Support personnel: Heroes behind the lines
LEWISTOWN – The war effort involves more than just fighting. The Armed Forces need support beyond those who carry guns and four local men offered services that were essential to the well being of the Allies during World War II.
Renyold Deavor, 95, of Lewistown, was the first of these men to join the service. He was drafted before the U.S. even entered the war.
“I was drafted back on Jan. 1, 1941. I was the second draft class out of Lewistown,” he said.
Deavor was sent to Indiantown Gap to work in a dental clinic and help train others. After Pearl Harbor, Deavor was sent to North Carolina.
“I was in a field hospital training people that were going to be shipped out some place else,” he said.
Eventually, Deavor was transferred to Washington and was shipped to the Mariana Islands, in the Pacific, where he was stationed for the remainder of the war.
“I was in a field hospital and I was in the dental clinic. All I had to do was take care of the other soldiers and make sure every doctor had somebody to help them,” he said.
Albert Kurtz, of Beaver Springs, also had a job that required him to attend to the basic needs of his fellow soldiers.
“I was in the medical unit. They put you where they want you. The smart people got the guns and I got the kitchen,” he said.
Kurtz was drafted in 1942 and was assigned the duty of being a cook. After being drafted, Kurtz was sent to Camp Lee in Virginia where he went to cooking and baking school.
In 1943, Kurtz was shipped to England and went to Normandy a few days after the D-Day invasion.
“I was on a boat waiting for the weather in Normandy to clear so they could land,” he said.
Although Kurtz spent most of his time in the kitchen, he sometimes got up close to the front lines, such as during the battles of Saint Lo and the Battle of the Bulge.
“When I went in we were back a little ways but we could hear where the gun fire was,” he said.
Along with food, water is an essential need for any human being, and providing clean water for soldiers was an early task designated to James Wentle, 89, of Lewistown.
Wentle was a part of the 208th Engineer Combat Battalion and when he landed in France on June 26, 1944, his first assignment was to set up a water point.
“If you ever read much of your history, people got typhoid, they drank out of anything. They got a lot of sickness. Typhoid historically was a bad thing,” he said.
Wentle enlisted in the Army on Feb. 22, 1943, when he was only 17. Since he was still underage, his parents had to sign his enlistment form, which prevented him from joining the Navy.
“I wanted to go to the Navy and my mother said, ‘No, you’re not,’ and they had to sign my papers for me and she said, ‘You are not going out in that water!’ Well that doesn’t make any sense to me because how am I going to get where I’m going? At that time you didn’t fly. She was OK with me going in the Army because they operated mostly on land,” he said.
A few months later, Wentle turned 18, and the Army accepted his enlistment. Wentle trained in Colorado for 10 months before he was sent to Scotland in February 1944.
After landing in France, the company made its way across Europe. Even though Wentle wasn’t in the infantry he was required to be armed at all times.
“You got so used to an M-1 it was like a toy. It’s a rifle and it’s heavy. After awhile it was routine. You kept your rifle and your rifle was loaded at all times. The surprising thing was more guys didn’t get shot (by accident),” he said.
Wentle ended up in Berlin and when the war was over he was stationed in the suburbs of the city. Reflecting on his time in Berlin, Wentle is still amazed how people were so used to death.
“People became callous of death. We lived in the suburbs (of Berlin), it was like a summer resort, there was an island with embassies and stuff. I walked down there one day and there were some people on the beach and there was a dead body floating off the shore. No one got excited. Nobody. People just kept on walking. Can you imagine that happening in the Juniata River?” he said.
Walter Gill, 100, of Lewistown, had to deal with death personally during the war. His older brother, Russell, was killed in August 1944, in Saint-Lo, France. Gill found out about his brother’s death in an unimaginable way.
“I wrote my brother a letter. The letter came back to me marked ‘deceased’. I knew it before the people at home knew it,” he said.
Gill enlisted in the Army around Thanksgiving 1942 and pursued a program to enroll in Officer Training School, in part so he could get into a specific department of the Army.
“I thought I was a pretty good mechanic and I wanted to get in the ordnance department,” he said.
Gill was in training school for six months, and then sent to Fort Knox, Ky. There he was assigned to the 554th Ordnance Heavy Tank Company and they were soon shipped to Arizona for six months.
“We were an ordnance, heavy maintenance tank company. When you say heavy maintenance that means tanks, big trucks and big guns. Our company had an automotive section, a small arms section, an instrument section and a supply section,” he said.
In June 1944, the company was shipped to Wales, where they stayed for six weeks. The company was then sent to France and served directly under the Ninth Army.
“Ninth Army was in northern Europe next to the British Army. We took all our orders from the Army, not a regiment or division. As a result of that, we were in back of the fighting. We were never near in any fighting because we were behind the people fighting to repair equipment,” he said.
Gill and his company traveled throughout Europe until the end of World War II.
Gill was discharged from the Army in 1945 as a first lieutenant. Gill then worked for Albert’s Showers Plumbing for 10 years and later retired as Superintendent of Buildings and Grounds for the Mifflin County School District. He still lives in Lewistown.
After Deavor was discharged from the Army, he served in the National Guard in Lewistown for 27 years.
Kurtz was discharged in 1946 and currently lives in Beaver Springs with his wife.
Wentle’s first wife died of cancer, but two years later he married Arlene. They currently live in Lewistown and will celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary in September.
These four men may not have fought on the front lines of World War II, but each played a vital role in supporting American combat units during the conflict.