Scott County Historical Society
Scott County, Virginia

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Brothers In Arms

The Derting Brothers all returned safely from European duty in WWII: Earl, Carl, Homer, Joe, Ralph and Roy

B y GEORGE THWAITES

    When he published his recent book of American oral accounts of the World War II era, writer Studs Terkel titled his work The Last Good War.

     Many of the men who would see action in this epic conflict would hardly remember the hardship and suffering they witnessed as "good", but then, that is not where the meaning of the title lay. Terkel was referring to the fact that it was the last American war universally supported by the American public. There were no moral and political ambiguities to be grappled with; both the citizenry at home and the men on the line clearly understood what soil and what sense of decency stood in dire need of defense. In retrospect, The U .S.S. Arizona and the ovens of Auschwitz stand in mute testimony to that historical truth.

     So it was for Scott Countians. A collection of 1944 editions of the Gate City Herald (which somehow survived a disastrous fire which destroyed a great wealth of back issues) clearly demonstrate the omnipresence of the war in the minds of county people.

     While it has been a difficult task to pin down the exact numbers of Scott County soldiers who served in WWII, it can be said without much fear of error that the final roster would be in the thousands. As such, this edition cannot even hope to even cap the tip of the iceberg with regard to the personal accounts of service in that war. Documentation of the triumphs, tragedies, blood, sweat and tears of this county alone would fill volumes.

     Few Scott County families would be untouched by the sweeping call to service which came in response to the smoking wreckage of December 7,1941. Some families would than one of their sons go to war between that infamous date and VJ day. What follows is a brief account of three such families who would display service flags in their homes with a greater than average number of stars representing sons in the service sewn on.

     L .B. and Gertrude Wood of the Big Moccasin area saw four of their sons don the "khaki and the blue."

     Their younger sons, Stuart who became a technical sergeant in the Army and Scott, who became a sailor in the U.S. Navy entered later in the war and completed their service stateside. Their son, Fred, would serve in the Army Air Corps. He would become a career soldier, serving once again in the Korean Conflict and would retire as a staff sergeant of the United States Air Force.

     The eldest, Claude Clayton Woods, served as a staff sergeant in the U.S. Army in the Pacific Theater. He was killed in action on 'Okinawa on April 17,1945.

     At war's end, his cousin Bill Graves was strolling through Okinawa and came upon the white cross which marked were he lay. He took a photograph of the grave, which he mailed to the Wood family. Five years to the day after his death, his body would be re-interred at Holston View Cemetery, a posthumous recipient of the Purple Heart.

Mr. and Mrs. Jethro Thompson of Hiltons would see five of their sons enter into the service of their country. The eldest, Floyd, had served for three years in the U.S. Army prior to the war but immediately reenlisted after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He entered the war zone early on in North Africa, and was among those who would attack "the soft underbelly of the Axis" when the Allies invaded Italy.

     His brother, Everett, entered the service in November of 1942 and by March of 1944 would find himself on the subcontinent of India. Also at this time his brother Fred, who had joined the Navy in September of '43 was on duty in the Southwest Pacific. Brothers Edgar and Walter were in service at this time as well, but both had yet to be sent overseas as of March, 1944.

     Yet another Hiltons family would send an even larger number of its sons into the service before the war had finally run its course. Mr. and Mrs. M. L. Derting would field six sons in uniform.

     Homer Derting had entered the service in 1939 and was an airplane mechanic at Mitchell Field, N. Y. when news of Pearl Harbor reached the states. He would see active service in four major campaigns:  Australia, New Guinea, Dutch New Guinea and the Pacific Island Campaigh.

     Airplane ground-support crews, then as now, were vital members of any aerial combat team. Thus, Homer was justly proud when, while in New Guinea, his fighter squadron took the record of having shot down the most Japanese planes in one battle in the South Pacific.

     "During the past week," he wrote in a V-mail letter to home, "my squadron has had a good time blasting those Nips from the sky. About a couple of weeks ago they had a regular picnic around Wewak (New Guinea) and ran up quite a score of planes shot down, although I can't say just how many. I guess Hitler and Tojo are beginning to be very sorry they started this war."

     Considering the strictures of communications during the war, it seems remarkable that this much information managed to get by Army censors.

     Homer's elder brother Earl would be inducted into the army of June of 1943 and would and in Glasgow, Scotland. In spring of 1945 he would enter the fray on the continent, where he remained in combat until V-E day in January of 1945. That spring he would enter the fray on the continent as an infantryman in the 4th Army, where he remained in combat until V-E day.

     Carl Derting entered the service in December of 1944 and became a welder in the 566th Ordinance Corps. He docked at Liverpool, . England in November of 1944, where his outfit waited for their equipment to arrive. On Feb. 1, 1941, he arrived in what he called in his own words, "what was left of Le Harve, France."

     His ordinance work carried him inward with the Allied Wave moving inward toward Germany. He crossed the Rhine on March 29,1945, and when the war ended in Europe, he was in Werle, Germany.

     Joe Derting entered service on June 12, 1943. He would eventually enter the European Theater in the Army Medical Corps. In Feb. of1945 Joe would have a brief meeting his brother Carl, who learned that his company was running a hospital in Germany only a few miles from his present station just over the border. Joe remained in Europe . till V-E day, also.

     Ralph Derting entered the service in June of 1943 and trained as an Army artilleryman. He arrived in Glasgow on Dec. 20, 1943 with his outfit, the 84th Field Artillery Battalion, and traveled south where he moved about in southern England for some months. He enjoyed his stay in England and yet this enjoyment was tempered by the combat stories he heard from members of the Ninth Division back from North Africa on a rest stop. In May, he began to prepare himself for "The Big Wave" which most servicemen in England realized was on the horizon.

     Fate intervened. He had intermittently volunteered to play organ for the Battalion's Protestant Chaplain when the regular chaplain's assistant took ill. Eventually the chaplain, Capt. Orville A. Lorenz, persuaded Ralph to become his permanent assistant, despite Ralph's protests that he could neither type nor drive. He spent the remainder of the war in England.

     It was the draft policy of the United States during WWII that the youngest remaining son of a family could not be inducted. Nonetheless, in May of 1945, Roy Derting was inducted into the U.S. Army following his graduation from Hiltons High School. He however, was not sent overseas until November of 1946, where he served in the U.S. Army of European Occupation.

 

     Mr. and Mrs. Derting sent six sons overseas. Miraculously, all six returned without a scratch.

 

 

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