Veteran remembers the fallen

Veteran Steve Haverluck of Miles City will always remember the sacrifices he saw from fellow soldiers while serving in the Philippines during WWII. (Star photo by Steve Allison)

 

By AMORETTE ALLISON    Star Staff Writer

On the one hand, Steve Haverluck wouldn’t go back into combat “for a billion dollars.” On the other hand, if he were still young and were called to serve, he would “go again.”

Haverluck, 88, a native of Gorham, N. D., was one of 11 children of Ukrainian immigrants. He only attended school through eighth grade, graduating from White Trail Elementary School in Billings County, N.D. in 1940. A hard worker, he was earning a dollar a day in 1944 when he was called up to serve. He wasn’t the only one. All four of his brothers were also in the military.

He saw some of the heaviest fighting of the Asia Pacific campaign, leaving from Fort Ord, Calif., in the middle of night aboard the USS Marine Phoenix. For a boy from a North Dakota, it was a different way of traveling. He said he “never seen land until he was 7,000 miles from home.”

Haverluck did his basic training at Fort Roberts, Calif., but it couldn’t prepare him for what he was to experience in the jungles of the Philippines. He had “never seen so much blood.”

He landed at Mindanao, the second largest island in the Philippines, in classic form, leaving his ship while still in the water and struggling through the surf, gun held overhead, until he was on dry land. They were met on the beach by the commanding officers and went into the jungle. As he put it, he was “never out of combat until it was over.”

Which wasn’t until some time after the formal end of the war. Even though VJ Day is August 15, 1946, Haverluck kept fighting. Flyers were dropped over the combat areas of the Philippines, announcing that the Emperor of Japan had surrendered, but many of the Japanese soldiers didn’t believe it and kept fighting.

In the thick jungles of the Philippines, Haverluck said you could barely see three feet in front of you, which made moving through the jungle exceptionally dangerous. At times, he was carrying wounded soldiers, “trying to give a little comfort in a jungle.” 

Many times, the wounded were screaming and crying, something that haunts him to this day.

In spite of that, he says, “I’m proud of serving my country and defending freedom for all.”

In November of 1945, after peace had been officially declared and most of the Japanese had surrendered, he went to Japan. There he was part of a group that collected guns and ammunition from police and military groups. The armaments were collected and taken out to sea and dumped. He spent 11 months in Japan, dealing with the aftermath of the war.

That included seeing what was left of Hiroshima, the first city ever destroyed by an atomic bomb. It was completely leveled. He still has a photograph on his wall in his apartment in the Eagles Manor of the devastation.

While in Japan, he did discover the Geishas, whom he found “very beautiful.” In Japan, women were seen as “nothing” and men were not polite to them. When the American soldiers were polite to them, the women were delighted. There was even some music and dancing on a few pleasant occasions.

Then, in November of 1946, Haverluck heard the best news of his life. He had enough points to go home. He had worked his way up from private first class to technical sergeant in command of his platoon, and he was offered a further promotion to master sergeant if he stayed in. Haverluck declined, sailing home on the USS Fort Collins.

On November 15, 1946, Haverluck was formally discharged from the Army. In 1952, he attended the Rice Auction School in Mason City, Iowa and spent the next 35 years as an auctioneer.

His time in combat is still with him. In addition to memories and his photo of Hiroshima, he also has a shadow box on his wall with his medals from his time in service, including his Philippines Liberator Medal; Army of Occupation Medal, Japan; District Unit Badge; Philippine Liberation Medal with a bronze star for his life-saving efforts as a stretcher bearer; Asiatic Pacific Service Medal; Good Conduct Medal and his marksmanship medals.

He also wants everyone to remember the missing in action because they gave their lives for our freedom. Haverluck has never forgotten the sacrifices he saw.

Now a resident of Eagles Manor, Haverluck likes Miles City because “Miles City people are grateful, helpful, respectful and courteous, as I see it, because they help me a lot.”

Even though almost 70 years have gone by since his experiences in World War II, he still remembers those who made the ultimate sacrifices to protect our freedoms.