Memories of the Pacific War; Perham man works to keep veterans' stories alive
Perham men Joe Doll and Joe Huebsch both fought in World War II. Though they weren't related at the time of the war, a future nephew is doing all he can to keep their story alive for generations to come.
Both veterans are now deceased.
"It has been a fun passion that allowed me to travel places and meet people," said Joe Huebsch, the nephew.
Needless to say, the name "Joe" runs in the family.
"The younger generation should know where everything comes from," Huebsch, of St. Cloud, said. Just like the older generation, he added, has an obligation to pass the history along.
"I've never served but I feel it's my obligation to pass it on to whoever is interested."
Joe Huebsch, uncle
During the war, Joe Huebsch was serving onboard the USS Oglala during the attack on Pearl Harbor. He never liked serving onboard the ship, and after a torpedo went under his ship, broke it in half and caused it to capsize, Joe got his transfer to another ship.
"He ended up in the water and they had to fish him out of the water," Huebsch said of his uncle.
Joe was transferred to the USS San Francisco and Nov. 12, 1942, during the Battle of Solomon, a Japanese plane hit the ship.
"He survived and was attempting to save his buddies," Huebsch learned.
Joe was severely burned and transferred to the USS President Jackson ship, where he died of his wounds the next day.
Huebsch's uncle, Don, who was Joe's brother, did a lot of research into his brother's war history including sending letters to any of the men he could find that served with Joe.
From those correspondences, the family learned that Joe had given his crucifix to another soldier, and on the day he was dying, he asked for another one, which a fellow soldier provided to him.
Joe was buried at sea, and Huebsch now has his uncle's Purple Heart.
After his uncle Don's family wasn't interested in the history he had gathered, Don asked Huebsch if he was interested in it. Huebsch gratefully accepted and has spent quite a bit of time reading through it.
Although, he said, he'd like to have more time to spend with the pieces of history.
At age 20, Huebsch traveled to San Francisco and visited a memorial with his uncle's name engraved on it. While it didn't hold much significance at the time, as he's gotten older, he said, it means more and more to him that he had that opportunity.
In 2001, Huebsch traveled to Hawaii to take part in the Dec. 7 anniversary celebration of Pearl Harbor. He met a lot of veterans there, even one that served with his uncle.
Joe Doll, uncle
About 20 years ago, Joe Doll traveled from his home in Colorado to Perham for a family reunion. Huebsch called his uncle and asked if he would spend some time with him while in Perham and talk about his war experiences and share some of his memorabilia.
Huebsch and his fiancée at the time (now his wife) sat down with Doll for about three hours and listened to stories of Doll's experiences in the South Pacific throughout the war.
Seemingly in good health at the time, "that evening he slipped into an asthma-induced coma and passed away a few days later," Huebsch said. "I felt honored that he shared so much with us, but I also feel obligated to pass it on."
During the bombing, Huebsch said his uncle described how bombs were dropping and exploding in perfect sync. A bomb landed next to where Doll was hiding, but it never exploded and it was never determined why.
Huebsch said that his uncle had switched duties with another soldier earlier that day, and the location where that soldier had moved to was hit and he was killed.
"He carried that with him his whole life," Huebsch said.
And though they didn't know each other at the time -- or that their families would later be related -- Doll witnessed from shore the battle that Huebsch's other uncle Joe was killed in when his ship was bombed.
Doll also received a Purple Heart.
Terry Shoptaugh wrote the book "They Were Ready: The 164th Infantry in the Pacific War, 1942-1945," which Huebsch has a copy of and said while reading it, "I could almost envision what it was like" at the scene.
While his uncle isn't mentioned in the book, it does follow a group of men in the exact location his uncle was during that time.
Jim Huebsch, father
Although for many years Jim didn't talk openly about his war experiences, in the later years, Huebsch has learned more and more from his father.
When younger, Huebsch and his siblings thought their father hadn't seen much action since he never spoke of it. Later they learned Jim, who lives in Battle Lake now, was credited with shooting down 63 planes during his time as part of the 93rd AAA Gun Battalion anti-aircraft unit.
"He enlisted. He didn't have to go to war," Huebsch said of his father.
After his brother Joe was killed in action, Jim, who was working in California for North American Aviation, enlisted.
"I certainly respect him for that," Huebsch said.
He was deployed to the South Pacific, and one day found an old bicycle lying on the ground. He was about to pick it up, take it back to camp and refurbish it, when a fellow soldier convinced him to leave it there. He did.
The next day, a buddy that hadn't been with them the previous day, found the bike, picked it up and was blown up -- the bike was booby trapped.
"He carried that with him," Huebsch said of his father's close call with death that a friend wasn't so lucky with.
During his time in California, Jim worked on a manufacturing line creating auxiliary tanks. Each tank he helped build was marked with a hash mark, his "signature."
After he enlisted and was fighting the war, sure enough, he came across a tank with the signature that he had made.
"Half a world away and he finds something he built," Huebsch said of the irony.
Several years ago, Huebsch and his father took part in an Honor Flight to Washington, D.C., a trip with his father Huebsch will never forget.
"It was an incredible experience," he said.
Though their father's memory is starting to slip now, Huebsch said his father can talk about the war like it happened yesterday.
"Dad used to have army buddy reunions," said Huebsch's sister, Mary Hager of Detroit Lakes. "When he planned a trip, he always planned it around his army buddies."
And what didn't seem important to them as teens, they now realize was important to their father -- to get together with those men and talk about old times.
"That was their therapy," Huebsch said.