World War II veteran profiles

Herman Berkstaller
Born: 1922
Dates of service: Aug. 8, 1942 to Sept. 1945
Hometown: Roswell
Lives in: Elida
Theater or location of service: China, Burma and India, western Pacific
Unit and specialty: 20th Air Force, B-29 flight engineer
After discharge: El Paso, Texas
Veteran organizations: American Legion, VFW Albuquerque
Berkstaller said he was in the same unit as former Alabama governer George C. Wallace, who survived an assassination attempt in 1972. Berkstaller was stationed in Clovis for a few months at the Clovis Army Air Base in 1942 prior to going overseas. He remembers how the native women in India would build runways for the military, toiling in the heat and moving dirt by carrying it in large baskets on their heads. During his military time, he served in 25 combat missions.

Tom Carter
Date of birth: Feb. 24, 1915
Dates of service: 1937-1946
Hometown: Melrose
Lives in: Clovis
Theater or location of service: South Pacific
Military branch: Army
Rank: Staff sergeant
Unit and specialty: 24th Infantry Division, 1st sergeant
After discharge: Melrose
Carter continued active duty for some time after the war and then worked for the civil service, still maintaining a connection to the military. While proud of his veteran status and his service to his country, had only one thing to say about the war itself.
“It stunk.”

Martha Stewart
Born: July 12, 1920
Dates of Service: 1942-1943
Hometown: Hallock, Minn.
Theater or location of service: Navy pier, Chicago, and Balboa Naval Hospital, San Diego.
Military branch: Navy
Rank: Lieutenant
Unit and specialty: Assigned to a hospital. Specialized in obstetrics but served in surgery.
After discharge: Hallock, Minn.
Stewart cared for the wounded servicemen that came in on ships from the South Pacific and Guadalcanal. She said they were put on cots on the lawn of the hospital until they could be assessed for care. Trained as an obstetric nurse, Stewart found that there was a need for her skills even at a war hospital. The great influx of women who were visiting the wounded, arriving or departing servicemen created a tremendous need for family-related medical services families. Stewart was placed in charge of starting a new hospital unit to handle the services. In the first month of operation the unit handled 22 births and was up to 250 per month by the time Stewart left. The women’s unit that Stewart helped to start is still active at Balboa Naval Hospital. Following her engagement to her husband of 62 years, “Doc,” she was forced to resign her commission with the Navy — at that time married women were prohibited from service. She returned to Minnesota and worked at a civilian hospital until she was reunited with her husband. Stewart said she wouldn’t change her experience for anything. Above all else, she is grateful to the war for introducing her to her husband.

Dr. E.O. “Doc” Stewart
Born: Sept. 2, 1924
Dates of Service: December 1940 to January 1946
Home town: Paducah,Texas
Lives in: Clovis
Theater or location of service: Served in the Pacific for 1 1/2 years, stateside for the remainder of tour
Military branch: Navy
Rank: Chief pharmacist
Unit and specialty: PT Squadron 27, motor torpedo boat squadron, trained as a pharmacist
After discharge: Lubbock
During his service in World War II, Stewart met his wife, Martha, who was serving as a Navy nurse in San Diego. Of all that he experienced during his service, the only thing Stewart wants to recall about the war was that it gave him his wife of 62 years, “the best thing that ever happened to me.”

Merriman Vice
Born: 1923
Dates of service: 1943-1945
Hometown: Lazbuddie, Texas
Current residence: Clovis
Theater or location of service: European
Branch: Army
Rank: Infantry sergeant
Unit and Specialty: Infantry, 63rd Infantry Division, 254th Battalion Company D, machine gunner
After discharge: Phoenix, Ariz.
Veteran organizations: VFW, Muleshoe
Merrimen Vice describes himself as “one of the few who were crazy enough to like it,” referring to his war-time military service. He believes he was too young at the time to realize the severity of the situation but instead felt invincible. He felt at the time, he now looks back on his experience and sees how vulnerable he really was:
“I wouldn’t do it again for a million dollars, but I enjoyed every minute in the Army.”

Bruce Hamilton
Born: Nov. 2, 1915
Dates of service: 1935-1963 (career)
Hometown: Summersville, W. Va.
Current residence: Clovis
Theater or location of service: Europe and South Pacific
Unit and Specialty: 19th Infantry, supply unit
After discharge: Louisville, Ky.
As the fighting in Germany began to slow, Hamilton and his unit were transferred to the Philippines via the Panama Canal. Hamilton recalls the 39-day trip through the Mediterranean Sea as a long and tedious journey. When they landed in the Philippines, Hamilton refers to their duties as “cleaning up the mess” or fighting the Japanese that were there. It wasn’t long after this trip to the Philippines the war came to and end, a fact Hamilton feels fortunate about because the next stop for his unit would have been Japan. After the end of the war, Hamilton’s unit rode in an 11-ship victory convoy back to San Francisco.

Charles Bracken
Date of birth: March 25,1914
Dates of service: 1943-1945
Hometown: Friona
Current residence: Clovis
Theater or location of service: Alaska — Bering Straits, Attu Island, France, Germany
Military branch: Army
Rank at time of discharge: Corporal
Unit and specialty: Infantry
After discharge: Friona
Serving in Alaska, Europe and numerous locations in between, Bracken recalls his experiences vividly. During his time in Alaska, Bracken recalls digging a 2-foot deep trench in the frozen ground to serve as a mass grave for the bodies of approximately 1,000 Japanese soldiers who had died in the fighting. Bracken also tells the story of how his life was saved by a German. He had become separated from his unit and was walking through a small town when he was approached by a German man who was excitedly trying to direct him to a nearby forest.
Skeptically, he followed, surprised, as the man further indicated that he should climb a tree. Not sure why he was following such odd directions, he climbed the tree and sat on a branch waiting to see what was next. Shortly, two Nazi soldiers appeared and approached the man who had led Bracken to the tree. The men started talking amongst themselves as Bracken, above in the tree and unable to understand the quickly flowing German language, watched quietly. Pointing and excited conversation ensued before the soldiers began walking away in a direction the man had pointed out to them.
As the Nazi soldiers left, suddenly Bracken realized that the soldiers had been looking for him and that the German man had hidden him from them and more than likely, saved his life.

E.J. Crownover
Born: April 6, 1912
Dates of Service: 1942-1944
Hometown: Fort Sumner
Theater or location of service: Germany
Branch: Army
Unit and Specialty: 17th Airborne, first scout of the platoon
After discharge: Fort Sumner
Veteran organizations: Fort Sumner American Legion member until post was closed.
Crownover and his unit was involved in heavy combat on numerous occasions, however the time that stands out for him was when his airborne unit jumped over the Rhine River on March 23, 1945, partnered with a British glider division. They landed behind enemy lines and then fought their way through to Berlin.
According to Crownover, the war ended shortly thereafter.

Juan Vega
Date of birth: Sept. 29,1920
Dates of service: 1942-1946
Hometown: Corpus Christi, Texas
Current residence: Clovis
Theater or location of service: Europe
Military branch: Army
Rank at time of discharge: Pvt. 1st Class
Unit and specialty: 414th Armored field artillery battalion, Supply
After discharge: Corpus Christi, Texas
Vega was assigned to a supply unit serving in Europe. Every morning the colonel in command would select men from the unit to send to the front, somehow Vega was never sent, a fact for which he feels most fortunate.
Vega remembers that on the train as he was returning home, he ran into an old buddy that he hadn’t seen since the beginning of his enlistment. The man exclaimed “ you’re alive” as soon as he saw him.
As they talked Vega learned a rumor had circulated he had been killed by a mortar round. He was shocked to discover he had been thought dead by many of his friends. Of his experiences in the war, Vega simply stated “I was a very lucky man”.