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Serving, fighting in ‘a different world’

“That from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain” – Pres. Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address

Lincoln’s address to the young war-torn nation after the Civil War carries a timeless echo to our country’s veterans today. Many lives have been lost, and many battles have been fought to preserve the freedom of our nation. The soldiers have carried the red, white and blue proudly in their heart.

One of those proud veterans is Larry R. Streif, of Fergus Falls. Streif, 93, was 22 years old when he was drafted into the army on May 14, 1942. He was one of many young men called up to fight in World War II. It was a long time ago, but the remaining veterans remember it as if it was only yesterday.

Streif was shipped to train at Camp Shelby, Miss. He became a private in M Company of the 338th Infantry Regiment. He became part of a communication platoon, dealing with radio, wire and coded messages. His assignment in the wire section included telephone, telegraph and the laying of wire to the outposts or front lines.

The 22-year-old wood tick (as he called himself) was transported to a very different world from the rural area of his childhood in northwest Wisconsin.

“Blisters on our feet were common during basic training,”said Streif. “We hiked up to 20 miles a day with full packs. We did calisthenics, bayonet fighting, rifle range firing and care of our weapons.”

“I remember an incident in basics where a soldier had rust on his weapon. He was commanded to dig a hole by hand with a pick and shovel. The 10-foot by 10-foot by 10-foot hole took several evenings to complete, digging in hard clay soil. When completed, a match was flipped in the hole, and the soldier was ordered to cover it at once. The GI never had a dirty rifle again.”

Training at Camp Shelby lasted almost a year. Then the young communication specialist spent several months at various training sites in the U.S. to further prepare him for the war that lay ahead.

On Dec. 28, 1943, Streif’s outfit left Camp Patrick Henry near Newport News, Va. and boarded the US General Mann. Nine days later they landed in Casablanca, Morocco, in North Africa. While there, the troops trained for amphibious landings. On March 22, 1944, the soldiers were shipped out on a British troop transport, the Liberia, bound for Italy.

“Everybody got extremely seasick as a bad storm hit, and we were not allowed on deck. Everybody was vomiting. It took five days for the convoy to cross the Mediterranean Sea. When we landed in Naples, our gangplank was the side of a sunken ship in the harbor which was filled with sunken ships.”

“We began our initial attack on the German defense called the Gustav Line. Hundreds were wounded and killed. When you attack an enemy entrenched and waiting for you, the price is high and often the losses are 10:1 or higher. We captured the town of Minturno and moved toward Formia and Rome.”

“During the battle, our company commander, Captain Colvin, was seriously wounded. My platoon sergeant, Ishmael Driver, was shot and killed by a sniper while laying wire to a rifle company. At the time I became the new communication sergeant.”

Streif was awarded the Bronze Star medal during this battle for saving the life of a fellow soldier. General Mark W. Clark, commander of the Italian campaign, pinned the medal on his lapel.

The troops rested a month before engaging in their second major battle. In July 1944, they replaced some New Zealand forces.

“By December we were on the front lines again at Montzamo. Snow was 2 feet deep. We were locked into a holding action sleeping in fox holes. At night, food and ammunition were brought to us by mules.”

Streif was never wounded during the war, but he spent several days in the hospital due to bouts with malaria, dysentery and hepatitis. He also injured his shoulder in a motorcycle accident which required more hospitalization.

The war in Italy ended on May 2, 1945.  Germany surrendered on May 8, 1945. Streif became a civilian again on Sept. 13, 1945 and headed home to Clear Lake, Wis.

The University of Minnesota in St. Paul beckoned to him with his monetary reward, the GI Bill. In 1950, Streif graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in agriculture. He immediately became employed as a veteran agriculture instructor in Kenyon, Minn. After two years he accepted employment with the U.S. Soil Conservation  Service.

While at college, Streif met his wife, Pauline Lynch. They had five children: Stephen, Nancy, Elizabeth, David and Mary. They were married for 55 years until she passed away in March 2004.

In 1994, 130 veterans of the 338th returned to Italy 50 years after the Normandy invasion.

“We spent the next 16 days retracing in reverse order the various WW II battle sites. On June 3, President Clinton and six Congressmen, including John Glenn and Bob Dole, met us at the American National Cemetery near Rome. David, my son, joined me on the never-to-be-forgotten trip.”

At the ceremony in the cemetery, Clinton spoke these words, “We stand today in fields forever scarred by sacrifice. We are the sons and daughters of the world they saved. Now our moment for common cause has come. It is up to us to insure a world of peace and prosperity for yet another generation.”

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