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Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Woman digs into father’s World War II mementos

CHERRY, Ill. (AP) — DeAnn Pozzi of Cherry has discovered a new window into her father’s past.

For years she never explored a box of photos of her father in World War II and letters he wrote home to his parents in Buda during his four years of service.

“I was leery,” Pozzi said. “I didn’t know what I was going to be reading. I just started reading them a month ago. My dad looked so young. The stuff he went through. I was shocked when I started reading all these letters. He never would talk about it.”

In October 1941, Willis Dean Whipple joined other draftees for state examinations and entry into the Army. A few days later, friends held a sendoff with a lunch and a small purse of money at Woodman Hall in New Bedford.

The red-headed Willis Whipple went by his middle name, Dean. His army buddies also called him “Whip.” He served as an aircraft mechanic in the Army Air Forces until 1945. Although Whipple was shipped for a period to the Pacific he mostly served in the European theater. He often did not reveal his location in his letters.

“In some of them Dad got to write about where he was and what he was doing,” Pozzi said. “When he sent money, he sent it registered. He didn’t make much money but he always made sure his parents had some of it.”

Pozzi received the letters and photos from the family of her aunt Margaret (Whipple’s sister) after she died in 2005. Here is an excerpt from a letter dated April 16, 1943, unusual in that it was typewritten.

“I think of you all every day but am happy over here, getting used to it now, and it isn’t so bad, could be so much worse, so we don’t say too much about it but we would like very much to come home if it was over. But don’t look for me until that day and then not for some time. It takes a long time to get things in shape. I’m sending all my love. Hope this finds you all well. Tell all ‘hello’ and be sure to write. Your loving son, Dean.”

Pozzi could pick up almost any letter and be instantly astonished.

“He woke up one morning and the barracks were flooded and they had to get out,” she said. “He said they walked seven miles. He said a pair of shoes would last him 10 weeks because the soles would wear out from walking. If they got a meal, they were very lucky. He had to wash his clothes in a barrel. I don’t know how they did what they had to do.”

Whipple was one of millions of young men pulled into World War II. While they all share similar stories, they seem unusual to anyone who did not serve.

“He hated guns and he didn’t like using them,” Pozzi said. “In this postcard, he talks about his friend who had gotten killed that day.”

On May 12, 1945, a week after Europe celebrated victory with Germany’s surrender, Dean wrote again.

“Well now it can be told that I’m in Sweden and spring isn’t too far off. It was only 10 above zero but most of the snow is gone. We had an awful cold winter. Some mornings it was 40 below and starting them airplane engines, I never will forget, in the cold. I used a blow torch on the spark plugs. Got them hot, you know. My pilot said, ‘Where did you ever learn of that?’ I said ‘mother used to start the wash machine that way.’ He got quite a laugh out of it and we always got them going.”

Some of the photos Whipple took himself. One shows a crippled and grounded Nazi plane, recognized by the swastika.

“I bought a camera up here and taken quite a few pictures. Sue you will be interested in them. Have a very good camera. Paid $300 for it but it’s worth it and it’s a nice hobby. Suppose you wonder when I’m coming home? Sorry, I cannot say but shouldn’t be too long. Should be this year, I hope. Well I’ll close for this time. Maybe think of more next time. Be sure and ask questions. Love. Dean.”

In a letter back, his mother, Adah, asked if Dean saw the same moon that was visible in Buda, Pozzi said.

Whipple sometimes decorated letters with drawings of airplanes. Pozzi knew he worked on airplanes during the war but did not imagine they were the big bombers launched against Germany.

“Not these kind of airplanes,” she said. “I never put two and two together when I was growing up.”

Whipple was sometimes aboard to make repairs during missions, she said. In one letter, he said he did not want to equip airplanes with Ford engines because he believed they were junk, Pozzi said.

Another photo shows a mass of soldiers on a ship. Written on the photo is, “Coming home on the Queen Mary after World War II.”

“He was offered many jobs, my mother said,” recalled Pozzi, “He said, ‘I’m never leaving Buda again.’ He was so homesick. He didn’t want to work on airplanes. He wanted to work on cars.”

After the war, Dean married Gladys Lubbs. Pozzi, 69, was born in 1947. Whipple worked as a mechanic in Buda at Whipple Sales and Service, owned and operated by his brother, Walter. His father, Harry, ran an automobile junk yard. Later, Dean and Gladys ran an antique shop in Buda.

Pozzi pulled out a box of medals. Whipple earned the American Defense Service Medal; European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with four bronze battle stars; six overseas service bars; one service stripe; the Army Good Conduct Medal; and Air Medal with first through fourth bronze oak leaf cluster awards.

The box also contained one of his dog tags, embossed with his mother’s name, Adah B. Whipple of Walnut, in case next of kin had to be notified.

Nearly 10 years after the war, it was Whipple who had to be notified about his parents. In 1954, Harry and Adah Whipple were killed in their home by a boy looking for money. News stories indicate the intruder’s shots were unintentional.

Years later, the convicted boy, now a young man, delivered an automotive part to the Whipple station. The part slid off a truck and struck him.

Mortally injured, he found himself in the arms of none other than Dean Whipple, who forgave him before the man died, according to Pozzi.

Pozzi said she wants no distress to the man’s relatives.

“I have no ill will,” she said.

Perhaps Pozzi was taking a page out of her father’s book. She said her father was known for his selfless kindness to others.

“I’m so proud of him,” Pozzi said.

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Source: (LaSalle) News-Tribune, http://bit.ly/2lxxmrY

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Information from: News-Tribune, http://www.newstrib.com

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