thousands of other young recruits that took them across
the Atlantic Ocean to Europe. He saw action in France and Belgium,
plus some other, smaller countries he didnt name. Then
he was thrust into the Battle of the Bulge where a quarter million
Germans attacked the greatly-outnumbered Allies, the majority
of whom were Americans. The Americans had some 47,500 wounded
and another 19,000 killed.
Hank Joesten is one of the Greatest Generation.
On Monday, he and I sat at the same table for the annual Mayors
Memorial Day Breakfast in DeKalb. Hank turned out to be the only
World War II veteran in the room. Then we found out it was also
his 97th birthday, so a song followed. Hank is a quiet, reserved
man but stood tall and waved as he was being applauded.
His generations numbers are dwindling, as World War
II ended just short of 75 years ago, and if a young soldier went
in at 18, like Hank did, he would be in his mid-to-late nineties
Over the years, I have interviewed a number of veterans
about their upbringing, their war experiences and their life
after discharge. Like many other boys, Hank was raised on a farm,
this one outside Mount Morris, Illinois. He and his brother were
only a year apart and helped their dad farm, mostly with six
big draft horses.
Both brothers were drafted. Hank was assigned to the G-2
Intelligence section of the 69th Infantry Division of the Army.
He made the rank of sergeant and boarded an oceanliner with
Hank Joesten acknowledges applause for him being the
only WW II veteran in the room on Memorial Day, his 97th birthday.
(Schrader photo for ShawMedia)
Hanks younger brother, Charles Robert, was also in
that battle at a different location. He was killed, a day before
his 20th birthday. It took weeks before Hank learned about it
from a letter his sister sent from Mount Morris. Charles Robert
was buried along with thousands of other U.S. servicemen and
women in Belgium. But later, at the request of his mother, his
remains were sent home and reburied in Ebenezer Cemetery near
After being discharged, Hank went back home, then to Browns
Business College in Rockford where he earned a degree in accounting.
He married a gal who lived across the street, Beverly, and they
spent 72 years together until her death a year ago last March.
Hank spent his entire career as an accountant for Kable Printing
in Mount Morris. He also played trombone in the company concert
band. After 40 years working there, he retired so he and Beverly
could travel. They sold their home and went on the road for six
years, pulling a 33-foot trailer behind their Chevrolet Suburban.
Then they decided to settle down in the rural Stephenson
County community of Lena, population 2,900. Some seven years
ago, their daughter Julie and her husband, Tom Weber, wanted
them closer to family so they moved into Heritage Woods
at the edge of DeKalb.
Hank wont ever forget his brother for even one day. Hanging
on his apartment wall is a large framed shadowbox with Robert
Charles photos, medals and other memorabilia. Among the
medals are a Bronze Star and Purple Heart.
At the end of my visit, Hank said something I have heard
over and over and should never forget: War is Hell.