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WWII veteran spent years stationed in Hawaii as aircraft crew chief

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Douglas C-47 Skytrain
Douglas C-47 Skytrain. Photo: Wikipedia

Fresh out of high school, Merv Iverson enlisted into the .

Iverson, originally of Platte, was 17 at the time of his enlistment in 1943, and served in World War II for approximately two-and-a-half years before being honorably discharged in 1946.

But 91-year-old Iverson recalls his experience overseas with a smile, and fond memories as he served as a crew chief for the Marine Air Force stationed in a Marine Headquarters Squadron in Hawaii.

“At that age, you don’t know what to expect. It’s exhilarating to a point …” Iverson said. “It was an interesting experience.”

Iverson’s job as crew chief held a lot of different names, including flight captain or simply crewman, but his duties were the same: command the engines. As crew chief, he attended the engines of the aircraft, and if necessary, he’d make decisions in case of an emergency.

Several of the missions Iverson was sent on included escorting high-ranking officers, mostly generals, throughout the Pacific Islands.

There are four main flights that stand out specifically to Iverson. These flights, which could last up to two or three weeks, were spent on various military transport aircrafts, including the C-47, C-46 and C-54.

The flights originated from Hawaii and went to various destinations, including China and to the bombing site of Hiroshima.

Iverson said his crew was one of the first to officially visit Hiroshima after the bombing — several months after it took place in August 1945 — as he was escorting a Marine photographer to get images sent back to the AP wire.

“It was a basically a job in the sense. You’re hauling staff and you weren’t flying into any places that were in combat,” Iverson said.

Even though Iverson’s job was to escort officers, he still ran into trouble a few times.

He recalls one instance, in Okinawa — an island near Japan — in which Japanese gliders were sent to “sabotage the aircrafts,” Iverson said, forcing troops into foxholes. The gliders did “some damage,” Iverson said, but he remained safe. This was the closest he came to combat in his time serving in World War II, in which an estimated 60 million people died.

But combat wasn’t the only danger Iverson faced. Spending a lot of time in the air, weather played a major role, and Iverson said one flight took their crew straight through a typhoon. And another time, there was fire in one of the aircraft’s engines.

“There were some of those incidents, yes, but that was the most dangerous part,” Iverson said.

Returning home

Iverson hardly remembers his flight back from Hawaii to the states, as he was so used to flying, he fell right asleep.

He, along with several other Marines, were sent back to San Francisco, where they were discharged in 1946. But from there, they had to find their own way home.

So Iverson hitchhiked from San Francisco to Platte.

Looking back at the long journey, Iverson said he was just happy to be home in South Dakota. Upon his return, he worked for a carpenter for a short time before he and his father bought a used car dealership in 1948 in Mitchell.

And Iverson Chrysler was born.

It began as a used car establishment, but in 1954 it grew, acquiring a new car franchise.

“From there it’s become everything it is today,” Iverson said.

But it wasn’t all about business. Iverson married his first wife, Gloria, a few years after returning from World War II. She died in the 1980s, Iverson said, and a couple years later he met and married is second wife, Dottie.

As a father and grandfather, Iverson said he’s occasionally been asked by his kids to recall experiences from the war, but he doesn’t often talk about it.

But a few years ago, Iverson was able to relive some of his memories from World War II, when he was chosen to be part of an Honor Flight. The Honor Flight Network is a non-profit organization created to honor America’s veterans by transporting the individual to Washington D.C. to visit their memorials.

Iverson also kept a lot of memorabilia from his time in the , including some Chinese money. But there’s one aspect Iverson won’t forget, and that’s his cherished memories. He jokes that if he’d write it all down, he’d have an entire book.

“It makes it sound like I’m just getting in and out of an airplane. But you’re doing things and seeing things,” Iverson said, recalling his time spent in Hawaii and the countless flights across the Pacific Ocean. “…There were many, many experiences. You had new experiences every day.”

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(c)2017 The Daily Republic (Mitchell, S.D.) — www.mitchellrepublic.com

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