We pay tribute to our local farmers who served in the military during this month which commemorates Veterans day.
Some of our farmer veterans from DeKalb County are featured as they shared their military experiences during turbulent times when our country was embattled in World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam, Iraq War, and the War in Afghanistan.
Drake Brothers serve in Army during Vietnam
Not just one or two, but all six of the Drake brothers were drafted into the U.S. Army. The farm boys from rural Clare were in the Army during the Vietnam War, from 1960 to 1970.
“We overlapped in our service, having two brothers in the Army at one time,” said the eldest brother, Albert.
Albert was the first to be drafted followed by Eugene, then Richard, Rodney, Gerald and the youngest brother, David. Each brother did one tour of duty.
“Being in the Army affected Mom more than Dad,” said David. “She was a quiet person, but probably worried most about us.” Their parents were Lilly and Clarence Drake.
During their years of service the boys sent handwritten letters home. Their mom and sisters (Betty, Doris and Nancy) would write back to them every couple of weeks.
The boys had varying ranks and assignments in the Army but the three youngest were in active combat in Vietnam. Regretfully, Rodney was killed in combat in 1967 at the age of 21. He was given full military rites at burial in Mayfield Cemetery.
After being honorably discharged, one by one the boys returned home to farm with their father. As 4th generation farmers they raised grain and livestock on the home farm located on Old State Road. Eventually, the boys had their own farm operations.
Now, the 5th and 6th generation of Drake family members are farming in central and northern DeKalb County.
Army draft days remembered
The draft began in 1940 with President Roosevelt signing the Selective Training and Service Act. It required men between the ages of 21 and 35 to register. The draft ended in 1973 after the Vietnam War and now is all-voluntary. Yet the Selective Service System remains in place if needed to maintain national security. Men, 18-25, are required to be registered.
The four living Drake brothers recount their draft days and military experiences.
Albert L. Drake
“Being in the Army was like a vacation from farm work. I gained 20 pounds during service,” said Albert Drake.
He was in Basic Training at Fort Leonard Wood, MO; Fort Riley, KS; Fort Knox, KY; and again at Fort Leonard Wood, MO. Then upon completion of Basic Training, he was transferred to West Point, NY, where his regular duty was to be in charge of transporting Army Cadets as a truck and bus driver.
After military service, Albert farmed with his father and eventually took over the trucking business. He expanded the business to include a fleet of semi-trucks for Drake Farms. Now semi-retired, he helps on the farm with his sons, Kevin and Gary. Albert, 83, lives in rural Clare with his wife, Barbara.
Richard L. Drake
“We typically didn’t talk much about the service. We were drafted and did our time. I was asked to continue my service and advance in rank, but chose not to,” said Richard Drake.
Richard went through Basic Training at Fort Leonard Wood, MO and Fort Campbell, KY. Then he was stationed for active duty in Fort Greely, AK. He was an Army engineer who worked on roads and bridges.
Upon returning home from a tour of duty, Richard farmed and also worked at Anaconda in Sycamore up until retirement. Richard, now 80, resides in Sycamore. He was married to his wife Nora for 34 years; she passed away in 1999.
Gerald K. Drake
“Being in combat I had a rifle by my side at all times. Freedom is not free. We must protect it by defending our constitutional rights. It was an honor to serve,” said Gerald Drake.
Gerald was drafted in 1966 and went through Basic Training at Fort Campell, KY. He received advanced training at Fort Belvoir, VA as a generator mechanic. Then he went to Fort Huahuca, AZ for permanent duty.
In 1968, his unit was ordered to go to Vietnam. While there, his unit’s home base was in Qui Nhon.
Once honorably discharged, Gerald returned home to farm and also worked at Anaconda. Now, 73, Gerald is retired and resides in rural DeKalb with his wife, Mary Anne. His son, Scott, and son-in-law, Dan Hoffman, and grandson, Ethan, currently farm.
David R. Drake
“I was proud to serve. I was young and indestructible. I was trained and told what to do and did it,” said David Drake.
David completed Basic Training at Fort Campbell, KY and then Infantry training at Camp Crockett, GA. Jump (parachute) training was in Fort Benning, GA. He was stationed at Fort Bragg, NC with the 82nd Airborne Unit.
In December 1969 his unit was sent to Vietnam with the 1st Infantry to do mine sweeps. In the Spring of 1970 the 1st Infantry was sent home but he didn’t have enough time in so the Army assigned him to the 1st Calvary as a demolition specialist where they would air lift him to a landing zone and he would clear an outpost. He was a MOS combat engineer and paratrooper.
As the last of the Drake brothers to return home from the Army, David farmed and also worked at Five Points Elevator west of Sycamore. When the elevator was sold he farmed full-time. Today he is semi-retired as he helps his son, Ben, and grandson, Tyler, farm. David, 72, resides in rural Kingston with his wife, Linda.
Allan D. Bastian, 97
Farmer: 75 years
Branch of Military: Army, 101st Airborne Division
Rank: PFC E-3 (Private First Class)
War: World War II, August 1944 – June 1946
Location of Service: Germany, France, Austria
Military Experiences: “I began Basic Training in August 1944 at Camp Roberts in California. Then I left from New York on Jan. 6, 1945 on a ship to Le Havre, France. From there I went to Alsace by train. It took 21 days to get there due to railways being bombed, which required soldiers to repair the train tracks. In the Infantry I flew gliders and was trained for glider combat. On Jan. 29, I joined the 101st Airborne and went into a fox hole that night. After one month of combat we boarded box cars and went to Mourmelon, France. We lived in a tent city the whole month of March.
On March 15 General Eisenhower presented the division with the Presidential Unit Citation. The award was given for the stand the 101st Airborne gave at Bastogne, France. On Easter Sunday we left for a combat mission in Dusselfdorf, Germany. After about 18 days the Germans surrendered. Our next destination was Southern Germany. We arrived by box cars at Manheim, boarded ducks, crossed the Rhine River and then started our slow trek south.
About two days after the war ended we arrived in Berchtesgaden, home to many of the Nazi leaders. I was detailed to help collect valuable treasures stolen by Herman Goering (German military leader). I also was in Hitler’s house (Eagle’s Nest). After two months our troops moved to Austria and then went back to France to train for the invasion of Japan.
I was transferred to the 82nd Airborne and sent home to New York on Jan. 3, 1946. We were part of the Victory Parade in New York City and Washington, D.C.”
What Serving Your Country Means: “It was necessary – we had to go to war. We were attacked and had to defend our country. It was my patriotic duty to serve.”
Notables: Allan was a rifleman during World War II which earned him two Bronze Battle Stars. He has a road named after his family – Bastian Road – where he farmed and resides.
Donald C. Mack, 92
Farmer: 70 years
Branch of Military: Army
Rank: SPC 2 (Specialist)
War: Peacetime service after the Korean War, July 1955 – June 1957
Location of Service: Seoul, South Korea
Military Experiences: “At the age of 24, I began Basic Training at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri in July 1955. Upon completion of Basic Training, my advanced training was being schooled there for eight weeks as a clerk typist.
I was sent to Seoul in South Korea in November 1955. I worked in the post headquarters message center in the area command. As a clerk typist I would take incoming messages and direct them through the Army channels, including sending them to Japan to commanding officers. Messages were typed and sent via the Army correspondence through a military phone system and by mail service. This was classified information which I kept records of and filed.
I was discharged after one tour of duty in June 1957 and returned home to farm with my brothers, Delbert and Harley, in the DeKalb and Hinckley area.”
What Serving Your Country Means: “After serving in Korea and experiencing their primitive culture and way of life at the time, it made me realize and appreciate living in America where democracy is served. It was a great honor to serve.”
Notables: Don’s brother, Delbert, served in the Korean War and then Don was drafted after the end of the war. For years Don has enjoyed tending to his beautiful gardens on his farm.
Robert R. (Bob) Gommel, 90
Farmer: 60 years
Branch of Military: Army
Rank: PFC E-3 (Private First Class)
War: Peace time service, after the Korean War, January 1955-May 1956
Location of Service: Schweinfurt, Germany
Military Experiences: “Upon being drafted, a group of about 30 of us gathered at the building on the southwest corner of 4th and Locust streets in DeKalb and were taken to Chicago for physicals and induction in January 1955. Some of the other men that went with me were Bill Dumoulin, Norman Dienst, Bob and Jim Barr, Dale, Bob, and Vernon Herrmann, Bud Thompson, Roger Tuttle, Dick Bend, and Bob Hart.
We headed off to Basic Training at Fort Riley, Kansas. During that time, I was ordered to report for KP duty. The company commander came in and said, ‘Gommel, make me an omelet, and make it a good one.’ After the commander finished eating he said, ‘Gommel, that was the best damn omelet I’ve ever had.’ A few weeks later, I found myself assigned to cook’s training school for eight weeks at Fort Riley’s main base. I finished second in my cooking class of 40.
I was part of the 86th Regiment of the 10th Infantry in Company D, which was a machine gun company. In July 1955 we were sent to Germany, based at Schweinfurt, as part of an occupational group.
While in Germany, my father, Reinhold, suffered a heart attack and was not able to farm without assistance. A group of good friends and neighbors went to the Red Cross and made a request for me to be sent home. The request was granted providing that I remained on the active reserve list. I returned home in May 1956. As an active reserve, my honorable discharge credits me with nearly 8 years of service.”
What Serving Your Country Means: “I am very proud to be a citizen of this country. Serving in the military made me grow up and taught me how to structure my life. There is no deviation there – everything is by the book and as ordered. The experience was good and instilled patriotism in me for a lifetime. I am grateful for the opportunity to serve.”
Notables: As one of about five Army cooks, Bob prepared meals regularly for 400 in his battalion. He also was part of a machine gun company platoon.
Richard M. (Dick) Bend, 90
Farmer: 61 Years
Branch of Military: Army, 10th Infantry Division
Rank: Sgt. E-5 (Sergeant)
War: Peace time service, after the Korean War, January 1955 – November 1956
Location of Service: Schweinfurt, Germany
Military Experiences: “I took a train to Camp Chaffee, Arkansas got processed and was issued military clothing. I ran into my friend, Hank Wassmann, where he was in his Basic Training. A week later, we took a bus to Fort Riley, Kansas where we did Basic Training from January – May 1955.
At Basic Training, I’d go down to the PX (Post Exchange – store on military base) and buy a case of Hershey bars and bring some out in the field for our training exercises. We would be out in the field a half or whole day and some guys would be starving because they didn’t bring a snack. So, they started asking me if they could buy one. I began bringing extra candy bars on our field exercises and would sell them in the field. The guys gave me the nickname, “Candy Bar Bend” because they knew I always had candy bars on hand.
In June 1955 we took a train to New York to the troop ship called ‘The Patch’ (USS General Alexander M. Patch namesake). We sailed for 10 days to Bremerhaven, Germany. We then took another train to Schweinfurt, Germany where I served in the 10th Infantry Division for the next 17 months.”
What Serving Your Country Means: “I took pride in serving my country; I advanced through different ranks and became a Sergeant. I tried to take good care of my men. We trained long and hard doing many exercises during the day and at night. I did what I was told and ensured that my men did the same. By serving my country, I was doing my patriotic duty.”
Notables: Dick entered the Army as a Private and became a Sergeant and Squad Leader. He tied for 1st place in a rifle range exercise and received a trophy.
William F. (Bill) Coultrip, 76
Farmer: 50 years
Branch of Military: Air Force
Rank: Sgt. E-5 (Sergeant)
War: Vietnam, July 1964 – July 1968
Location of Service: Vietnam & stationed in Okinawa, Japan
“I received Basic Training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas in July 1964. From September to December 1964 I went to school at the Lowery Air Force Base in Aurora, Colorado to learn munitions. As a munition specialist I would protect and handle non-nuclear munitions for flight lines to load on planes. I was sent to Okinawa, Japan to be stationed there from January 1965 to July 1966 and protect the base.
We were deployed to Vietnam and I spent two years there. In Vietnam we lived in wooden shacks with dirt floors. Rockets were fired regularly and we never knew where they were going to land. It was enlightening going to a foreign country to see how people lived in a war zone. The Vietnamese people that I knew were proud of what they had and were happy the Americans were there. My first year in Vietnam was alright but the second year was tough.
I was honorably discharged in July 1968. I would not trade those four years of my life for anything.”
What Serving Your Country Means: “I enlisted in the Air Force for the Vietnam War which wasn’t very well received. I’m proud to have served my country so we can proudly display the American flag, sing the National Anthem and worship at the church of one’s choice. Most important, serving my country means freedom. We must not give up and continue to fight for it.”
Notables: Expecting to be drafted into the Army, Bill made the decision to enlist in the Air Force and have some control over his path of active duty. He was a munitions specialist.
Russell L. Sanderson, 32
Farmer: 15 years
Branch of Military: Marine Corps
Rank: Corporal E-4
Wars: Iraq, Afghanistan, September 2006 – September 2010
Location of Service: Al Taqaddum & Ar Ramadi, Iraq; Helmand Province, Afghanistan; stationed in Okinawa, Japan
Military Experiences: “I enlisted and began Basic Training in September 2006 with the Marines. I served in the Infantry at Camp Pendleton, California from January to March 2007 as a Private. Then as a Private First Class I was deployed to Okinawa, Japan with the 3rd Intelligence Battalion. I was a sensor operator and monitored land movement over radio frequencies. Getting stationed in Japan was quite the shock at first, but experiencing their culture was really cool.
Our team was deployed to Iraq to monitor sensors and alert forces to land and air movements. Our IT unit returned to Okinawa and there I was promoted to Lance Corporal. I was in charge of leading new teams and preparing them for Afghanistan. We were deployed to Afghanistan in May 2009. There we did daily foot patrols as riflemen and did sensor missions, too. In Afghanistan we had to build sand walls and guard towers for protection and I was in charge of leading patrols.
Upon returning back to our base in Okinawa, I was promoted to Corporal. I was responsible for leading a squad and teaching the new Marines. I chose to not re-enlist and was honorably discharged in September 2010.
The friends I made in the service are lifelong friends. I still talk to most of them to this day. Having been around the world, I have a pretty good idea of places I wouldn’t recommend visiting.”
What Serving Your Country Means: “It’s a sense of duty and service to others. Growing up on the farm, I learned how important it is to do what you can to help others. It’s all about helping one another so we all can succeed together. I felt like it was in my best interest to make myself a better person by joining the Marine Corps. I gave four years of service, but am a Marine for life.”
Notables: Russell was a sensor operator and rifleman during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. His nickname was “Sandy,” short for Sanderson. Now he helps his father, Chuck, farm and works for a construction company.
Download and print farmer veteran bios below.