Bob Dornfeld of Winona, Minnesota, saw more than his fair share of death as the operator of the landing craft that transferred men and supplies from ship to shore during the Second World War invasions of Peleliu, Okinawa, Iwo Jima, and Saipan in the South Pacific.
Over a half-century later, he’s anticipating seeing the national World War II, Korean War, and Vietnam memorials in addition to other sights, on Saturday during the 18th Freedom Honor Flight from La Crosse to Washington, D.C.
Now 91, Dornfeld served in the Navy from 1943 to 1946 as a motor machinist mate third class. He served as one of two crewmen operating an LCVP (landing craft, vehicle, personnel) in support of the four invasions.
Once the landing craft reached the shore, Dornfeld recalled, the ramp was lowered, and soldiers were told to get moving. However, some of them were killed almost as soon as they disembarked.
Although he never suffered a wound, he did have one close call. His landing craft and several others were still on the beach at Iwo Jima when night descended. He took shelter beneath a destroyed truck that also hosted numerous lizards that crawled over and around him.
That night, he heard the voices of Japanese troops. Emerging next morning, after hearing the voices of American troops, he learned of the deaths of all the servicemen who came ashore with him.
He said in all four invasions he was involved with, there was always plenty of noise from aircraft, cannons, and guns which included Japanese kamikaze airplanes that he witnessed trying to fly into U.S. ships.
If Japan hadn’t surrendered after the atomic bombs had been dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he most likely would’ve been part of the U.S. invasion.
He still retains the original copies of the front pages of Winona Republican-Herald newspaper proclaiming the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 and announcing the surrender of Japan in August 1945.
Dornfeld retired from the Minnesota Department of Transportation at age 63 after 30 years of employment.
“This will be an experience,” he said of Saturday’s Freedom of Honor Flight, which will be his maiden visit to the nation’s capital. Accompanying him is his daughter–in–law, Nancy Dornfeld, a nurse acting as his Freedom Honor Flight guardian.
The majority of veterans were in the Korean War, but about 20 are Second World War veterans, explained Bill Hoel, a board member of the Freedom Honor Flight.