Veteran Fred Dietel recalls final days of WWII
By Richard Zowie— After having served in the U.S. Army’s First Infantry Division and having helped liberate the Philippines from Japanese control during World War II, Fred Dietel was sent on a new assignment about 1,200 miles north of the Philippine archipelago.
South Korea, to be exact.
With the end of the war near and Japan slowly losing its grip on the Asian territories it had controlled, American troops were sent to occupy the peninsula during the forming of what would become North and South Korea.
Soldiers in Dietel’s unit had been sent to North Korea, and he was unable to be with them at first due to being under the weather.
But then, as he traveled to join them, word arrived that the war was over.
On Sept. 2, 1945, aboard the USS Missouri, Japan formally surrendered to the Allies. Then, a week later on Sept. 9, 1945, Japanese forces in the Korean peninsula formally surrendered.
“We were happy, I guarantee,” Dietel said about how he and others reacted when word reached them. “Yamashita (the Imperial Japanese Army general) was still on the news, and word was whoever captured him would get the first trip home. I wasn’t sure if it was true, but it was a nice feeling.”
Dietel came from a German-speaking family but, ironically, only one of his brothers was sent to Germany to serve in the war. That brother, a B-17 pilot, was shot down on July 28, 1943. Despite Dietel’s hopes his brother survived the crash, he later learned his brother —who had gotten married just before shipping out — indeed had died.
Dietel joined the Army in 1944 and had wanted to join earlier in the war, but his father would not allow it since he was too young and was needed at home.
“Then, all my friends began serving, so I told my dad I couldn’t stay at home anymore,” recalled Dietel, who was discharged in late 1945. “I went in as a buck private.”
In one unit, due to a lack of personnel, the platoon sergeant asked Dietel to serve as radio man.
Initially, he was reluctant.
“I told him I didn’t know how to operate walkie talkies,” he recalled. “He told me I’d get out of a lot of guard duty and KP (kitchen police) duty as a radio man. I thought, ‘Sounds like a good deal!’”
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