Wojahn recalls Pearl Harbor attack
“Allergic to the draft,” he later enlisted in Marines
NEW ULM — Ninety-seven-year-old Paul Wojahn still vividly recalls the day the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
He recalled the event Friday, the anniversary of the “date that will live in infamy.”
“I just got off my graveyard shift as a machinist at Douglas Aircraft in Santa Monica, near Los Angeles, and went to have breakfast at a restaurant I used to work at,” Wojahn said. “The cook told everybody to be quiet. We listened to the radio as it was announced that the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.”
Prior to that, Wojahn worked as a farmhand in the Comfrey and St. James area. He decided to move to Southern California with a friend when World War II started to heat up in Europe.
“I was allergic to the draft. I heard that if I worked in an aircraft plant, I wouldn’t get drafted, so I moved out there,” Wojahn said.
“I worked in a few restaurants before I was hired at the aircraft plant. Then the scuttlebutt (rumors) came around that they were going to put women in the (aircraft plant) departments we worked in and we would get drafted, so I came back home to Minnesota and farmwork.”
Wojahn talked to the U.S. Marine Corps. recruiter and was allowed to stay home until the fall grain harvest was done before he enlisted in the Marines.
“The Pearl Harbor Attack changed everybody’s attitude about the war,” Wojahn said. “Many people opposed the United States getting into the war at the time, even though we were sending supplies to England to help them stop the Nazis from sinking ships.”
“I’d enlist again if I could,” Wojahn said.
He served in the First Marine Division, digging foxholes and setting up tents. He was later assigned to food service.
Wojahn’s favorite memory was seeing his younger brother Elmo and celebrating Christmas with the family in 1942. Elmo was granted leave after his ship, the USS Hornet, was sunk while he was on it.
In 1943, Wojahn rode a converted passenger ship from San Diego to Australia. On the way, he stopped in a number of South Pacific islands including New Guinea and Palau. He served in support and was involved in combat situations against Japanese forces.
Driving trucks on islands during much of his wartime service, Wojahn said it was challenging on many islands that didn’t have roads. Crushed coral was often hauled inland to create roads above the mud.
Wojahn said a song his mother taught him,“God Will Take Care of You,” helped him cope with combat situations. The toughest spot was at Peleliu, a volcanic island just six miles long and two miles wide held by more than 10,000 Japanese troops.
“Someone was watching out for me,” he said.
Okinawa was challenging with no roads and lots of flat tires.
On his way home in November, 1945, Wojahn met his brother in Fort Worth, Texas on Christmas Eve. They rode a train to Owatonna before a snowstorm stopped their plans. They hitchhiked to Eagle Lake before a man at a gas station recognized them and drove them home to Comfrey.
Wojahn married Emmy Lundberg in March 1946. He farmed for a few years, then drove a truck after a bad flood. He later bought a caterpillar and cleared rocks from farm fields. He later added a shovel loader and dug basements.
He was a Swift County Game Warden for 21 years before moving to New Ulm. He retired in 1983 and began volunteering with the Disabled American Veterans, filling nearly every position including commander. He still volunteers with the DAV, helping them collect used clothing.
“The good Lord kept me going one day at a time,” Wojahn said. “I do what I can do.