BELOIT—World War II Veteran Dewey Letheby is a bit of a Renaissance man when it comes to the art of life. After his unexpected arrival into this world he achieved what most only dream of—athletic prowess, heroism during war, a great love story and the adoration of his three adult children Kirby Letheby, Randy Letheby and Melissa Plude.
“A family that plays together stays together. And here we are,” said son Kirby Letheby.
Letheby, 96, was part of a Beloit Regional Hospice & Palliative Care pinning ceremony honoring him for his military service on Friday at his home at Willowick Moments Memory Care. A party was held prior to the ceremony where he received cake and gifts at Willowick and a trip to Randy’s house for cheese, crackers and one-half of a beer.
World War II Veteran Dewey Letheby was born on Oct. 30, 1925. His parents knew his twin sister Lois was on the way, but were surprised to discover a second baby, Dewey, weighing in at less than 3 pounds. There is some debate about whether he was toted around on a pillow or in a shoe box.
As a child Dewey had an adventurous side, once disappearing to build a raft for cruising the Rock River.
“He was kind of like Tom Sawyer,” Plude noted.
Dewey went on to become the running back on the South Beloit High School football team and the center on the basketball team. He saved money by working as a caddy at the Macktown golf course and at a dairy factory, which allowed him to buy a car by age 16. His talents didn’t go unnoticed. His sweetheart Shirley Chambers, a cheerleader who was voted Best Looking Girl and Best Dressed Girl in the senior class yearbook, fell hard for his charms.
Dewey volunteered for the Army Air Corps at age 17. After his high school principal wrote him a glowing letter of recommendation, the senior class boys came to the train station to send him off.
Following his induction, he entered active service on Dec. 17, 1943 in Fort Sheldon, Illinois and reported to the Army Air Corps in Mississippi. He was reassigned to the Army 389th Signal Corps and was sent to North Dakota and then to undergo survival training in the mountain wilderness of California. Shipped out from Washington state, he was assigned to be stationed on the Island of Guam with his ship departing for the Asiatic-Pacific Theater on Oct. 27, 1944.
Dewey never forgot the perils of ship life.
“Food was sparse,” Dewey said.
Always resourceful, Dewey dug in the garbage and made himself a moldy bread sandwich with onions he sliced with a bayonet on his rifle. Others were inspired by his skills, taking to the trash to see what bounty they could find.
Due to rough seas many of the soldiers were sea sick although Dewey had a strong stomach. He snagged the top of five-high stacked bunks to ensure he didn’t succumb to anyone’s sickness and compounded by gravity.
To keep his spirits up, Dewey kept a few pin-up pictures of Shirley in some shorts and a stack of her love letters. When his ship arrived at Guam, he first worked as a Jeep driver for majors and generals and on-call truck driver for troops and materials thanks to his experience driving at age 16. The base on Guam served as a major air support for the war, supplying bombers.
Always striving to stay positive, he enjoyed the island’s beauty and swam often, or holding his breath to explore a coral reef.
“It was like Treasure Island,” Dewey said.
Dewey worked in the command center holding a war room security pass for the XXI Bomber Command. Some of the incoming messages he received were questions which Dewey answered before passing on information to his Colonel.
After U.S. forces defeated the Japanese Army to take back Guam, some of the Japanese soldiers hid in caves on the island until Dewey could convince them to surrender.
After his enlistment, Dewey returned stateside to marry his sweetheart Shirley and build his own house after reading a how-to book from the library. After an apprenticeship in pattern making at Fairbanks Morse he started a new company, United Pattern Works, with his friend Kenny Pospischil. He loved working and taking his family camping and fishing, something his children still love to remember.
“Our parents and us were best friends,” said his daughter Melissa Plude.