Marine vet still serving at age 96

Staff photo by Connor Cummiskey Veteran Paul Wojahn, 96, volunteered to ring the bell for the Salvation Army kettle inside Hy-Vee Saturday.

NEW ULM — A 96-year-old World War II veteran volunteered to ring the bell for the Salvation Army Saturday.

Next to checkout aisles doing brisk business in Hy-Vee, Paul Wojahn rang a hand bell and solicited donations for the familiar red kettle.

“They (the Salvation Army) were calling on the radio about it, asking for bell ringers and I figured I had a little time to spare, I might as well do it,” Wojahn said.

Wojahn is originally from Comfrey. He volunteered for the First Marine Corps in August of 1942 and was discharged in December of 1945, he said.

The original plan had been for him and a friend to join the Navy together. But his buddy took a fishing trip up north, got sea sick backed out of the Navy plan.

“I said ‘Then to heck with you, I am going into the Marine Corps, I am allergic to the draft,'” Wojahn said. “He wanted to wait for the draft.”

The most memorable parts of his service were, not surprisingly, the landings. Wojahn recalled men getting disease on tropical islands, like malaria and fungal infections on their extremities.

He had driven truck on Okinawa, Wojahn said. He joined the battle on the third day and was there until the end of the 82-day fight.

Though the worst landing Wojahn recalled was on an the island Peleliu.

“We landed there in ’44 and we had about between 300 and 500 yards of reef there that we had to cross before we got to shore,” Wojahn said.

They landed next to the end of an airstrip and took heavy fire from Japanese artillery and other defenses, he said.

After his service Wojahn spent a couple of years farming, then driving trucks and contracting before he settled into a job as a game warden.

He spent 21 years in Swift County as a game warden. An additional five were spent here in New Ulm.

“I enjoyed the night work — watching for deer shiners and in the spring of the year the fish poachers,” Wojahn said. “In the later years I got to flying along with the pilots as an observer at night looking for deer shiners.”

Shiners hunt for deer at night by using powerful flashlights to spot then shoot them, which is illegal.

Wojahn said he enjoyed flying and took some lessons after he served, but never could afford a plane so most of his flight time took place during his game warden work.

During that time he was on-call 24/7, unless he took a vacation that got him out of the area, Wojahn said.

He liked being outside and moving around a lot, he said. Now Wojahn keeps himself busy fishing, singing in his church choir and working with various veteran organizations such as the Disabled American Veterans.