Last updated: August 1, 2018
Craig Stolze served in the Alaska during World War II as part of the 39th Air Depot Repair Squadron from 1943 to 1945. He was one of the crews that trained for the desert and were sent to Alaska in desert gear! He is one of six boys in his family (of seven children) that served in the Army Air Corp during World War II (sister Lois married a B-17 pilot!): Craig, Lowell, Harry, Ralph, Robert, and Roger.
Following the war Craig became a sports writer and was the only person named South Dakota Sportswriter of the Year four consecutive years. His accomplishments are too numerous to list but here are a few:
Learn more below about the remarkable accomplishments of the Stolze family below.
Introduction to Alaska
We didn't know where we were going when we left California (across railroad tracks from huge March Field).
Prior to our departure, we had spent part of a week training in the California and Arizona deserts, not enjoying Gen. Patton's tank training grounds. I recall sleeping in our sleeping bags at the Salton Sea (Calif.) and also on a high school football field in Yuma, Ariz.
Half of my outfit went to North Africa. I had just returned to my outfit from the Boeing School of Aeronautics in Ocakland-Alameda, California. I was recommended for Officier Training but it never materialized. We were headed somewhere...
When we boarded a train leaving California, we had no idea of our destination. All the windows on the train were covered and sometimes we tried to peer out the windows to see where we were. Not much luck -- finally stopped and unloaded, carrying our barracks bags (with all our possessions) on our backs.
We left the train at a base near Tacoma, WA. Still didn't know where we were headed. Pacific theater? A few days later we found ourselves in Seattle's harbor. Boarded the S.S. Yukon.
The ship was crowded. I, and a couple of pals, skipped the crowded quarters below and slept on the deck.
Our first stop was Ketchikan. Then came Juneau and we still didn't know our destination. Then, it was Sitka and a meandering voyage. Finally, to our surprise, we docked and unloaded to a tiny town in Alaska, Seward. Is this where we will stay?
We still didn't know where we were bound. Then we were told to board a train (not many tracks in Alaska!) and go to Anchorage. Didn't know anything about Anchorage or what was there. Then, we found out. It was Elmendorf Field! It would be my "home" for 3 years! Quite a change from a guy who fired a 1903 Springfield rifle in the hills above Redlands, CA. and trained in the searing desert sun. Africa?
Well, at least, we wer ein the Territory of Alaska (not yet a state) and would draw overseas pay!
My feelings - MISCELLANEOUS
I think that one of the things contributed to our soldiers in Alaska was the fact that they felt unappreciated and they had little information about the war in Africa, Europe and the South pacific. No TV and sparse other info. "Who cares about us," was a common feeling.
We often heard that replacements were "on the way." But our soldiers always found out that such a transition just didn't happen. I don't know if our guys wanted to go to battlefronts, back to the States and not to Adak or Amchitka or go someplace else.
All of my vest friends up there are gone. One guy whom I liked very much hanged himself in his barracks latrine at Elmendorf. He was found by an early riser. One of my best buddies in California and Alaska committed suicide not long after he returned to the States after the war's end.
Mail call was usually called about noon at Elmendorf and guys gathered to hear a Staff Sgt. call out names. But it seemed to me that not many guys had a lot of contact with home. Curiously, one guy, Joe Berrish, who was from Detroit, I think, got a letter every day that I know of. "Berrish" was the name we heard every time -- from wife or sweetheart (?). We never found out. He was a very quiet, lonely soldier. Once in a while I got a letter from my brother, Lowell, who was a waist gunner on a B-24 flying over Nazi territory. It was always loaded with things cut out. His plane was shot down on his 19th flight and he had to bail out but made it back to base on Foggia, Italy, somehow. He flew 38 missions in all.
I have carried a card in my billfold all these years... It was given to me in November, 1945, and was signed by Capt. E. M. Leigh. The card introduced me to visit any Air Force station. I also have on the wall of my house a "Certificate for Appreciation of Commendable Service" "under conditions peculiar to the mainland and the Aleutians of Alaska, requiring ingenuity, perseverance and devotion to duty." It is signed by Col. George W. Polk, Jr. and Lt. General Delos Clemmons, Commander.
I am not a hero.
That honor belongs to those soldiers who fought in combat.
But I do speak for the many veterans, most of whom were airmen in the Territory of Alaska during World War 2, who went virtually unnoticed and rarely thanked for the critical part they played in what was widely and aptly termed "The Forgotten War."
I was asked frequently when I returned to the States after WW2 was ended and the oft-asked question was "Where did you serve?" When I answered, "In the Territory of Alaska," I was usually answered with a short response, "O!" End of conversation.
Today, as a 92-year-old veteran, I fondly recall my three years of duty in the Territory of Alaska in 1943, 1944 and 1945.
THE STOLZE CLAN
Harry Kenneth Stolze
Served in WW2 as a radio/radar instructor. Was too old to be in actual service but was sent to Scott Field to learn his role. Was instructor at Sioux Falls, S.D. base. Formerly principal of a large junior high school in Sioux Falls.
Had the briefest part in Air Corps service. Was a printer by trade. Served as a PFC until he was discharged for medical reasons.
The boy who spent the most time in the Army Air Corps. Enlisted before WW2 began. Was an instructor at Keesler Field in Biloxi, Miss., for a long time. An expert mechanic and instructor, Keesler just kept him for a long time to tutor mechanics. Was sent to the South Pacific as a crew chief for a B-29 near the end of the war. Recalled and made a Tech Sgt. for the Korean conflict.
Waist gunner on B-24 planes in Europe. Flew 38 missions over Europe and was shot down on his 19th. Was able to bail out and made it back to his base in Foggia, Italy. His twin sister, Lois, was married to a B-17 pilot whom she first met while serving in a USO near a B-17 base at Sioux City, IA. Saw a lot of the world. She is still living -- at 86.
Was a S/Sgt. who spent three years (1943, 44, 45) in the Territory of Alaska. Did work as mechanic in the Elmendorf's hangars or if sent "somewhere" in Alaska if a plane needed work to take off. Graduated from the University of South Dakota after he was under the G.I. Bill of Rights with honors as Magna Cum Laude and Phi Beta Kappa. Became an award-winning sports writer in several parts of the country, writing about all major events. Was a letterman for two years in baseball at USD and also played semi-pro baseball in the summers... for $8 a game!
Youngest of the Stolze boys. Was last to enlist in the war and was an expert in radio and radar after graduating from the University of South Dakota. Spent time in Carolinas as a Sgt. and did spend some time in Homer, Alaska. After the war, he was an engineer at Northrup-Grumman Aircraft Co. in California. One of a few chosen to help develop a new fighter plane under secret conditions. Graduate of University of South Dakota who now lives in Manhattan Beach, CA. He and Craig are the only two still living along with Sister Lois.
P.S. I have a grandson who can't wait to enlist in the Air Force. He currently is a 17-year-old in a Jr. ROTC unit. Wants to be a pilot.
Last updated: August 1, 2018