Jim Traner reports that we had a visiting WWII veteran show up late. Jim caught him after the meeting and learned that he was here from New Jersey visiting his son and dropped in to our meeting. His name was Earl and he said he couldn’t have enjoyed an evening more than spending it with fellow veterans. He had a count of our attendance and said he really enjoyed our Post. Jim reports having a feeling he was probably someone who was more than just your average Post member.
WWII Veteran, POW, combat wounded
Post 8870 lost one of our more senior comrades late last year when Robert Otto, long time VFW member, passed away on December 7, 2015. Born October 1, 1922, at home in Jerome, Idaho, bob graduated from Jerome High School, attended Utah State Univ. and The College of Idaho; then worked in the California naval shipyards before entering the Army in 1943. Sgt Otto participated in 12 missions as a tailgunner before being shot down aboard the B-24 ‘Texarkana Hussy’ over Pollau, Austria in June 1944. Severely burned, he was taken POW to Stalag Luft IV in Poland. A German Death March survivor, he was liberated at Fallingbostel, Germany in May 1945 and awarded two Purple Hearts and the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Bob married Mary Ann Plastino on March 24, 1946, in Jerome. They farmed west of town for several years, during which he served as County Auditor and rode with the Jerome Posse. The family moved to Ft. Collins, Colo. in 1952 where Robert finished his undergrad work at Colorado A&M. In 1954, they moved to Pullman, Wash. where he graduated in 1957 from Washington State College with a doctorate in veterinary medicine. Two more children were born during the college years, Randy and Robyn. After teaching veterinary medicine at Kansas State University, the family settled in Edmonds, where he built a veterinary practice. Later he was the Area Director for the Northwest Animal Hospital Assn. and honored as Washington State Veterinarian of the Year. He retired from his practice in 1992.
Bob was a founding member of the Edmonds Senior Center and was very active in the Exchange Club. Following his retirement, he served with Christian Veterinary Missions as Short-Term Shuttle Coordinator and Chaplain, then in the mission field on the Navajo Indian Reservation, in Haiti, Bolivia, Malawi and Kenya. He obtained his minister’s license and served at Family Life Center and Sonrise Chapel as an assistant pastor before leading a small church called The Gathering at Garden Court until 2012.
In 2001, Bob was honored by the Polish government at a ceremony dedicating a statue commemorating those who were interred at Luft Stalag IV, accompanied by his son, Randy. He was also accompanied by John Nichols, who wrote The Last Escape, including Robert’s story of his interment and liberation. In 2008, he was a guest of the Austrian government and took his three children with him to attend the unveiling of a memorial by famed artist Josef Schutzenhofer (above left) commemorating those who helped liberate Austria. The following year, Bob wrote his autobiography, A Walk with God. This led to many speaking opportunities with the VFW, schools and libraries. In 2011, he traveled with Honor Flight to visit the World War II Memorial in Washington DC. Look for a more detailed description of Bob’s wartime experience in a future issue of this newsletter.
At the age of 17 and with the permission of his parents, Dennis Gaasland joined the Navy to serve his nation during WW II. Trained as a radar operator, Dennis also served in a combat amphibious unit. While serving in the Pacific, Dennis was sent to the Solomon Islands, New Hebrides Islands, Guadalcanal, and the Russel Islands before his convoy participated in the landing at the Gulf of Leyte in the Philippines. Following the war, Dennis married his childhood sweetheart, Helen, and graduated from UW with a degree in Business Administration. He was a successful businessman, working with several Seattle law firms. Dennis served at Post #8870 Commander from 1992-1994 and again from 1995-1996. He passed away in March 2015.
At the July meeting, Post member Mike Reagan honored the memory of Dennis by presenting a portrait of a young Dennis in his Navy uniform to his wife of more than 67 years, Helen. Also in attendance was her son, Greg. Mike, of course, is the founder of the Fallen Heroes Project, and to date, he has drawn portraits of over 4000 American veterans who have lost their lives while in service to our great nation. In his remarks, Mike assured Mrs. Gaasland that the Post would, “always remember one of our own”.