Douglas W. Thimsen
Douglas W. Thimsen, 94, a resident of Boise, passed away on February 9, 2018.
Doug was born in Mitchell, South Dakota on May 22, 1923, to Andrew and Libbie (Vice) Thimsen.
A child of the Great Depression and a World War II Veteran, a gentler soul the world had never seen.
GOD (Good Old Dad) is survived by his children, Martha Thoursen, Maureen Lappin, Steve Thimsen and David Thimsen and his children’s mother, Barbara Thimsen and step-daughters, Karen Fergusen, Kay Anderson and Krista (Rick) Tuckness and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
He was preceded in death by his brother, Don, his sister Norma Jean Pellow, his wife Shirley (Gossi) Thimsen and his son Matthew Thimsen.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests memorial donations in Doug’s name be made to the Shirley Gossi Thimsen Memorial Scholarship at Boise State University.
A private family service will be held.
Born May 22, 1923 in Mitchell, South Dakota.
Parents Libby Cynthia and Andrew Olaf.
Hitched a ride at 5 years of age on the back of the neighbor’s horse already carrying my brother. The three of us headed for a 1 room, 1 teacher, 8 grade school 2 miles down the road to White Lake, South Dakota.
My Father, a WW1 Infantry Veteran and of the roaming type moved his family to Kimball, South Dakota and I entered the 3rd grade.
The desire to roam struck again and we moved 200 miles West to Kadoka, South Dakota and headlong into the Great Depression. My poor mother, the family anchor, was challenged to her breaking point. She was truly a brick, living in her Mother’s house in the basement with dirt walls and floor. The family numbered 5 with my brother Donald born in 1921 and my sister Norma Jean born in 1926. I entered the 4th grade at the age of 9 in 1932 and had my first brush with the opposite sex. Grates 4, 5, 6, and 7 shared a building which had 2 rooms and 2 teachers. Seating was 2 pupils per desk. My desk partner was Gail Buckmaster, a redhead and would follow me through to 12th grade graduation. My cousin Bob Vice was in the same grade and we bonded. We played basketball and sang in the chorus together. My brother was much more athletic and starred in track, basketball, football, and was a 4 year, 4 sport student.
Bob Vice and I graduated in 1940. I was 16 years old, Bob was 18. My brother Don had graduated in 1939 and immediately hitchhiked to Sioux Falls, South Dakota to enter college. To this date I have no idea how he financed this venture. The family was desperately poor. Our father left for Oregon to fight the forest fire at a place called Tillamook. We subsisted on the $39.00 month my Mother made at WPA Sewing Center. My sister delivered the Sioux City, Iowa newspaper for pennies a day for customers. I worked at The Hughes Bro’s Farm for $2.00 per week plus room and board during the years before I graduated from high school. I worked at the Catholic Church for the unheard of wage of 35 Cents per hour. My mother had a Jersey cow and chickens in the back yard. She bought a house on her own, a 2 room house for $600.00. This carried a mortgage of $6.00 per month which she earned by selling eggs and milk.
During the summer of 1940 my cousin Bob and I decided to join the Navy. We hitchhiked to Deadwood, South Dakota and stopped at the Navy Recruiting Office at Fort Meade. They wouldn’t take me because I was too young. Since we wouldn’t dream of separating, we went next door to the Marines. No dice, Bob was missing a tooth. Last stop ….. The Army. Like we jokingly said, they felt us, we were warm, and we were in the Army.
Went home to tell my Mother, she was devastated that we were leaving. I eased her pain by promising to send her half of what I made. Since a Private’s pay was $21.00 per month. The $10.00 I sent my mother each month was a God Send, according to her and she never exaggerated. Later on, after several promotions, I was able to send significant (at the time) amounts. I pressured her into buying an electric refrigerator. She acted as I had given her a Cadillac. It was only the second one in town. The other owner was Mr. Hunt, who ran the hardware store and lived across the street from us.
At Fort Meade we were outfitted in WWI clothing and given $6.00 to pay for food on our trip to San Francisco. We chose the Coast Artillery, thinking that all we had to do was march around with a 16 inch Navy gun and keep the bad guys away. We bussed to Denver and then took the railroad to Oakland. By this time Bob and I were joined by Thomas V Crow Necklace a Sioux from the northern part of the State. When asked why he had joined up, he replied “to be able to buy beer!” Indians were forbidden from alcoholic beverages because of their intolerance to alcohol. The PX had a steady customer for brief periods. 3 cans of beer put Thomas into LALA Land very quickly. After arriving in Denver, Bob and I spent some of our $6.00 food ration on a big bag of doughnuts. To my recollection it was the first time either of us had enjoyed the opportunity to eat our fill of baked goods. I don’t recall that we paid a price for out gluttony.
The train ride was overnight and we were met at the Oakland Depot by an Army man who loaded us on a 1.5 ton stake body truck and we were treated to an open air ride to the Presidio of San Francisco. On the way we crossed San Francisco Bay and had a good view of the 1939-1940 World’s Fair site on Treasure Island.
The Presidio (Spanish for prison) was a huge collection of Military Barracks. As recruits, we were relegated to 6 man tents on the Parade Grounds and used the Barrack’s facilities for bathing, etc. Our tents were located at the foot of the newly built Golden Gate Bridge. The first night was memorable. After Lights Out the fog rolled in and we were treated to periodic blasts of the world’s largest foghorn. It rippled the canvas on our tent and made for a sleepless night.
Our first day of true service began early and consisted of medical and dental exams and marching drills, and best of all The Mess Hall. I was 17 years old, stood 6’2”, weighed 147 pounds, and was always hungry. This arrangement consisted of picnic tables seating 8 people. Table waiters stood by and when a person took the next to last portion, he was required to raise the tray over his head. The table waiter took it to the kitchen and refilled it. What more could a hungry soldier ask for? After the war started the quaint practice was discontinued and we were relegated to long chow lines and using metal mess kits. How Sad.
After recruit training (6 weeks) we were moved to Fort Barry, across the Golden Gate Bridge and North of San Francisco. There we learned about 1903 Springfield Rifles, 1918 Browning Automatic Rifles (B-A-R), 1918 Browning 30 Caliber Machine Guns, and 50 Caliber machine guns on anti-aircraft mounts. My cousin Bob was 5’6” and 120 pounds. The B-A-R had a heavy bolt that recoiled and then was pulled forward by spring. Bob would lie on his belly and was actually dragged along by the returning bolt. What a hoot!! I had never fired a gun larger that a .22 and paid a price for underestimating the recoil, with a black eye.
The pre-war Army moved in mysterious ways, one day the 1st Sergeant called me in to tell me that I was being transferred from the 65th CA(AA) to the 30th Division MP Detachment. Why me? All I can guess is my 6’2” stature.
Now the irony – I was 17 years old, 2 months off the South Dakota farm and about as sophisticated as a Hereford Cow. They gave me a blouse with removable buttons, for shining purposes, a Sam Brown belt with holster for a .45 caliber pistol I had never before held, loaded me on a truck along with 6 other MP’s (yes I wore an MP sign on my left arm) and hauled us down to Eddy St. on pay day night. Our mission was simple – any drunken soldier was presumed to have been exposed to a social disease. This party was to be taken to a prophylaxis station and treated for this exposure. My sex education was brief and violent. The patient was asked to expos his penis. The medic would insert a syringe full of Blue Vitriol and inject it into the unwilling member. The medic then lathered his pelvic area with some foul smelling ointment, tied a Bull Durham bag on the member, have the man dress and leave. Now the first man was like me, a recruit, new to Army customs. The next man had been there previously and when he learned that he was headed for the pro station he turned into a wild tiger. I might have been a recruit, but I did know that he was to be my last victim. I had already made up my mind this was a duty I didn’t want.
Christmas 1940 in San Francisco was a bleak time for me. I learned from someone that if you wanted to change your duty station, the steps to be taken were……..
#1 Your potential duty station had to agree to take you in.
#2 You had to pay your own way.
I wanted to be back with my cousin who had moved with his regiment to Camp Haan, California across the road from March Field. I wrote to my former commander and since I was one of the few typists in The Army I was readily accepted.
I packed my duffle bag and headed for the Greyhound Bus Depot. 19 hours later I was at Riverside California. I hitched a ride to Camp Haan, about 25 miles East of Riverside, located my cousin Bob and all was right with my world.
This happy state lasted for 2 weeks. I checked the Duty Board and was horrified to read that I had been selected for a cadre to form a new unit to be based at Kodiak Island. I was given a promotion to Corporal (2 stripes) and named as Battery Clerk. We were loaded on trucks and convoyed our way to Camp Clatsop, Oregon (near Astoria). It was a long trip. There were about 100 trucks in the convoy that had an average speed of 35 mph. Since we were using public highways, we had to keep a 200 foot distance between vehicles to allow civilian traffic to pass us. All roads were just 2 lanes and it was a real Chinese Fire Drill going though towns. There were no bypass routes. They hadn’t been invented yet. We would stay in high school gyms and put our sleeping bags in any open space. I don’t recall how long it took, but it was forever.
Arriving at Camp Clatsop (now Camp Relyea) we were assigned 6 man tents with plywood side walls and wood floors, the mess hall was quite a ways off and not very convenient. As Battery Clerk, I was responsible for preparing the payroll. 4 copies and all typos had to be initialed by the Battery Commander. Needless to say I developed a high standard of typing rather than run the risk of arousing the ire of the Commander. All personnel were paid in cash each month. The money was delivered by armored cars. As soon as all were paid there was an immediate distribution of the wealth by way of craps, cards, and I O Us between the men. Borrowing $5.00 and paying back $6.00 was common, illegal, but common.
After 2 months of training we were trucked to the docks in Tacoma, loaded onto a former refer boat that smelled really bad, and said our farewells to whom ever. The ship was old and the troops occupied quarters that had six high bunks, the weather was rough and sea-sickness was prevalent. I didn’t get sick but the guy above me did. I bailed out and spent the rest of the 6 day voyage in the mess hall. I had the perfect excuse since I had to do the payroll.
It was now the spring of 1941. I celebrated my 18th Birthday on May 22nd hitchhiking to Astoria and back. There wasn’t money enough to do anything else. Mother had sent me a cake by parcel post. It was hardly recognizable but tasted good. I never mentioned to her how badly it was deformed.
Back to our sea voyage – We ate in the Navy Mess, had my first breakfast of baked beans. They said it was a naval custom. There weren’t too many takers thanks to the rough seas but I kind of liked them.
We dropped anchor at Kodiak Island. Our mission was to string a telephone line to the top of a rise. As mentioned this was July 1941 and rumors about Japanese were flying. Unloading the ship took quite awhile because there was no dock to handle a ship this size. Everything had to be littered to shore. Fortunately we had left all unnecessary trucks at Tacoma and had only AA guns etc. to unload plus trucks to haul them.
The rain was horizontal and living conditions horrible. So again the Army in it’s mysterious ways ordered us back on board and headed for Seward Alaska. We unloaded at Seward, caught a train (the only on in Alaska) to Anchorage and Fort Richardson. This move was made on or about September 1941. The gathering of war clouds didn’t have any effect on our military. For example our uniforms were still mixed with 1918 and 1935 stocks. Our Regiment, the 75th CA (AA) was equipped with 3” anti-aircraft projectiles dating back to WWI. Our detection equipment consisted of a single hearing device consisting of large ears operated by the GI with tubes plugged into his ears. Pretty high tech. After picking up the sounds of incoming aircraft he advised the range finder operator using a naval range finder (a long 14’ tube) to get the exact altitude and distance. He phoned this information to the fuse cutter on the 3” gun. The fuse cutter consisted of a device to rotate rings on the round which sets burning time that exploded the AA projectile at a pre-determined altitude. Burning time was influenced by temperature at firing time. We had shots that never exploded. We were bringing a knife to a gun fight.
December 7, 1941 was a really cold day. We got word of the Peral Harbor attack and immediately prepared to occupy our defensive positions. At the gun sites, cold weather was king. We were absolutely defenseless. Temperature hovered at 30 degrees below zero. We had some clothing for this temperature but not much. Food froze in our mess kits and rendered motor pools helpless with the same conditions at Elmendorf Field, no planes could fly.
Fortunately the Japanese were thousands of miles away. It was months before we could defend ourselves.
We dulled on until the Japanese invaded Attu and Kiska Islands. It was disturbing to watch the aircraft come into Elmendorf and train for the missions to Attu-Kiska. It was 1200 – 1500 miles to Attus so a forward base at Dutch Harbor was set up. When it came time to invade Attu, a division from the Mohave Desert was used with no thought of cold weather conditions. It was cruel.
A check of the bulletin board advised that one more time I was named to a Cadre as Personnel Sergeant Major. This carried a promotion to Technical Sergeant. At the age of 19 I had trouble adjusting. The date was April 1943 and I was again on the move, back to the mainland and Camp Haan, Riverside California. With a delay en route to Kadoka to celebrate my 20th Birthday at home. After a 2 week furlough, my first in 3 years, I caught a bus to Riverside. Who did I spot walking down the street, but my cousin Bob (true story). Our reunion didn’t last long. He shipped out in 2 weeks heading to the East Coast and then to England. He landed on Utah Beach on June 6th 1944. He survived, went through the war to it’s conclusion. He returned to Riverside to work at the local newspaper and passed away at Riverside in 2007. He retired as a Master Sergeant and beat me by 1 stripe. He earned his rank. I learned just recently that Thomas V Crow Necklace was killed in action in Germany in 1944, he was still a Private. After 5 years and a brief stay in prison for shooting out the tires of earth moving equipment building a runway at Elmendorf, he just couldn’t handle the juice.
At Riverside, Camp Haan we formed the 190th AAA Gun Battalion equipped with 90mm guns, a far cry from the 75mm of WWI vintage. We periodically maneuvered in the Mojave Desert which was as you might expect…. Hot, dry, and windy. As Personnel Sergeant Major, my job was to oversee office people, do payroll, mess hall administration etc.
One day a bedraggled GI came up to my desk and identified himself as Private David Whitmer. He had recently drafted weighing about 250 pounds. His current weight was about 180 pounds. His uniform didn’t fit too well and he said he was tired of the desert and was looking for a desk job. His resume showed he was an Ohio State University graduate. I needed a Battery Clerk so I put him on board. He could type, which took a load off my shoulders. Little did I know how his presence would influence my life. My tag as Kadoka Kid was a joke to my naivety. Country boy through and through, David and I hit if off right away. He later told me that he liked to talk with people who use good grammar. I was surprised because I had never given it a thought. Anyway, I learned from David all about mixed drinks, rare beef, and about a lifestyle I had never heard of. He asked me if I’d like to come to work for his father at Whitmer-Jackson Co in Buffalo, New York after the war. I was proud that he felt that way and agreed.
The fickle finger of fate brushed me again – The Army decided they had more AAA people than they needed and transferred the entire 190th AAA Gun BN into the infantry. Done deal. We packed our bags for Camp Howze, Texas and became members of the infantry replacement training center to be trained as replacement of those killed in action, wounded, or otherwise unfit for combat. We were like sheep being led to slaughter. By this time I was aware that Thomas V Crow Necklace and my cousin Chuck Vice (a brother to Bob whom I had enlisted with) had both been infantry replacements and had both been killed in Europe. This feeling of dread was dulled with a few cans of beer and we went on our merry way. David transferred to the CIA and became an intelligence officer. He was sent to Europe and among other things was a party to the capture of Axis Sally.
We finished our Infantry Training and were shipped to Fort Meade, Maryland for final live fire training which consisted of crawling on your belly under barbed wire with machine guns shooting over the top of you to acclimate you to active combat. We then lined up on the Parade Ground to pack our bags prior to loading on a ship bound for Europe. Halfway though this drill, the lady with the finger intervened. “Sergeant Thimsen, report to the orderly room” the loud speaker blared. At the orderly room I was told that a review of my personnel card indicated that as a Tech Sergeant, I wasn’t qualified as a Platoon Sergeant, and that I was to be transferred to Fort Benning, Georgia to attend 1st Sergeant School. Off to Fort Benning I went, assigned to the 4th Infantry Division. During drills one day we scaled a wall and jumped off to a pit on the other side. I didn’t land correctly and broke both feet. While laid up in the hospital that girl with the finger caressed me again. The Army was washing out so more men in Pilot, Bombardier of Navigation and Training had a surplus of men. Solution: take from the Army any man with foreign service and disabling injury (my feet) and send him to the Air Corp., in turn take some unlucky man from the Air Corp. (the washouts) would take his place in the Army.
Again my bag was packed and off I went to Keesler Field in Biloxi Mississippi to become a member of the 20th Air Force which was flying B-29 Bombers. The B-29 had a sophisticated gunnery system that required a lot of maintenance so I packed my bag and shipped out to Lowry Field, Denver Colorado to attend a remote control turret school. I was such a good student they made an instructor out of me.
My older brother Don, my childhood hero, my Mr. Everything, who had put himself through college, joined the Air Corp., graduated from Aviation Cadet Training as a Lieutenant, piloted the B-26 Bomber. The hottest plane in the world, was at Fitzsimmons Army Hospital at Denver, a stone’s throw from Lowry Field. Stricken with Hodgkin’s disease, at the time I didn’t know he was dying. Almost every night I would visit him and on weekends wheelchair him around the grounds not knowing that soon he would be dead. I didn’t ask anybody. He kept telling me he was going to be a test pilot at Brewster Aircraft Co. I cry as I write these lines because I shouldn’t have been so stupid to see his decline – this magnificent human being was being ravished before my eyes and I didn’t know it. The Chaplain from the hospital called me to tell me Don was dead. My first concern was my dear Mother. I’m going to take a break now – I feel so bad.
This is June 28, 2011. 66 years after Don’s death. It still hurts. I can’t get over the fact that I stood by those months at Fitzsimmons Hospital and never asked the question about Don. How stupid of me!!!
The Military Funeral in Portland is continually in my thoughts. The funeral flag is in Steve’s possession. I have given instructions that it be used at my funeral in some informal fashion and returned to the family for safekeeping.
The Atomic Bomb brought Japan to it’s knees and I was discharged at Lowry Field October 10, 1945. The hitchhiking was still in force and I used it to get to Tillamook where Mother had moved.
After driving my sister Norma to the Marine (Navy) Hospital in San Diego (where her husband, Private Don Siler was recovering from severe wounds after the Iwo Jima invasion) I returned to Tillamook and prepared for a January 1946 to Buffalo New York to go to work for Whitmer-Jackson, part of my earlier agreement with David Whitmer.
Arriving in Buffalo in mid-January, I was met by Mr. Whitmer and put to work in the warehouse for 65 cents per hour – the top pay for a warehouse job.
After 15 years, following a disagreement with management, I resigned, bought a VW Van, packed my wife Barbara, our 3 ½ children and with the help of my sister Jeanne, headed West into the unknown at an average speed of 45 mph, to Gladstone, Oregon. This was followed by a job offer from Salem Oregon. After 8 months of futile efforts to sell wood windows in an aluminum window environment, I accepted a job in Concord, California. Whitmer-Jackson had decided to open a branch in Pillsburgh, California and hired me as a manager!! Back in the VW Van and we were off again, this time with 4 children (Steve having arrived in Portland).
After a year in Concord I was lured by an offer from Anderson Corporation in Bayport, Minnesota to be a sales rep. for them in the Western part of the country. We moved to Bountiful with 4 ½ children, David was born in LDS Country in 1964, shortly after his birth, one of my customers, Chandler Supply Co in Boise, Idaho made me an offer. By this time the territory I traveled was beginning to wear on me. In 1966 with 5 children we moved again to Boise – a paradise unequaled.
In 1978 Christmas Eve morning, our first born son Matthew, 18 years old was killed when he drove his Chevy pickup off the road at Lucky Peak. At the same time Barbara and I were at logger heads over several issues and I had met Shirley Gossi. We clicked, and after a painful period Barbara and I divorced and I married Shirley. This was in 1981. Our combined family of 10 children was by and large compatible. Shirley died in 2007 and my world emptied.
I recently celebrated my 88th Birthday in reasonable health and look forward to several more –
IT’S BEEN A GOOD RIDE, THANK YOU
(Good Old Dad)