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EMS event honors, remembers veterans

A small table and a chair in front of the podium was the focus for a Prisoner of War Missing in Action Remembrance Ceremony during Friday’s “Freedon Is Not Free” Veterans Day Program at Ellsworth Middle School.1 / 3
Ellsworth Middle School students, along with teachers, veterans, their families and the public, filled the gymnasium for EMS’ annual “Freedom Is Not Free” Veterans Day Program Friday. (Herald photos by Bill Kirk)2 / 3
Veterans and visitors took advantage of refreshment time to talk following the Ellsworth Middle School Veterans Day Program Friday. They gathered in the EMS cafetorium, where the school’s “Freedom Is Not Free” wall is on display.3 / 3

New features were added to the traditional line-up for Ellsworth Middle School’s annual “Freedom Is Not Free” Veterans Day Program Friday.

Among the highlights differing from programs of the recent past were a Prisoner of War Missing in Action Remembrance Ceremony and a Recognition of Veterans in Attendance Ceremony by representatives of the EMS Student Council.

Lou Chicquette of Bay City shared his experiences during World War II in delivering the guest address. Master of Ceremonies Steve Straub, sixth grade teacher at EMS, introduced Chicquette as being a 1941 Ellsworth High School graduate, flying 30 missions over Japan and Korea in WWII, owning a lumber business until 1975, working for another lumber company in La Crosse, then returning to Red Wing in 1998 to “retire.”

In opening remarks, Chicquette promised to follow the advice of an “old fella,” who once instructed him when asked to speak to “stand tall in order to be seen, talk loud to be heard, make it a short speech to be liked, then sit down.”

Chicquette, who was a B-29 tail gunner in WWII, joked his wife reminds him those gunners “go backwards in battle,” which she believes is fitting, considering she doesn’t think he accomplished much anyway. He recalled his family coming through the Depression of the 1930s and his employment in the Twin Cities when WWII arrived; his mother informed him the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor and he wondered where that was.

“But I knew the war was already on,” he said, explaining there had previously been fighting in Poland and France.

When President Franklin Roosevelt declared war, most 18- or 19-year-old guys wanted to get in, he said, adding those like himself were eager to fly a B-38 or similar craft. There was no Air Force at the time, so he tried to enter the Army Air Corps. He passed required mental and physical exams, yet was disappointed when failing an eye exam due to a problem with his left eye.

He enlisted in the Army and learned to fly anyway, he said. One of the first squadrons he was in “washed out,” so he headed for a classification center in Miami Beach to be “sent off to somewhere else.” There, he and a buddy were given a choice of Officer Candidate School or flying the then-new B-29 and ended up in the gunnery program.

At Rattlesnake Army Air Base in Texas, they were trained at a gunnery school he called “outstanding” (he reminisced about the men there adopting a dog which came along on flights, and for which a special harness and parachute were made). He said the B-29s were valued for their ability to go great distances and their precision in flight. As for the 50-caliber machine gun they used, they learned to tear it down and put it back together; so skilled in this task were his group that 90 percent achieved the expected doing it while blindfolded in the third week.

“In all of our missions, we never had that weapon misfire,” he said proudly.

Another kind of shots—immunizations—were a separate matter for him, however, he said. When his time for these came, he didn’t want to be vaccinated. Told he’d have to comply or not go with his crew, he relented.

For more please read the Nov. 13 print version of the Herald. 

Bill Kirk

Bill Kirk was editor of the Pierce County Herald in Ellsworth, from 1988 to February, 2015 and is now on staff as a reporter. He holds a bachelors degree in journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. He previously worked in the media distribution department at the University of Minnesota's Minneapolis campus and is past editor of The Tri-County News in Osseo, Wisconsin.

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