Wesley Fenske, 94, has led the Memorial Day rifle salute at Lincolnville Cemetery for almost two decades.
A member of the Gilbert Poppe American Legion Post 347, Fenske said he volunteers because, “it’s something that needs to be done.”
Roy Houdyshell of Lincolnville, and a member of the VFW post, said he believes Fenske is the oldest person in Marion County to participate at Memorial Day services. He could even be one, if not the oldest, in Kansas, he said.
Born in 1918, Fenske said he grew up east of Lincolnville, and when he was about 23 years old he decided to join the military.
“I went in on the draft because it was a matter of being a low number,” he said.
“They were going to get me pretty quick and, at that time, we could enlist in the draft and serve one year and be released again.”
Fenske said he thought he would try that, but it took more than 41?2 years to get out of the draft again.
His basic training took him to a base outside Little Rock, Ark., and several places in California.
“I was scattered along the coasts and did a lot of guard work—keeping a good lookout—but nothing happened,” he said.
Early in his military career, Fenske said he moved around a lot in the U.S., but in 1944 was sent to Great Britain.
“We (the 137th Infantry) didn’t get in on the initial fight when U.S. troops attacked the Germans,” he said. “We actually missed it by one month and were behind the group that did the initial invasion.”
Although Fenske said his unit did get transported across the English Channel in 12 small boats.
“If someone has seen pictures of those little boats, it’s how we got there too—crawling over the wall and wading onto the shores of France,” he said.
Prior to the end of the war, Fenske said the Germans had taken over all the countries in that area.
“In my case, I didn’t get into any actual fighting (in World War II), but saw and heard a lot because we kept books and we had to make a record of everything that happened, which involved soldiers on the front lines.”
Fenske said his office got morning reports from each company and what the action had been the day before and how many casualties there were.
“We kept records of all that,” he said, “and, of course, we had to make payrolls once a month.”
During the war, Fenske said things happened fast.
“We were getting new people in all the time and so there were a lot of advancements in rank,” he said. “I doubt (service members) could do that right now.”
When he completed his military service, Fenske said he had five stripes, making him a technical sergeant.
“The Army was training new officers so fast that they had to advance the lower ranks.”
Fenske received the Bronze Star for meritorious service in connection with military operations against an enemy of the U.S. in France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Holland and Germany.
“The medal was for service I put in and not for any special event like killing so many of the enemy in one day, nothing like that,” he said.
“I think of medals when somebody has done something really great—mine is not for that it is for a period of service and the fact that we were able to do it like we did.”
After his honorable discharge, Fenske returned to Lincolnville to continue his work as a farmer.
He, and his wife, Pauline, who was raised in Lost Springs, got married while he was stationed in California.
“She is three years younger than I am,” he said about his bride of 69 years.
They have five children and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
The couple continue to live on their farm north of Lincolnville, Fenske said, but he no longer farms the ground.
“We rent (the land) out now,” he said.
As for his volunteer service at the annual Memorial Day service, Fenske said he will continue to participate as long as his health remains good.