Dec. 7 of this year will mark the 76th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, which resulted in the United States officially getting involved in World War II.
A year after the attack on Pearl Harbor, 18-year-old Tom South volunteered to be in the service.
South was sitting at his grandparents house when he heard of the Dec. 7 attack. News came through the sound waves of a battery-operated radio.
Thirty-six years after the attack on Pearl Harbor, 17-year-old Ron Leber volunteered to be in the service.
Leber lived in Hawaii during the late 80’s, early 90’s. He used to ferry past the memorial on his way to work at Ford Island.
Both traveled back to Perry to either come home or complete a career.
Both have been Commander’s of Perry’s V.F.W.
Tom South, 1942
South was 18 when he volunteered to enter the service.
It was expected to either be drafted or volunteer, South revealed.
“My Dad was a serviceman, he was in World War I,” South said. “My Great-Grandfather was [in the] Civil War, so everybody in the family – my youngest son followed in my footsteps out of high school, we just felt it was a duty to basically go.”
The draft was underway, letters to report arrived in households by mail, never by telephone, South described.
“I had five different math teachers the first year I was in high school that were drafted,” South said.
His father gave him advice when he enlisted: “Don’t get too close to anyone because you never know when you’re going to lose a buddy – be a soldier,” South said.
When it came time for selection, South was unable to pass his physical to get into the Navy, so he opted for the Army.
“I volunteered to go into the Army and like everybody else, all of your friends were going and one of my best buddies was killed,” South said.
Far from home, South worked alongside 40 other soldiers in the railroad security. The work took them to France, Germany and Belgium, where they would deliver supplies.
To get to their destinations, they rode in box cars that barely topped speeds reaching 35 miles per hour.
“I doubt if they ever went that fast,” South said.
Communications with the outside world subsided while in war, South noted.
“The biggest thing that people don’t realize: no T.V., no telephones and so forth,” South said. “Once you got into the service you didn’t call every weekend to talk to your parents or friends.”
According to South, soldiers were received well overseas.
“I think they accepted us because we were there,” South said. “Their lives changed with us being there because Hitler was not a very pleasant individual, and otherwise they did not have many freedoms.”
During the war, there was a program where soldiers could volunteer to leave early in order to go to college.
South left a few months short of two years to study Education at Buena Vista University in Storm Lake, Iowa.
“Everybody was Social Studies majors, practically all G.I.’s – we used to say that G.I.’s save Buena Vista from bankruptcy,” South joked. “I’m going to say that 90 percent of us, and I’m sure that would be pretty close, were all veterans.”
Veterans attending Buena Vista were given $75 a month and had their tuition paid off.
“We had one Congressional Medal of Honor with us from Carroll that was in a wheelchair,” South recalled. “I remember Buena Vista had steps up to 90 percent of the buildings and he’d be sitting there waiting to get up and you’d just put your books on his lap, pick him up on both sides of the wheelchair and take him up – never thought a thing about it.”
Graduating in 1950, South walked away with a degree in Education, his wife, whom he met in his First Aid Class, a football athletic career and was part of Future Teachers of America and many others, according to information from Buena Vista University’s alumni office.
“I never realized that I would end up teaching in Perry, Iowa,” South said.
South taught Social Socials in Perry, marking a total of 60 years in the community.
“You didn’t talk about the service,” South said about teaching the course. “You talked about what the book said, not what you want to teach.
“The last 25 years of my job was teaching young women and men a skill, how to maintain a job, how to get a job, and I’ve had a lot of students thank me for some of the things I’ve taught them.”
South retired from PCSD in 1989, but continued to reach out to veterans.
In the past he’s held the title of Commander of the V.F.W.
“We have an excellent Commander now,” South said.
Ron Leber, 1977
Leber, of Perry, volunteered to serve at 17 years old in 1977.
“I think in 1976 they finished the draft,” Leber recalled. “The Vietnam Era had finished, so most of them that were drafted during Vietnam were getting out, so there was a big request for volunteers.”
The reception to volunteering for the war did not go over well, however.
“It was right after the Vietnam, so military wasn’t a big support back in ‘77,” Leber said. “They didn’t have a whole lot of people liking the military and kind of held them at fault.”
“When we were all volunteers, they knew that the ones in the military wanted to be and it wasn’t well looked upon back in the 70’s.”
Leber, who worked as a cook at a pizza joint in Perry, was on the way to go somewhere, he explained.
“I had some troubles and discipline issues,” Leber said. “I was going to go somewhere; I was going to go to either a reform school or the military to get some discipline.”
Leber joined to become a cook.
“We could chose what we wanted to be or you could chose where you wanted to be, it was either/or – you couldn’t pick both.”
“After I stayed for a while, I got to pick where I went.”
When it came time to pick a specific location, Leber decided to chose his overseas location instead of having one assigned to him.
“I knew the way the military worked you were going to serve overseas,” Leber said. “I said, ‘Well, I’ll just get my overseas out of the way,’ so I picked Korea.”
Korea was his pick due to an early-age fascination with the Asian culture, Leber said.
“Growing up here in Perry, I was always amazed at the Asian culture, Japan and Korea,” Leber said. “I kind of wanted to see Asia, and my Dad served during the Korean Conflict, he was in the Navy, and he did supply runs back and forth from Japan to Korea, so I kind of [wanted to] see where he served at.”
Many locations became temporary homes during Leber’s twenty-year stint in the service: France, Germany, Panama, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, South Korea, Japan, Georgia, Alabama, Texas, Virginia, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Washington, California, Colorado, Alaska and Hawaii.
“It was an average of two years everywhere; the longest time probably for being assigned to a place was probably Colorado, but I wasn’t there as much as it says my time was there,” Leber said.
During Leber’s time serving, he held positions as a cook, working in the Military Police, and later back to food service.
Leber’s last stop was in Hawaii, where he stayed from 1982 until 1992.
“In late 92, I was stationed at Schofield Barracks, and he [Leber’s son] was attending school at Wheeler Elementary School.”
Leber worked at the new correctional facility on Ford Island, which meant he ferried past the Pearl Harbor memorial frequently to get to the site.
Leber’s time served changed him, he explains.
“It took me a very short time to realize that it’s better for me to do what I’m told when I’m told to do it then to mouth back and be unruly,” Leber said. “Because at times, I thought I was trying to push New Jersey down to Florida - I was doing push-ups so much.”
His mother noted the change in him, Leber details.
“My Mom said it was the hardest thing for her to do, but it was the best thing that she did for me.”
Today, Leber resides in Perry with his son.
Carrying out a career in service to others, Leber has worked as a Certified Nursing Assistant, a Certified Medication Assistant at the Perry Lutheran Home, as well as a Resident Treatment Worker at the Woodward Woodward Resource Center for the Intellectually Challenged.
He has been involved in the following organizations: Perry Firefighter, Emergency Medical Technician, Central Iowa Red Cross Disaster Team, Central Iowa Red Cross Instructor for Professional Rescuers, Central Iowa Underwater Rescue and Recovery Diver, Fire Chief of Bouton, Veteran of Foreign Wars, and the American Legion.
Leber has been the Commander of the V.F.W since 2016. The organization currently holds 37 members.
“I’m always trying to recruit new members because its one of the organizations that you don’t want to see go away,” Leber said. “The V.F.W, does the most for veterans everyday.”
“The more members we have, the louder our voices.”