Thursday, December 15, 2011

"Farm girl loses her Navy boy"

I spoke with Clem Felsheim a few days before he and his brother boarded a Badger Honor Flight to Washington DC. last month.
(There he is at left in a photo by the State Journal's John Hart.)
Most of you know about honor flights, the network of volunteers who are rushing to give World War II veterans a chance to see their memorial in Washington before old age does to them what war failed to do.
Mr. Felsheim was happy he was going. I'm afraid I didn't have a chance to talk to him after he returned, but I've talked to a lot of other veterans who took the flights, and even was able to join a group of them on one of the exhilarating, exhausting trips a few years ago. I suspect he had the time of his life.
And, with his trip to Washington, he beat the clock, but only by a few weeks.
The retired Navy man, who came home to work in the local Oscar Mayer plant, died peacefully on Dec. 8, according to his obituary.
The opening line of the obituary -- "Farm girl loses her Navy boy" -- speaks in a very touching way about his life, and how his family still saw him as a sailor nearly 70 years after he joined the Navy.
His service was like military service is for most men and women. It involves sacrifice, maybe even danger, but not necessarily a lot of heroics of the type that you see in the movies.
He enlisted as soon as he graduated from high school, but it was so late in the war that he always seemed to be the least senior seaman on his ship. So when they hit port, he was usually the one who stood watch while his buddies went to town.
One of the few times they gave him some shore leave was in Japan, after the fighting was over. The Wisconsin lad went straight to a bar and ordered a glass of milk.
He was from Arcadia in western Wisconsin. One of five brothers who served during two wars. All five came back home, safe and sound, to be the kind of ordinary heroes who work hard and raise families.
Three of them have died of natural causes over the years.
Clem Felsheim and his brother George were the last two living when I talked with them last month. Now there is one.

Clem's daughter sent me these photos taken in Washington. Clem is in the Navy cap and George is in the Merchant Marine cap.