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World War II veteran, town of RF resident, shares stories of survival

Art Koderick, a 95-year-old town of River Falls resident and World War II veteran, is shown wearing his medals from his 10 years in the Navy. He's an American Legion Post 21 veteran and known to his friends as "The Old Survivor." Gretta Stark / RiverTown Multimedia.

"My name is Adolf George Koderick. My friends have referred to me as 'the old survivor," said Koderick one afternoon, sitting in his town of River Falls home.

Koderick, who goes by the nickname Art, has earned that title over his 95 years.

He was born in LaCrosse, and it is there that his story of survival began.

Childhood survival

Koderick said his father was very strong.

"Probably the strongest man I've ever met in my life," he said. "But he was abusive."

Koderick said he remembers when he was 10 his father was beating his mother, and his mother was saying "Oh, Lord, help me!"

"I picked up a push broom, and went to defend my mother," Koderick said. "But he grabbed it away from me before I could hit him, and he broke the handle off and he beat me so bad I couldn't go to school for a couple weeks."

Another time, his dad called his oldest brother, who is about 10 years older than him, to get him up to go to the employment office at the Alice Chalmers tractor company to try to get a job. This was during the Great Depression, Koderick said, so jobs were scarce.

Koderick's brother didn't get up the first time his father called him. Nor did he get up the second time.

"My brother made the mistake to say f- you when my dad came in the third time," Koderick said. "My dad picked him up and hit him one time. Blackened his eye and broke his nose, and knocked out two teeth."

Koderick said those two stories illustrate the abuse his family dealt with as he was growing up.

His father died when he was 14.

"I about self-raised myself," Koderick said.

He was the only kid in his family to finish high school. Shortly after high school, he tried a couple of jobs.

"I decided I wanted to go into the Navy so I wouldn't end up being a Doughboy sleeping in a trench," Koderick said.

World War II

Koderick served during World War II, the "Cuban conflict," also known as the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the Korean War.

He said he had a lot of good experiences, and some that weren't too pleasant.

"My dad had just got out of the German Navy prior to World War I," Koderick said. "So I was turned down twice when I went to enlist in the Navy, and the third time, the FBI man said, 'Well, we don't think you got any countrymen ... in the South Pacific. Guess where you're going?'"

So, Koderick served in the South Pacific during World War II.

Koderick said he was onboard a ship that was one of probably around 500 anchored near a big reef prior to the invasion of Leyte in the Philippines.

"Right by us there was a supply ship and on the other side there was an ammo (ship) and a tanker," Koderick said. "A two-man sub snuck into there and torpedoed the ammo ship, and it was like the Fourth of July."

The sub then hid underneath the hospital ship, the USS Mercy.

"We had The Mercy zig-zag, and the sub would try to stay underneath," Koderick said.

Finally, the Mercy got away from the sub and depth bombs were dropped on the sub.

Koderick said during the Battle of Leyte, the rainy season and the mud "almost pulled your boots off," but they went on.

Later on, Koderick said he was on detached service for an "amphibious" unit called ACORN 34: Aviation, Construction, Ordnance, Repair, Navy. It was a combined Army/Navy/Marine outfit, Koderick said.

During his time with that group, Koderick helped repair aircraft and test them. One time, Koderick said, he was checking on a plane near Manila, when a sniper on the second floor of a building tried to shoot him.

"He missed me on the first shot," Koderick said. So he dove for cover.

"A couple of infantry boys knew somebody was in trouble because a Japanese .31 caliber has a different sound," Koderick said. "So two of them come over to determine where he was."

The two infantry soldiers threw grenades into the building, and the sniper came running out, Koderick said.

"I was very thankful for the two infantry boys who saved my skin," Koderick said.

Another time, Koderick went out in a Jeep, looking for interesting souvenirs in a field. He found a small cannon and returned later with a friend to try and get the cannon.

They decided not to take the cannon with them. On the way back, they found a beautiful meadow with a little brook, Koderick said. He and his friend each got a drink from the stream.

"So then, we proceed walking along the stream," Koderick said. And they found a dead Japanese soldier.

"All bloated up, black flies all over," he said.

As they continued on their way, "machine gun bullets cracked right ahead of us, so we both run for the bank of the little stream and made our way back up," Koderick said.

They were met by some infantry soldiers and their lieutenant.

"I never had such a chewing out in my life," Koderick said. "He informed us that they had got pushed back the day before and we was walking in amongst the Japanese ... He said there was probably several snipers that ... had you in their sights but decided not to bag you."


During the Korean War, Koderick was on the USS Wasp #18, stationed at Guantanamo Bay.

"Castro shut the power and the water off at Guantanamo Bay," he said. "So we made power and water for Guantanamo Bay for almost two months. And in the meantime, it was boring sitting there with the ship at anchor, so we'd watch the sharks swimming back and forth."

Koderick decided to catch one.

"There was two other sailors that was interested, so I made up some fish hooks out of meat hooks," Kodric said.

They used one-eighth inch steel cable for a line, a 5-gallon bucket for a bobber and a big chunk of frozen liver for bait.

That bait didn't work, but after several tries, Kodric put pork on the hook, and caught a large shark. At least 10 feet long, he said.

Koderick said in June 1952, he had just gotten off the Wasp at Norfolk, Virginia, when the Hobson, making night maneuvers and taking on planes, was run over by the Wasp and 140 sailors and crewman on the Hobson died. No one on the Wasp was hurt.

All told, Koderick spent 10 years in the Navy, one year of which was an extended service during the Korean War.

What helped him survive these experiences?

"Probably a lot of luck," Koderick said. "And you just keep your head down low so nobody shoots it, that's about it. And the good Lord was looking out for me. And he is at the present."


Though Koderick's military service was over, his story of survival continued. His first wife, Joyce, had several surgeries and was prescribed a pain medication called Talwin. Joyce injected the medication into her legs, and eventually had many complications, Koderick said. She eventually had open wounds that wouldn't heal on her legs, with skin that had split to the bone.

Koderick said he cleaned the wounds with cotton swabs, peroxide and saline, and re-bandaged the wounds. Sometimes, the wounds tunneled under the skin so far that he had to hold a cotton swab with a tweezers, Koderick said.

At one point, Joyce had trouble chewing, so Koderick had a nurse come in three days a week; he also acted as Joyce's nurse, doing tube feedings.

Joyce couldn't use her legs much, so Koderick carried her to the truck to take her to appointments. He'd carry her in. He'd lift her up into bed.

Joyce was eventually hospitalized, and had a leg removed. After the surgery she had heart problems.

"I don't know how I survived all those years as a caregiver," Koderick said.

He said Joyce's nurse helped a lot, bathing her, helping with Joyce's laundry and bedding.

The present

Koderick is now 80 percent combat disabled, and belongs to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled Veterans and American Legion Post 121 of River Falls.

He's had many happy memories with family and friends. When he talks about his current wife Marie, a big smile lights his face.He's been married to Marie for more than 20 years now.

"It has been some of the best years of my life," Koderick said. "She is just a wonderful little girl, and we never argue ... and besides being a sweet little lady, she's a nurse, so I got somebody to take care of me when I get old."

Gretta Stark

Gretta Stark has been a reporter for the River Falls Journal since July of 2013. She previously worked as a reporter for the New Richmond News from June 2012 to July 2013. She holds a BA in Print and Electronic Media from Wartburg College.

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