Tag Archives: Memorial Day

Memorial Day Tribute

May 8, 2017 by

Memorial Day is a federal holiday—a day of remembrance for those who have died while serving in our country’s armed forces.

The May/June issue of Omaha Magazine features the stories of several Nebraska veterans and their war experiences. My husband, Raymond Lemke, was drafted to serve in the Korean War. He was somewhat reluctant to talk about his experiences, but he wrote about his service in a memoir. I’ll share some of those experiences here.

His basic training was in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, which had been closed since World War II. When he first got there, it wasn’t even completely open. Today, it remains open and is known by the nickname “Fort Lost In The Woods.”

He trained in engineering—which consisted mainly of building Bailey bridges—and also trained with dynamite, TNT, and other explosives to blow up bridges. After training, he was sent straight to Korea. He was assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division’s M114 155 Howitzers, which had nothing to do with his basic training.

He said that Korea was very difficult for him, and he felt that it was a controlled war. He said they would take a hill, back off, then take it again the next day. The loss of life was tremendous.

The winter weather in North Korea was nearly identical to the winter in Nebraska. Growing up dirt poor in rural Nebraska provided the right experience for dealing with Korean winters. By layering newspapers inside his clothes, he was able to stay warmer while so many U.S. troops froze to death.

On top of the constant cold, he was always hungry. He fondly remembered taking a big jar of peanut butter from a resupply group.

After 11 months in the service, he became a staff sergeant. He believed the promotion was because he was still standing.

The American and North Korean forces would shell each other continuously until one knocked the other out. They never thought about ear protection, and the battery fire took its toll. Despite suffering tinnitus since the war, he didn’t complain. “I’m the lucky one—I am still here,” he said. He was discharged on Nov. 6, 1953.

Later, living in Papillion, he was on the Papillion Draft Board. As a protest against the escalation of the Vietnam War, he resigned from the board, refusing to send more boys there.

I am proud of my husband’s service, and I have deep respect for all who have served and sacrificed for our great country—they are truly heroes!

Raymond Lemke

This article appears in the May/June 2017 edition Sixty-Plus, a publication within Omaha Magazine.

Celebrating Omaha’s World War II Veterans

April 25, 2017 by
Photography by Doug Meigs, Headshot by Bill Sitzmann

As a kid, my grandfather’s World War II experiences were the stuff of legend.

Army private first-class Robert Wesley Meigs fought in the Battle of the Bulge. He crossed the Remagen Bridge and survived a German artillery blast. The explosion killed two of his fellow infantrymen, and the shrapnel remains in his arm to this day. As Allied forces marched onward—and he got out of the hospital—Grandpa returned to the front. He even helped to liberate a concentration camp; he remembers how the starving victims scattered across the countryside when U.S. troops opened the gates.

But he didn’t talk about the war with us grandkids. A case full of his medals—including a Purple Heart—remained tucked away, out of view. Our father told brief anecdotes, but the stories were incomplete. And we were scared to ask for more details.

Then one day, during my undergraduate studies, a military history class gave me an opportunity to sit down with my grandfather. A class project was my excuse to pry into his role in the Greatest Generation’s fight against global fascism.

A transcript from the 2005 interview is now collected by the Library of Congress Folklife Center’s Veterans History Project, and an edited version is posted on Omaha Magazine’s website, here.

Today, Grandpa is 94 years old. I am still learning from him—about life in general, and about his time in World War II. But the stories and perspectives of his generation are becoming increasingly scarce with the passage of time.

One Veterans Day not long ago, I thanked Grandpa for being a hero. He corrected me. “The real heroes never made it home,” he said with a stern face.

In the fall of 2016, he moved from Nebraska to Idaho to live closer to my uncles after my grandmother had passed. Before leaving town, he shared an unexpected anecdote: “Did I ever tell you about the time I was peed on?” Grandpa said, laughing, as he recalled another soldier’s “misfire” in the crowded foxhole. It was a crude awakening after he finally managed to catch a moment of sleep between German artillery bombardments.

The stories of World War II and the experiences of veterans are as diverse as the Americans who contributed to the war effort. Omaha Magazine’s May/June issue celebrates Omaha’s veterans of World War II with a multi-part story package. The issue’s publication coincides with the 73rd anniversary of D-Day and the Allied storming of Normandy on June 6, 1944.

Omaha Beach—one of five Normandy beachheads—is synonymous with America’s entry into the war. My grandfather did not participate in the invasion. But the entire nation would soon know the infamous codename of D-Day’s bloodiest beachhead. The city of Omaha eventually became his home. His children graduated from local high schools. My father met my Nebraska-raised mother in Omaha, and the rest is history.

Our May/June issue is especially rich with local history stories. Higgins Boats (boats utilized in D-Day beach landings) were actually invented by a man who grew up in Omaha. After Andrew Higgins’ expulsion from Creighton Prep High School, he joined the Nebraska National Guard.

The Omaha metro remains home to many World War II veterans. Several of their stories (excerpted in this issue) are captured in a new book by Joyce Winfield, a retired Midland University professor of journalism. Leah Meyer, the interim director of UNO’s Office of Military and Veteran Services, explains how others can contribute their own veteran interviews to the Library of Congress.

But there are many ways Omahans continue to celebrate the lives of World War II vets—evident in the work of two local filmmakers. Ben Drickey followed his grandfather on a trip to Germany, revisiting his time in the war. The film project kickstarted Drickey’s career in film production. Meanwhile, there is the story of Shawn Schmidt’s 48 Stars, a film that tells the stories of World War II veterans in their own words. Schmidt’s father fought in World War II, but the son never had a chance to document his story. Now, he is making up for lost time while there’s still time with other World War II vets.

Omaha Magazine salutes the veterans of World War II, and all of the men and women who have put their lives on the line for America. We hope you enjoy the issue!

This letter appeared in the May/June edition of Omaha Magazine.

Doug Meigs is the executive editor of Omaha Publications.

Memories, Tradition, and Families

May 26, 2016 by
Myron Roker

Myron Roker

World War II ended 70 years ago, but Myron Roker still feels the pain of battle. He served with 324th Infantry Regiment of the 44th Infantry Division on VE Day. The 93-year-old now lives in Glenwood, Iowa, and still carries shrapnel from a wound sustained in France. His hearing is almost gone, stolen by explosions in war.

But the most painful wound he carries is the loss of friends in combat.

“Freedom is not free,” says Roker. “We have to pay for it. Those are the heroes. The wounded and the ones that gave their lives.”

Memorial Day has a deep, personal meaning for Roker.

“I lost a close buddy over in France to one of our own mines. Sometimes I still tear up,” Roker said.

He and his wife, Karen, spend Memorial Day at the graves of family members in their hometown of Clatonia, Nebraska.

A Family Tradition of Service

Thomas Shimerdla

Thomas Shimerdla

Thomas Shimerdla’s family has a proud military tradition. When he was fighting in Vietnam, so was his brother. His father served during World War II in the 14th Army Air Force. His grandfather fought in France during World War I.

When Shimerdla was a youngster,  Memorial Day meant visits to cemeteries with his father and grandfather to honor veterans.

Shimerdla enlisted in the U.S. Navy Seabees when he was 19. He spent two years serving in Vietnam, a war that took more than 58,000 American lives. “I lost classmates in Vietnam. I think about them on Memorial Day,” he says.

He fought in the devastating Tet Offensive in 1968 that turned Americans against the war. Many who fought faced danger in Vietnam and disdain in the United States.

For Shimerdla, Memorial Day is about spending time with his children and grandchildren.

Before suffering injuries in a motorcycle accident in October, he was part of the American Legion Riders, and rode with them to a cemetery on Memorial Day. “I was proud to be there, honoring soldiers who were killed,” he says.

The motorcycle enthusiast also rides with the Patriot Guard Riders, formed to provide shield from harassment at the funerals of “Fallen Heroes.”


Tradition and Family

Susan and Bill Eustice with son Sean

Susan and Bill Eustice with son Sean

Susan Eustice says tradition is a big part of her holiday. She agrees that time with family is what Memorial Day is about. For four generations, her family has spent Memorial Day at Lake Okoboji.

“My mother was six weeks old when she first spent the holiday at the lake,” Eustice says.

Her mother’s paternal grandparents, the Rectors, built a home at the beach. Eustice is also related to the Clarke family, who were among the first families to settle on Okoboji’s Omaha Beach.

This year Susan and her husband, attorney Bill Eustice, plan to enjoy  fireworks, boating, swimming, sailing, biking, and dinners with family members. He and his band, The Firm, will perform at the Barefoot Bar.

They haven’t missed a Memorial Day celebration at Lake Okoboji in three decades. For them, the day is about tradition.

Finally—A Final Resting Place for Veterans

May 25, 2016 by

It’s a long way from the early days of post-communist Ukraine to the silent, rolling hills of Sarpy County.

Today, Cindy Van Bibber is back in her native state, creating the Omaha National Cemetery southeast of where Highways 50 and 370 intersect. It’s just the second Department of Veterans Affairs national cemetery in Nebraska, a 236-acre tract that will serve the burial needs of area veterans and their families for the next 100 years.

It’s historic.

And in Van Bibber, the cemetery has a director who’s seen—and made—plenty of history herself.

She left Nebraska in 1983, a year after graduating from Grand Island High School. Plans to study for a career in the medical field fizzled, so she joined the Army and wound up serving for more than 10 years.

She began with the Cold War at its height. Part of her stint included an assignment with General John Shalikashvili, who later would become chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Van Bibber was part of a two-person communications team that would set up secure lines wherever Shalikashvili went. Like a hotel in the Ukraine.

“It was a pretty exciting job to be able to travel worldwide with him,” Van Bibber says. “Wouldn’t change it for the world.”

But change it did. After discharge she moved back to the U.S., to Virginia, and after taking one more stab at the medical field, landed her first job in a cemetery career. That was in Richmond, where she helped open a new state veterans’ cemetery. Van Bibber was there from its first burial in 1997 until 2006. She then joined the Department of Veteran’s Affairs and worked at four VA cemeteries, including Riverside National Cemetery in California.

Not until last year did she come back home, becoming director of the yet-to-be-created Omaha National Cemetery.

Peter Young, who mentored Van Bibber at Riverside National Cemetery, has full confidence in his one-time protege.

“She is a great cemetery director always trying to improve herself and her cemetery so they can provide the best possible service to our veterans and their families,” Young says.

For now, the can-do attitude is coming in most handy.

Work at the cemetery began last fall. That’s mostly involved “lots of moving the earth,” Van Bibber says. Her office is a trailer but some of the footings for the four main buildings have been poured. She’s also building the staff, hiring a program specialist and foreman. Nearly a dozen staff will work at the cemetery when it’s at full strength.

They project to have 500 burials a year once it opens. The first should come this September. Van Bibber says she plans to have a dedication ceremony followed by burials for someone from each service branch.

A vet herself, Van Bibber is where she seems to belong.

“Even when I was in Europe I visited all of the cemeteries to pay my respects for those lost in the great conflicts,” she says. “It was something to do on weekends, never once thinking I’d come back and work at a national cemetery.”

Here she is, though, far from home no more.

OmahaNationalCemetery