On Saturday, there will be a dozen veterans from Washington County taking part in the Stars & Stripes Honor Flight to Washington D.C.
One of the Korean War veterans is Claude “Stick” Duernberger of West Bend.
“I was 18 years old, West Bend High School class of 1951,” said Duernberger. “I enlisted in April 1952 and I remember the day well because we went to Chicago from Milwaukee and right away they gave you a blood test.”
Duernberger, 81, hasn’t changed much since his days of youth. Wiry and fit, he makes fun of the cowlick that frustrated his mother in all his photos.
During service Duernberger had nine weeks in basic training at the Great Lakes Naval Base in Illinois. “We spent a lot of time on the grinder,” he said. “That was the asphalt; we marched and marched and marched.”
A former meat cutter at the A&P in West Bend, Duernberger worked in the commissary at Great Lakes while awaiting orders.
“I got up at 3 a.m. for mess cooking and then cleaned up and got ready for dinner,” he said. “You had to go through inspection, have a white t-shirt and hold your hands out to make sure you were clean.”
Duernberger was miserable. “Remember that saying, ‘Join the Navy and see the world?’ I thought I would come out of boot camp and I’d be out there seeing some of the country.
“For three weeks my orders never came up and I was just beside myself – the hours at the mess hall were tearing me down and I was on the phone with my mother and said ‘I’m going over the hill.’”
With a real calm voice Duernberger’s mother settled him down and a week later orders came in and he was off to Guam.
Duernberger spent 18 months in Guam and then was assigned to a ship in Hawaii, the U.S.S. Arequipa. “It was a refrigerator ship and we loaded food. We were out to sea for 27 days and come back to Pearl Harbor and load the ship for three days and then head back and unload the food for the islands.”
Duernberger had vivid memories of the diesel fuel exhaust from the ship. “I got seasick,” he said. “The only experience I had on water was a row boat on Wallace Lake. My folks had a tavern and dance hall on Wallace Lake called ‘Stick and Aggie’s Lakeside Inn.'”
Following his first 12 month tour of duty, Duernberger was again reassigned to an ammunition ship originally located in Port Chicago in San Francisco and he took off to go overseas.
“We visited Hong Kong, Japan, and the Philippines,” he said. “When my tour of duty was up and I was discharged I made reservations on TWA airlines to bring me home.”
Looking back at his tour Duernberger said, “I went from a boy to a man in four years.” His fondest memory was of a flower in Hawaii. “If you came in from Wake Island and you came into the berthing area you could smell that ginger flower in the air and everybody would be up on deck just waiting and they smelled that perfume,” he said.
Over the years the aroma was commercialized. “A gal I worked with at the phone company ended up taking a trip to Hawaii and I asked her to look up a white ginger perfume and bring me back a bottle and by golly she did,” he said.
Returning to the states, Duernberger put his skills in radio school to good use and got a job with Wisconsin Bell, the telephone company on Sixth Avenue and Chestnut.
After retirement Duernberger started his own business with Venture Communications Inc. and he ran that for 15 years.
Duernberger has not been to Washington D.C. He said he’s excited to see the Korean War Memorial and the White House. His son Michael will be his guardian.
Other local veterans on Saturday’s Honor Flight include Allen Schoofs of Kewaskum and Donald Vosen of Germantown.