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Double Duty

Paratrooper, POW served in WWII, Korean conflict

At the age 94, Elvin “Speed” Homan, of the Glencoe area, has a vivid memory of serving his country in the military during World War II and the Korean conflict. He served eight years and eight months in the military. He was a paratrooper with the 101st Airborne Division in 1943, a prisoner of war in Germany in 1944 for five months and finished his military career in 1951 when he received a hardship discharge from the Korean conflict.

Speed dropped out of Brownton High School when he was 16 years old and hitchhiked out to California. After a couple of years in the Golden State, he decided to return to Minnesota and found a job as a herdsman on a farm near Glencoe. When he turned 19 in 1943 he decided to enlist in the Navy. When he reported to the induction center at Fort Snelling, the recruiter asked him, “Army or Navy?” He said, “Navy.” The recruiter replied okay “Army.”

Elvin “Speed” Homan points to the display of his military medals he received while serving in the U.S. Army for eight years and eight months. Photo by Tom Hauer

“I was sent to Camp Roberts, California, for 13 weeks of basic training. After basic training I volunteered to become a paratrooper — thinking I would get paid $50 more a month, which was big money back then,” said Homan.

After basic training he was sent to Fort Benning, Georgia, and Fort Bragg, North Carolina, for advanced training. Next stop, in 1943, he was sent to Camp Shanks, New York, where the 101st was loaded onto an English vessel for a voyage to England for more training before the D-Day attack. The convoy zigzagged to avoid German submarines and arrived safely in Liverpool.

On June 5, orders came for his company to fly in C-47 “Dakota” transports and drop at Cherbour Peninsula in France. Things didn’t go well. Due to weather the drop was canceled and scheduled for the next day. At 2 a.m. on June 6 they took off for Normandy. “We had a young pilot, and as soon as we got the anti-aircraft fire, he veered off to the right and turned on the green light (telling the soldiers it was time to jump). We landed on the Cherbour Peninsula, four days away from where we were supposed to be.” Hundreds of paratroopers fell into flooded areas and drowned almost immediately. After he landed he found some other paratroopers and continued looking for his 101st. It took him four days to find his original unit.

“One experience I will never forget was my first encounter with a dead German. It was something. He was greenish in color. My stomach turned green, too. I didn’t eat for 36 hours,” said Homan.

After spending 14 days in combat in France, the 101st was sent back to England. There they began training for their next mission, Operation Market Garden. The airborne attack plan was to get Allied troops across the Rhine River — a narrow corridor extending approximately 80 miles into Holland from Eindhoven northward to Arnhem.

This is the ceramic cup Homan used to eat with during his entire time of incarceration as a POW. It remains one of his prized possessions, yet today. Photo contributed

As they flew into the combat zone they were hit by anti-aircraft. Homan said “All hell broke loose!” Their plane was hit and severely damaged and they got the signal to jump. Of the 18 paratroopers, only seven made it to the ground alive. The pilot and co-pilot rode the plane to the ground and somehow survived. Homan jumped at a relatively low altitude, and he was knocked unconscious by being hit by his own Thomson machine gun. “I woke up looking down the barrel of a rifle held by a member of the German Secret Service,” said Homan.

They were marched to many German prison camps and were transferred from the SS to the regular Germany army. First, they were taken to a monastery, where a priest took their names. The priest promised to pass their names on to the Allies. Then, they took their shoes so they couldn’t run away. Next, they were transported in cattle cars at night into Germany. They were taken to Stalag 12A in Limburg, Germany, and later moved to Stalag 3C, about 18 miles north of Berlin.

They were interrogated and told not to lie because they knew exactly where they came from and who their parents were. “How the hell would they know that,” Homan thought. “I gave them my name, rank and serial number as we were taught to do in basic training,” Homan said.

Homan was at the camp for five months. His weight dropped from 150 pounds to 90 pounds.

In late March 1945, the lights went on in the camp in the middle of the night. “We were told to fall out or there would be shooting. We were told to take our belongings and be ready to march — a forced march — five miles out of camp. The Russians were coming. The Germans suddenly left us and took off running. We never saw them again,” Homan said.

Homan’s family was notified by the adjutant general that Elvin was missing in action since Sept. 17, 1944. Photo contributed

The Russian army offered the prisoners the chance to join their army and march to Berlin. “They said they’d give us new clothes and food and ammunition and guns. But we said, ‘The hell with that.’ Three of us just took off. With no weapons, no nothing,” Homan said.

The three first made their way to Poland. “The people there were so good. They shared what little food they had. When we got to Warsaw, there wasn’t a building left standing. I didn’t see one roof in Warsaw,” said Homan.

In Poland, the three men were pointed toward a house owned by a former American who now lived in Poland. “He wrote a letter for us in Russian and Polish, saying that we were in the American Army and should be treated okay,” Homan said.

With that letter in hand, the men were able to board a train to Odessa in Ukraine. There they hopped an English ship that took them to Istanbul, Turkey. From there they took another ship to Naples, Italy, where they finally came under American control.

The American Army got the three paratroopers new clothes. “We felt just like new people,” said Homan. And they were put aboard a liberty ship to America.

“We were just coming into New York and passing the Statue of Liberty when we were told that President Roosevelt had died.”

Rosa and Speed Homan, newlyweds. Photo contributed

They were first sent to Fort Benning and then got leave to go home. While on leave, he married his high school sweetheart, Rosa.

In the summer of 1950 he received a letter saying he should get his affairs in order because the Army needed paratroopers in Korea. He was called up on Sept. 26. The war had started in June when North Korea invaded the south and nearly pushed the U.S. and South Korean forces into the sea. By the fall the U.S. had pushed back, and by mid-September, General MacArthur had landed on Inchon.

Homan made one jump in Korea. The Marines had been cut off, and he did a night jump. He jumped into Munsan Ni with a black Ranger outfit. “We cut a hole through the enemy for the Marines to get through,” said Homan.

When Homan got back to the base, he was done with war. “I just knew my time was coming. One more jump would be one too many.” He did a total of 13 jumps with three of them in combat.

He received the following awards: Bronze Star, Middle Eastern Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Good Conduct Medal, Prisoner of War Medal, Korean Survivor Medal, 101st Medallion, Combat Infantry Badge, French Croix de Guerre and the French Jubilee of Liberty Medal.

Speed and his wife, Rosa, went on to have five children, Barbara, Robert, James, Michael and Patrick. Barbara’s husband spent two years in the Army. Robert was in the Navy for four years. James and Michael retired after 20 years in the Air Force. And Patrick served the Navy for four years and retired from the Air Force after 20 years.

On May 14, 1951, Homan received a hardship discharge and returned to his job at Glencoe Mills. After 19 ½ years with Glencoe Mills, he worked for a time for Rutz Plumbing and then for the Glencoe School District for 22 ½ years as a custodian. Homan retired many years ago and now lives in a retirement home in Hutchinson. Rosa died in 2002.

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