We heard from Joe DeJaeghere, who grew up on a farm 7 miles southwest of Minneota in the 1930s and 1940s.
Joe graduated from eighth grade in July 1945, but not all country school graduates went on to high school. Joe knew his daddy Ed needed him “I never went to high school. I had to work. “
He helped his father run a farm, learning how to operate a small, diverse farming operation. He also helped his mother, who suffered from heart disease.
Joe’s mother, Leonie, died in March 1950 at the age of 56. Joe was 18 and his brother Morris was 14. Just three months later, in June, her father developed severe gum disease. Joe described what it was.
“Dad could get up in the morning and help milk the cows. Around 10 a.m., he would be kaput. He didn’t know what it was to start with. He went to the doctor and the doctor says you have dental disease – a good dose. It’s an infection. Your whole body is weakening and that’s what was happening to it.
When Joe’s dad asked the doctor what to do, the doctor recommended that all his teeth be pulled out. Ed DeJaeghere was 52 years old. Joe explained how dental disease limited his father for a long time.
“Every morning around 10 o’clock he was done and was going to bed. When they pulled his teeth out, he always had to go to bed. He would get two or three a day. It damaged his body so much that it took him three years to recover so he could do a fair amount of work.
But the cattle couldn’t wait for Ed DeJaeghere to recover, and neither could the work in the fields. So Joe and his brother, who started high school this fall, operated the farm while their father recovered. When Joe turned 18 that fall, he entered the draft. He explained the draft statuses that dominated his life during his father’s recovery from illness.
“2C was that you stay on the farm. 1A you are gone. I had 2C for a while because of my father’s health. [H]I had to get a [form] from the doctor every six months or so to visit.
This continued until the fall of 1953 when Joe’s father began to gain strength. When Joe’s adjournment of the project nearly expired again in the spring of 1954, he discussed it with his father.
“I said to him, ‘With Morris graduated and 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 so I could go in May. It was just perfect because I could do the fieldwork that spring.
Joe finished planting corn for his father the night before he took a bus to Sioux Falls, then took a train to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri and Army Basic Training. He laughed when he remembered the misery of eight weeks of basic training one summer at Fort Leonard Wood.
“You know what they told us and I almost believed them: ‘If you have a soldier in Korea, write to him. If you got one in Leonard Wood, pray for him.
Joe has completed his basic training; returned home on two week leave; and returned to Fort Leonard for further training at Cook School. When he finished his training, he prayed fervently for a posting to Germany so that he could visit his father’s family in Belgium. He literally jumped for joy when the assignment orders arrived for Germany.
He traveled by train to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, to prepare for an overseas assignment and boarded an armored personnel carrier bound for Bremerhaven, Germany. Our farm boy enjoyed the first days of his first time at sea.
“We were playing cards on the deck. We were going overseas to Germany. What more ? Loved the first few days until we got into this storm. It scared us and too bad – 3 days and 3 nights! “
Joe climbed into his bunk and climbed out of the storm, avoiding the seasickness that plagued many other troops.
The ship docked at Bremerhaven after nine days at sea. Joe was assigned to a US air base in Chaumont, France, to support Air Force operations. When he arrived in Chaumont, his unit had many cooks, so he was reassigned as a truck driver. He spent his days overseas driving a 2½ ton truck in support of a rock quarry.
He spent most of his off-duty days exploring Europe. He has traveled to Germany, Austria and Switzerland, but his greatest joy was meeting his aunts, uncles and cousins DeJaeghere the three times he visited his father’s family in Belgium. He laughed enthusiastically as he described his connection to his relationships.
“I think it was the second time I was there, I was talking to one of my uncles, my father’s brother. And then people came in – they knew I was at his uncle’s house – and different family members came in. My jaw was aching from speaking Belgian before the end of the day!
Joe finished his service in 1956 and returned to the farm in Lyon County. He met and married his lifelong companion, Lorraine. Joe’s military service had allowed him to reconnect the two branches of his father’s family. Joe and Lorraine returned in 1983 and again in 1996 to visit the DeJaeghere of Belgium.
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