Bousema joined family tradition of military serviceSANBORN, Iowa — Like many men of the greatest generation, Bill Bousema isn’t one to brag about his service during World War II. Like many men of the greatest generation, he doesn’t need to.
SANBORN, Iowa — Like many men of the greatest generation, Bill Bousema isn’t one to brag about his service during World War II.
Like many men of the greatest generation, he doesn’t need to.
“I’ve been bragging enough,” said the former private first class. “But they say if you experienced it, you’re not bragging.”
Bousema, an 87-year-old retired farmer from Sanborn, Iowa, was drafted into the army just 10 days before — and discharged just two weeks after — his younger brother John.
“We almost met; he went east to the European operations, and I went west,” he chuckled.
John fought at the Battle of the Bulge.
Bousema’s six brothers and father would all serve in the military during their lifetimes.
“My dad come from Holland, and he served in the Dutch army. And when he came to America, he served in World War I,” he recalled. “He volunteered to go to become a citizen.”
Bousema was born near Hull, Iowa, and grew up near Sheldon, completing grade school in Sioux County. In March 1943, he received his notice to report to the O’Brien County Courthouse in Primghar.
He completed basic training and mechanic school in Cheyenne, Wyo., before he was sent to Vancouver, Wash., for more training.
“Then they shipped me from San Francisco to Hawaii. That’s where I was the quartermaster to supply food and clothing for troops that had come back on R&R (rest and relaxation),” he said.
He produced a tiny photograph of a partially butchered cow in the back of a truck as he told how his company would transport the meat from the slaughterhouse to the mess hall kitchen on Parker Ranch in Kamuela, Hawaii.
“It was nice weather,” he said of his work on the big island. “It was better than going to the battlefield.”
After “driving truck” in Hawaii for 15 months, Bousema was transported to Saipan in the Mariana Islands for a brief time and then to Okinawa. There he snapped a picture of the Enola Gay, the airplane that would drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan.
“I did not hear or see the bomb go off, but some of the guys said they saw the reflection of the bomb,” he said.
While on Okinawa, he transported supplies used to build roads and airstrips while his unit operated under the threat of frequent bombings. Bousema later learned the Japanese militia had conducted 160 air raids during his few months there.
“We would get in a foxhole, and usually most of (the attacks) were at night and our artillery could not quite reach them,” he recalled. “There was times when the shrapnel would be flying through the trees like a hail storm.”
Following the Japanese surrender, Bousema went to Korea to await his discharge, though the landing ship tank on which he traveled had to wait for the massive 29-foot tide to rise before he and his unit could go ashore.
Shortly after landing on the Korean peninsula, “I looked out and I said, ‘What in the world are those big boats out there?’ And they said, ‘That’s where you come in the other day.’”
He hadn’t realized the enormous difference caused by the world’s biggest tide change.
“I spent a lot of time going from island to island by boat,” he added.
He spent a total of 65 days at sea and was transferred 11 times while in the service.
After he was discharged in December 1945, Bousema returned to the family farm, raising corn, soybeans and some livestock there until his retirement.
He and wife Veda married in 1948; they have four children, one daughter and three sons; 10 grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.
Bousema moved to Sanborn in 1982 and has spent his retirement golfing, fishing and traveling — as the O’Brien County Farm Bureau president, he even made a return trip to Hawaii.
He still remembers returning from war two days after Christmas and beginning the several mile trek to rural Sanborn.
“I walked from the railroad station in Sheldon, and about 3 o’clock in the morning somebody stopped and picked me up and brought me home,” he said. “I had no idea (who it was). I was just interested in getting home.”