and 3 nights!”
Joe climbed in his bunk and rode out the storm, avoiding the seasickness that afflicted many other troops.
The ship docked in Bremerhaven after nine days at sea. Joe was assigned to a U.S. air base in Chaumont, France to support Air Force operations. When he arrived at Chaumont, his unit had plenty of cooks, so he was reassigned as a truck driver. He spent his duty days overseas driving a 2½ ton truck in support of a rock quarry.
He spent many of his non-duty days exploring Europe. He traveled to Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, but his greatest joy involved meeting his DeJaeghere aunts, uncles, and cousins the three occasions he visited his father’s family in Belgium. He laughed excitedly as he described connecting with relations.
“I think it was the second time I was there, I was talking to an uncle of mine, my dad’s brother. And then people came in – they knew that I was at his uncle’s – and different relatives came in. My jaws were sore from the twisting and turning of talking Belgian before the day was over!”
Joe completed his service in 1956 and returned to farm in Lyon County. He met and married his partner-for-life, Lorraine. Joe’s Army service had enabled him to reconnect the two branches of his father’s family. Joe and Lorraine returned in 1983 and again in 1996 to visit with the DeJaeghere’s of Belgium.
I welcome your participation in and ideas about our exploration of prairie lives. You may reach me at prairieview email@example.com.