Decorated World War II vet passes on chance to go back to Luzon
It was 67 years ago when El Ewert was seriously wounded fighting in the jungles during the Battle of Luzon in The Philippines Islands. Twenty-six members of his infantry regiment went into the jungles on May 21, 1945 and only four came out alive.
He was 19 and not a half-year removed from rural life in Mountain Lake, Minn. After 65 days in combat, the war was over for Ewert, now 87, who remains an active community volunteer in Forest Lake.
In the years since his combat duty, Ewert has on occasion told friends he would one day like to see Luzon again and the place where time stood still for the 30 hours that it took for relief troops to remove him to a military hospital and away from the Japanese ambush that claimed such a staggering toll.
It was a bucket list wish that friends Paul Robert of Burlington, Ver., and Elizabeth Lukacs of Lindstrom did not ignore. Robert, Lukacs and Ewert have been friends for the past five years.
Last fall, acting through the Constance F. Robert Trust established by Paul Robert, Ewert and three traveling partners were offered the chance to see Luzon once again.
“At first I was elated,” Ewert said, recalling the call last fall when the trip was proposed. “I didn’t know what to expect.”
But the more Ewert mulled the question, the more he doubted that visiting Luzon was really what he wanted to do at this stage of his life. “That night I never slept a wink,” he said.
Did he really want to relive the memories of that near tragic day in 1945 when Allied troops were fighting to remove the last of the Japanese forces from Luzon? The memories were still painful, to be sure, he said.
In the days following his military discharge in the fall of 1946, there were many nightmare filled nights where he would awake in a fright, thinking back to the jungle, the deadly fire and a narrow escape.
When the dreams returned last fall, Ewert understood making the trip was not the right thing to do.
“I finally convinced myself I couldn’t live through it again,” he said.
A Change of Heart
Robert, who founded the trust in memory of his mother seven years ago, completely understood. With the grant for Ewert’s funded and set to be released through the Greater Foundation for Greater New Haven which administers the trust, Robert called Ewert to seek an avenue for the use of the funds.
Could the grant be used for Project New Hope Minnesota, Ewert asked? Project New Hope is an organization dedicated to helping returning veterans and their families deal with reintegration to society and issues facing veterans. Suicide is just one as the country has seen a rapid up tick of military suicides following deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I said certainly,” Robert said. Robert said he understood that the trip to The Philippines was “too much for [Ewert]” and that a secondary plan was needed. Helping assist veterans dealing with a serious issue was a good cause, Robert agreed.
And the timing could not have been better.
As a veteran member of the Forest Lake Lions Club, Ewert was aware of the support for Project New Hope Minnesota from Lions clubs in the state.
At last weekend’s District 5M7 winter convention in Bloomington, Ewert received a two-minute standing ovation from fellow Lions after presenting a mock check for $7500 to Project New Hope. David Schroeder, a member of the Rush City Lions Club and a past district governor, received the check on behalf of Project New Hope. The Forest Lake Lions also received recognition for Ewert’s efforts to direct the grant.
Project New Hope is an effort of Minnesota Lions and Lions International in partnership with the Minnesota Veteran’s Affairs Department. Through the
program, veterans and their families attend retreats at no charge and are offered time and counseling to reconnect and grow together.
Members of Lions clubs volunteer at the camps and help organize the retreats. They cook, clean and provide counseling. The goal is to expand the program nationwide.
What better way to help veterans returning from combat, Ewert said?
Ewert owns a Purple Heart and Bronze Star from his service during World War II. As he thinks back, the medals equal the memories and reliving that time in his life is no longer a priority.
And if some good can come from those dark days in 1945 near the end of World War II, Ewert said he will be satisfied if a veteran from today’s wars can receive help that is needed.