By Paul Downer
By Paul Downer
John Stoeckmann has seen many Memorial Days since he left the military after World War II, but this year’s holiday is one that he and his family will not soon forget.
That’s because Stoeckmann was invited to help raise the flag during the national anthem at Target Field before the Minnesota Twins’ game on Sunday, May 27 in front of about 30,000 baseball fans.
The Twins have begun a new tradition at Target Field to have veterans raise the flag before games, and Stoeckmann was selected for the honor thanks to the coordinating efforts of his granddaughter, Krista Schmidt Goedel.
For the 94-year-old Stoeckmann, a longtime Twins fan who follows the team on TV, it was his first visit to Target Field. His impressions?
"It’s a big deal," he said. "We got the royal treatment there."
Stoeckmann, his wife Malinda and a large contingent from among his four children, 10 grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren only had to walk about half a block from their car before they were met with a wheel chair to take the group inside. Family members helped hold the large flag off the ground while Stoeckmann turned the crank to raise the flag, with some assistance. After the flag raising, the family members took their seats in the skyline section near third base, just above the first deck.
"They were cushioned seats. That wasn’t too hard to take," said Stoeckmann, adding that with his eyesight it is easier to watch games on television than in person, though the overall experience was "out of this world."
"They treated us like a king and a queen," Malinda added.
While raising the flag, Stoeckmann’s actions were broadcasted to the entire stadium on the massive video screen scoreboard, and following the raising he was the recipient of handshakes from many other fans before, during and after the game.
Stoeckmann was drafted into the Army on June of 1941 and served until January of 1946. He was a construction machine operator with an engineer company for most of the war, serving in New Guinea and building airstrips on Luzon in the Philippines.
His time overseas had a difficult beginning when he was hospitalized for 45 days in New Guinea after a tonsillectomy, but that ailment proved to be a fortunate occurrence after his company moved on without him.
"The rest of the company left. Where the company went, I don’t know, but I heard that a lot of them didn’t survive. They went right up to the front lines," said Stoeckmann.
While he never was engaged in direct combat, Stoeckmann was most definitely working in the combat zone.
"The Philippines aren’t too far from Japan, but they didn’t have the power to do much of anything. They tried. Once in a while you’d hear a bomb go off, but they couldn’t reach us," he said.
After the war ended Stoeckmann went to Japan, where he rode a train through one of the areas devastated by an atomic bomb before boarding a ship home.
"It looked terrible. They had a lot of cleaning up to do yet," he said.
Nine days after departing Japan his ship arrived at Washington state, where during a certain reception he was mystified to hear the servers speaking in German.
"I listened to those guys talking, and they were talking German, my language. I couldn’t quite figure that out, but it turns out they were German prisoners of war serving us," he said.
While he had spoken German at his home in Hamburg before the war, after nearly five years of military service his grasp of the language had faded.
"When my dad picked me up he started talking German to me and I couldn’t answer. My German was pretty well gone. It took a couple weeks and then it was all back again," he said.
In regard to his selection as the flag raiser, Stoeckmann said he was initially reluctant, but he acknowledged that the experience was nice honor coming as it did generations after the war.
"There aren’t too many of us [World War II veterans] left," he said.