Bio: Opelt, Arnie (Army Veteran Service - 2015)
Contact: Dolores (Mohr) Kenyon
----Source: Clark County Press (Neillsville, Clark Co., WI) 9/02/2015
Opelt, Arnie (Army Veteran Service - 2015)
American Legion to Honor Opelt for Military Service
Arnie Opelt, 88, of rural Granton will be honored by the Neillsville American Legion Sept. 7 for his service in the military. Opelt served in the U. S. Army from 1944 to 1946. (Photo by Todd Schmidt/Clark County Press)
By Todd Schmidt
Arnie Opelt, 88, or rural Granton will be honored for his military service by the Neillsville American Legion Monday, Sept. 7. A special award presentation will be held following a 6 p. m. potluck meal.
Arnie got drafted into the U. S. Army in 1944, as did his brother Rudy.
Arnie attended Neillsville high School for two years. He went out to North Dakota at the tender age of 15 to work in the wheat fields. After three months and a Christmas break, he headed to Milwaukee to work for his uncle in the roofing, siding and insulation business.
Then his country was calling. He and seven other recruits from Neillsville headed via Greyhound bus to the Milwaukee processing center.
Arnie spent 16 weeks in basic training at Ft. McClellan, spending much time on the rifle range. The recruits also learned how to operate tanks and throw grenades. For awhile, the Opelt brothers bunked in the same barracks.
“We did everything we were supposed to do to get ready to go to war,” Arnie said. “We did a lot of running to get us in good shape. A lot of guys passed out. I stopped to help a guy one time and the sergeant told me to leave him lay there.”
The men went on a grueling 25-mile march at the end of basic training. Arnie applied to become a paratrooper, but he was about 15 lbs. short of the minimum weight of 145 lbs.
“They told me if I jumped out of a plane the parachute would go up instead of down,” Arnie said.
Rudy was sent overseas, while Arnie stayed behind.
“I came home on leave after basic training,” Arnie said. “They weren’t sure what to do with me.”
Arnie was assigned to seven different camps, including those at Ft. Sheridan, Ft. Bragg and Camp Richey. He received additional training in combat and as a military policeman.
His unit was assigned to guard duty at the Percy Jones Hospital in Kalamazoo, MI. They guarded a variety of prisoners, some of whom had gone AWOL from the U. S. Military.
Arnie was then sent to Ft. Lewis, WA. The troops got additional training in how to fight Russia. They learned how to jump off the side of a ship into a U-boat.
Many of the men in the unit were then sent to San Diego for maneuvers. Arnie stayed at Ft. Lewis. At that time, he re-enlisted for one more year.
“They made things sound pretty nice,” he said.
He was sent home on a 30-day leave. The war ended in 1945, and Arnie was able to participate in the celebration.
“Everybody in Neillsville celebrated,” he said. “We danced and drank a little beer.”
Arnie returned to Ft. Lewis to prepare to fight Russia. Thankfully, the conflict never developed, and he received his honorable discharge.
He rode on the 400 train as far as Merrillan and then hitch hiked the rest of the way to the home farm along the Black River south of Neillsville. Arnie was the third oldest of 12 children.
He stayed and helped on the farm for a while and then went back to Milwaukee to work for his uncle. When jobs slacked off, Arnie moved to Wisconsin Rapids to work at the paper mill.
“In 1948, Dad called and said he needed help, so moved back to the farm,” Arnie said. He also got married to his wife Delores at the Neillsville Methodist Church.
In 1952, they purchased a farm near Granton, where Arnie still resides. They bought 80 acres and later added 60 acres up the road. They milked between 21 and 25 cows.
They had six children: Roger, Carol, Bradley, Dean, Terry and Pamela.
Roger and Delores ran the farm for many years. They sold the cattle in 1968.
Arnie drove a small mail truck in Freeport, IL for about two years. He was then employed for over 25 years at Marshfield Building Systems (Wick) as a truck driver and factory worker.
Arnie retired at age 65. He worked part-time as an escort for mobile home until his eyesight began to deteriorate. He had to quit driving at age 67.
For at least 10 seasons, Arnie went deer hunting in Wyoming. He also enjoyed fishing in the Chetek are and camping at various locations. He and Delores did a lot of traveling and spent a number of winters in Florida.
Delores passed away three years ago. Arnie now has 16 grandchildren and 21 great-grandchildren.
Arnie has been a member of the American Legion for 35 years. He has not been involved in many Legion activities due to his trucking career and later to his failing eyesight.
He gets a little misty when he talks about his military service.
“I’m proud of my service time and I would do it over again in a minute,” Arnie said. “I made a lot of friends.”
He was asked to weigh in on military affairs today.
“We certainly made a mistake going into Iraq,” Arnie said. I’m not sure how to straighten things out now.”
Arnie Opelt’s photo (top) heads this collage that includes other family members that have served in the military, including Roger and Bradley Opelt and Wayne Gurney. (Contributed photo)
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