When you visit with 95 year old Elroy Trantow of Merrill, a World War II veteran, you’re transported back in time to a place where many of us can only imagine.
Elroy grew up in the small unincorporated community of Hogarty in Marathon County, the son of Ben and Clara Trantow. He had six sisters and one brother. He was inducted into the Army in April of 1941, the 32nd Red Arrow Division. Basic Training took place in Camp Shelby, Mississippi. He served in the Pacific Arena as an Army Medic, rank of Corporal. During World War II, the Division was credited with many “firsts.” It was the first United States division to deploy as an entire unit overseas and among the first of seven U.S. Army and U.S. Marine units to engage in offensive ground combat operations during 1942.
It was a time known as the G.I. Generation, those that went on to fight in World War II, as well as those whose productivity within the war’s home front made a decisive material contribution to the war effort.
Sharing those memories isn’t always easy, as was evident when visiting with Elroy. When asked about his war memories, he fought back tears and, after composing himself, went on to share one of his haunting memories. “In the heat of battle an artillery man was struck in the face, tearing part of it off. We had to carry him out through the jungle for over a mile to a jeep where he was then transported to a field hospital. This injured man tried to talk to me and he couldn’t. That killed me. I was saturated with blood all the way down my side. We were close to the ocean front, so I decided to wade into the water to clean off the blood. Afterwards it hit me that sharks can smell blood and I was in danger. Those memories hurt you for the rest of your life.”
Following a 28 day visit home he was reassigned and sent to Ford Dix, New Jersey. Because he could speak and understand German, he was asked to supervise the German prisoners. “It turned out to be a really good job. They were easy to get along with. I can say that I was in contact with both enemies during World War II,” Elroy said. He was discharged on September 4, 1945.
Last month he and his son, Wayne (aka Skip), who lives in the state of Oregon, were onboard the Honor Flight to Washington, D.C. to visit the memorials dedicated to honor the men and women who sacrificed much. The trip created even more lasting memories for the Trantow family. One of the many highlights was mail call, where each veteran received letters from area school children in the Wausau area while on the bus.
It will be 68 years in December that he and his wife Sylvia eloped in Michigan. Sylvia added, “We didn’t have the money at the time for a wedding.” They said it just didn’t feel right so they had a church wedding later on. They built a home in Wausau and raised six children: Cheryl, John, Wayne, Mark, Jay and Robin.
Elroy went to Refrigeration/Heating School in Chicago on the GI Bill. He worked about 32 years for the paper processing plant in Wausau that was originally Marathon Corporation, then American Can Company, then James River. He was a journeyman in the maintenance department and managed the large boiler systems that produced heat and steam for the plant operations. After he retired at age 64, he and Sylvia ran their own business, E & S Refrigeration, for about five years before fully retiring. Today the couple calls Bell Tower Residence in Merrill home.
Elroy ended this interview by saying, “I served the country four years, five months and four days.” This is one veteran that we will never forget.