Military History

Although the state of Iowa sent more than 76,000 soldiers to fight in the Civil War, Sioux County was not yet settled.  Five years after the war’s end, many veterans were drawn to the “Great Northwest” by the government’s offer of “free” 160 acre homesteads — twice the size that others could obtain without payment.

These veterans were an important part of the growth of the Ireton area.  They were leaders in township and county government, helped establish schools and were among the founders of early Ireton businesses.

They were proud of their service and loyal to their country. The love of country they exhibited is still an important value among Ireton residents.

The Civil War veterans were also devoted to their comrades.  In 1883, the first year of Ireton’s existence, they established Launtz Post #215 of the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) named after Henry Harrison Launtz (Lantz), one of the earliest pioneer settlers.  Mr. Launtz died in October 1880 at the age of 40 and was one of the first burials in Pleasant Hill Cemetery.

By 1915, many of the Civil War veterans had passed away.  Their remaining comrades planned and raised funds for a monument to honor their service.  Since its dedication on Memorial Day 1919, the Civil War Monument at Pleasant Hill Cemetery has stood as a tribute to the veterans, their cause and their contribution to the Ireton area.

The first 35 years of Ireton’s existence were relatively peaceful.  The Spanish-American War at the end of the 19th century had a very limited impact.

Unfortunately that era of peace ended with the United States’ entry into World War I on April 6, 1917.  Within days, 15 men from Ireton enlisted in Company K of the 2nd Division of the Iowa National Guard in Le Mars and began training shortly after their enlistment.  Others went to Omaha and elsewhere to join other units.  Congress passed draft legislation in June and registration was accomplished immediately — most Sioux County draft cards are dated June 5, 1917.  Many of these men were inducted into the military in July and August 1917.

More than 135 men with Ireton ties served in the “Great War” with over half of them serving in Europe.  The town was justifiably proud of their service and constructed a large “service flag” with a square for each veteran and an indication of his service (wounded or killed, served Overseas).  The flag is now on display at the Ireton Museum.

Four Ireton area men died in battle or from wounds received in battle:  Edward Brown, Emery Cox, Fred Dannenbring and Jake Levering.  Five others died from the other great enemy of World War I – Spanish Influenza/Pneumonia: Edward Bertram, Carl Jackson, Robert Johnson, George Ricklefs and Casper Thomte.

After their return to Ireton, World War I veterans established Bertram Post 276 of the American Legion.  The post gradually assumed many of the responsibilities previously undertaken by the GAR.  In addition to providing services to their members, they became leaders in the community’s Memorial Day services and other patriotic programs and provided support for servicemen and women in later conflicts. The post has garnered new members from veterans of later wars and is still active.

A generation after World War I, Ireton again sent its sons (and, for the first time, several of its daughters) off to war.  The Ireton Area Historical Society (IAHS) has compiled a list of more than 270 men and women with Ireton ties who served in World War II.  Among them were seven who died during the war:  Ted Sneider and Leo Rohlfs died in training flights; Harold Marienau died of pneumonia at Camp Hale in Colorado; Howard Dirks was fatally injured when he was run over by a U.S. Army truck while stationed in France; Reuben Schipper was killed in a tank infantry assault on a hill in eastern France; Robert Cooper died from an enemy explosive in New Guinea while saving others from being killed or injured; and Arthur Larson died when his ship was sunk in the Solomon Islands in the southwest Pacific.

Ireton honored its servicemen and women during World War II by constructing a large sign on Main Street with an “Honor Roll” of members of the military.  Homes of members of the military displayed individual service flags and many mothers wore pins honoring their sons and daughters.  Several churches constructed service flags commemorating service members from their congregation — flags from the Christian Reformed Church, First Reformed Church and Methodist Church are on display at the Ireton museum.  Pastor Van Dyke of the Christian Reformed Church also compiled an extensive scrapbook with information on the members of his church in the military.  It is also on display at the museum.

Several Ireton men entered the service shortly after V-J Day (officially September 2, 1945 in the U.S.).  Although considered WW2 vets, they are included in the Post-WW2 section of the photos along with others who performed the majority of their military service before July 1950.  Many of the post-WW2 servicemen worked in hospitals or other positions assisting returning veterans while others were on duty around the world.  Although the U.S. was “at peace”, service during this era was not without hazards and for the Van Engen family and their many Ireton friends, it brought heartache when Glen Van Engen was killed in a truck accident in Greenland in 1948.

After North Korea invaded the South on June 25, 1950, the United Nations, led by the U.S., went to the aid of the South Koreans.  The draft (Selective Service Act) was again in force and a number of young men from Ireton served in Korea during the conflict.  Others served on the West German borders guarding against Communist forces, in Japan, on Guam and elsewhere.  Although it is often called the “Forgotten War”, the Korean War was brought home to Ireton in August 1951 when one of its former residents, Private Marlin N. Walraven, was killed in action near Cupa-Ri in North Korea.  He is buried in Pleasant Hill Cemetery.

The Armistice signed with North Korea merely restored the status quo and since that time many young Americans have spent time along the 38th parallel including many from what we have described as the “Cold War” era.  Although this era continued until the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and democracy was established in the former Soviet Union and other eastern bloc countries, the IAHS has used it to denote the period from 1955 until U.S. entry into the Vietnam war in July 1964.  The Selective Service Act continued in effect during this time period and many young men spent their first two years after high school serving in Korea, Germany, Japan, England, Newfoundland, on bases in the U.S. or “seeing the world courtesy of the U.S. Navy.”  No service members with Ireton ties lost their lives during this period.

Vietnam. Despite improvements in diplomatic and economic relations between the U.S. and Vietnam, mere mention of the name still brings memories of one of the most difficult periods in American history; a time when war was brought into American homes through the medium of television.  For the most part, Ireton avoided the turmoil in much of the country — we cannot recall any local protests or local young men fleeing to Canada to avoid the draft — but Vietnam still had a significant impact on the town.

The IAHS has assembled a list of more than 100 young men and one young woman who served from July 1964 to mid-1975.  They are a mix of those who were drafted or enlisted in the regular military and those who served in the National Guard (some of whom were called to service in Vietnam or in the States and others who were never activated).  Although many of the Guardsmen who were not called to active duty showed reluctance about being included in the Veterans Project, the IAHS never hesitated about including all Guardsmen.  Even if they were not activated, members of the National Guard devoted a portion of their lives to service and were subject to activation — the Vietnam War was often about the “luck of the draw” (figuratively and literally once the draft lottery was put in place).  Levels of personal sacrifice have varied during all wars even the Civil War and World Wars I and II.

Five service members with ties to Ireton paid the ultimate sacrifice during the Vietnam conflict:  Robert Van Ballegooyen was killed in action in October 1967 from small arms fire in Quang Nam, South Vietnam; Terry M. (Mike) Westergard was killed in action in November 1968 while assisting a fellow Marine in disarming himself;  John Preston Karr, son of former Ireton resident Lyman Karr, was killed in May 1969 by an explosive device; Rosalie Bertram died in August 1969 while serving as an Army nurse; and Bruce Liston was killed in January 1970 in a train accident while serving with the U.S. Army in Germany.

The Post-Vietnam era has been the era of the all-volunteer military.  One notable development has been the increase in the number of women in the service and their increasing role in combat.

The first fifteen years of the Post-Vietnam era were mostly peaceful and, in the late 1980’s, highlighted by the fall of the Berlin Wall and the spread of democracy into the states of the former Soviet Union.  The conflicts in this early period included the invasion of the island of Grenada in the fall of 1983 and the invasion of Panama in 1989.

That time of relative peace changed with the first Persian Gulf War, Desert Shield and Desert Storm in the early 1990’s followed by humanitarian efforts in Northern Iraq, Bosnia Herzegovina and Somalia, no fly zones in Iraq and deployments in Haiti and several African countries.  The time since 2000 has been dominated by efforts against terrorism and by the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, action in Libya and humanitarian efforts in Haiti, after the tsunami in Japan and elsewhere.

Members of the military with ties to Ireton are currently serving throughout the world.

On Memorial Day 2012, Bertram Post 276 dedicated the Ireton Veterans Memorial.  It was made possible through countless hours of work by Legion members and generous financial support from the Ireton community.  Ireton residents continue to honor the service of all veterans, to remember them and to pray for the safety and well-being of current servicemen and women.  The IAHS hopes that you will do the same.