Hello Cousins!

Recently, Emporia Main Street in Kansas posted on their Facebook page this wonderful banner created in honor of cousin Edward John Rathke as part of the “Veterans Banner Project.”  As an added bonus, Ed has shared a lovely mini auto-biography as part of the post on Facebook and it is definitely a must-read! (Below you will find Ed’s story in full.) What a wonderful way for the city of Emporia to honor its veteran residents. Ed, we thank you for sharing your story and we are proud of you and your service to our country!


Edward John Rathke’s story as posted to Facebook on September 30th, 2014:

Edward Rathke: Born in 1952, in the small town of Strong City, KS at the Stubenhofer Mid-Wife House, as Edward John Rathke.

I had an early childhood of being loved and passed around among family members a lot due to my Mother {Irma Alruma Sophia (Vahsholtz) Rathke}, dying when I was just about 11 months old. My three older sisters and my Dad took care of me very well, but he and my sisters I am sure had their hands full.

When I was almost five, my dad (Edward William) re-married to a widow from Chase County by the name of Velma I. (Eason) Neinstedt. She was a good Step-Mother, making huge impressions on me immediately, especially with her great home cooking, which had mostly been missing up until that point of my life. I remember many family gatherings with her side of the family, but I felt we drifted away from my natural Mother’s family, so I really didn’t get to know a lot of that side of my family until I had returned from the Navy.

My Dad and step-mother gave me and my closest in age sister (Eileen), enough rope that we could have really hung ourselves, but fortunately we both picked good childhood friends to grow up with and stayed out of trouble. I remember early on the lessons of home and how working hard was the thing I was supposed to do. Being a young grade school student meant working in the garden, pulling weeds, plucking chickens, feeding the pigs and cows and keeping my mouth shut, (for the most part) and not complaining. As the years progressed my step-mother’s influence upon me and my dad was apparent with her telling me to “stay away from college and find yourself a good trade such as welding”. So when High school time came I enrolled in the welding program at the Tech School. Many of my close friends were also taking training in the various trades. It was a time that I enjoyed in my growing years. When it came time to graduate my step-mother pulled me aside one day when my father was not around and in no uncertain terms laid it out that I would be out of the house for good within a few months of graduation.

I had dreamed of being in the Navy many times growing up. Often when we were playing that is with John Fitzpatrick and I imagined we were. Sailors doing the Navy stuff. Later in High School I started working for a man whose son happened to be another of my best friends. We both worked for his dad, Arthur L. Hopkins, who helped influence our enlistment in the U.S. Navy. Art spent twenty years in the Marine Corp and had one tour of duty in Korea and two tours in Vietnam. He didn’t tell us a lot of stories about his time there, but he didn’t have to. We had nothing but respect for the man, so when his son Stephen Hopkins, and another friend of ours by the name of Dennis Coen, joined the Navy you could see he was proud of us. May 12th at the young age of 18, we three, who had signed our names on the dotted line, became the property of Uncle Sam. We were guaranteed to go through Boot Camp together, so a few months later we were in San Diego, California, learning all about the big world that surrounded us. At this point in the story I feel it is important to mention that there were several other Emporia area high school students who also joined the service around this same time, including my closest friend at the time, John Fitzpatrick. We had grown up only two houses apart from the fourth grade on. So just a couple months later he and another close friend Mike Dailey were in San Diego where a friendship was made with another Sailor by the name of Robert Baumer. Bob came for a visit forty years ago and likeD the town so much he never left.

These friends’ enlistments were all taking place during Vietnam era and along with the following small list of names are other I can remember signed up or were drafted from our high school class or ones close to our class. I know I probably have missed several, but here are a few of the names. Mario Alonzo Navy, Lee Glaser Navy, John Aschbrenner Marine, Chuck Wiedner Marine, Mike Sirico Navy, Keith Peres Navy, Gary Rhoads Marine, Bill Jenks Army, Terry and Randy Rhoads Navy, Don Brown Army, Rich Jaggard Army, Jim DeMotte Navy, Steve Aust Army, Gary Hanson Army, Mike J. Langley Navy, Dave Tereriria Navy, Steve Corbin Navy, Robert Schmidt Air Force, Doug White Army, Cary Guiled Navy, Sam Humphreys Army, Rick Carlisle Marine, Dana Walker Army, Bruce White Army, Jim Wilson Army, and my wish would be to see each and every one of them have a banner and their name on the Wall of Honor at the Veterans Park.

So, after Steve, Dennis and I graduated “Boot Camp”, we all went to our separate schools of training. I received “A” School orders to Treasure Island in San Francisco, for Firefighting/Damage Control School, along with Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical counter major’s school. We learned a lot, such as fighting an oil fire in an enclosed space without any protective clothing or a breathing apparatus, the point of this training being to let you know how much black stuff you could breath and still survive, because once out to sea you couldn’t run outside and let it burn. After my training there I received another set of “A” school orders sending me back to San Diego for welding, sheet metal and carpentry school, after nine weeks additional training was completed, I thought I would be going to the fleet, but I had scored well on all my tests, so I was selected for another six weeks of specialized welding instruction. Upon successful completion I finally received orders to the fleet aboard the USS Durham LKA-114 which was just completing a dry dock period. I was assigned to R-Division which is what all my training had been preparing me for. In a few more weeks the ship was ready for another overseas deployment, we had a shakedown cruise to Acapulco Mexico, and in three more weeks we were underway for my first 10 month deployment. It was an exciting time for me, I was on a great ship and it was obvious by the crew’s attitude and the way we trained and took care of the ship. We even won the best ship in the Pacific Fleet one year. I gained a greater sense of confidence, about my Navy Rate and started making Rank as well. We did a tremendous amount of sailing but there was time for several ports-of-call as well. The ship I was on had several MK Boats, “4ea. MK-8’s and 5ea. MK-6’s”, even when we had to anchor out we always had several boats to use for a liberty launch. The full complement of ships-crew was 260, and we could also carry 350 Marines or Soldiers, “but we rarely worked with Army”. Whichever the case we often carried a large portion of the Battalion equipment, including the tanks, trucks, jeeps, fuel and their food and supplies. During my four years of the “Regular Navy” service I learned so many thing about life, they ranged from skills I would use throughout my civilian carrier to life lesions about people and humanity. During my four years of my first enlistment I ended up making two 10 month deployments, and I was one of the lucky ones that was not married at the time. There was no R&R you couldn’t fly home, no phones were on the ship, and you were normally out to sea 15 to 30 days at a time. One of the good things was that in few major ports, such as Hong Kong, there were call centers which Sailors from all the countries knew where they were. These would have 20 to 30 pay type phones so you could call home if you had the money.

The most significant memories cam from our Humanitarian Operations during the end of the Vietnam conflict. We were at Pohang, South Korea working with their ROK Marines making beach landings on very rocky shoals and beaches in the middle of the winter, it was the only time we ever had to shovel the weather decks of snow when doing our operations. It was at this time that the orders came to proceed at flank speed to the Da Nang, and/or Cam Ranh Bay area of Vietnam. The snow and bitter cold temperatures, quickly disappeared after two days of sailing as we neared the destination. The trip in route, also included long days and nights as we were getting our MK-Boats back in shape for runs into the rivers or beaches around Cam Ranh Bay. (The time on the Rocky beaches of Korea had been rough on our boats which we had to repair before the ships arrival in Vietnamese waters.)

I had been very busy welding on the boats during the trip and one night I kept hearing what seemed to be thunder in the distance, and as I raised my welding hood one time I saw that is was not thunder making the noise. What I saw was a very large Firefight going on along the coast, and turning to my Chief I asked, should I stop welding? He looked to me and stated “the Captain wants these boats ready to go and he will tell us when we should stop. Besides they aren’t shooting at us yet”. I went back to work, but I think it was the “yet” that stuck in my mind. We witnessed many more Firefights over the next few weeks and a lot of other interesting things. We landed and refueled many helicopters during this time including Marine, Nay, Air America (CIA), and even pushed a perfectly good South Vietnamese Huey Helicopter over the side. But the single biggest item that will always be with me, was the evacuation. This evacuation brought to our ship, long lines boats, which were full of frightened and desperate people and families. As these South Vietnamese nationals were allowed to come on board, we took from them all their guns, hand grenades, and knives, even their lighters. This put them totally at our mercy, which had to be even more frightening for them, and this put upon us the huge responsibility of protecting, feeding, and rendering medical assistance where needed, and caring for them over the next several days. On our ship alone we had over 5000 people that we saved from death and the hands of the North or at minimum many years in what were called Retraining Camps.
My time in the Regular Navy ended that September, with me returning to Emporia. I then went back to work for Art Hopkins for a while, and then on to HASTCO, and I taught welding in the evening at the Tech College for a while, and then went to the City of Emporia for employment. In the fall of 1981 I joined the Navy Reserves and spent almost seven years with the Topeka unit before resigning to give all my work effort to my job at the City.

During my time in the Reserves we often flew out once a month to many military bases for various training, and there was of course our two weeks of active duty each year. Throughout this time I was primarily assigned to the USS Bagley FF-1069, (Reserve Force). During the 1980’s while on one of our two week active duty sessions aboard the Bagley, we were assigned to supplement the regular crew and sail with the ship as far as Hawaii. This allowed the Sailors in our unit to be part of the first Battle Ship Group deployment since their decommissioning in the late 1960’s. We sailed with the Battle Group from San Diego to Pearl Harbor. (A side note, one of most impressive things I ever witnessed was watching a Battle Ship shoot its 16’ guns). The most interesting part of that trip was the float group catching a Russian sub on our sonar. The Battle Group gave the Russian Sub no indication that we knew their location or that they were there, that is until the morning of the third day. That morning all the ships turned on the sonar pinging devices to full strength and pinged the subs exact location at the same instant. It was extremely loud on our ship, but being in the Sub and with eight of US Navy ships pinging your exact location must have been overwhelmingly loud and uncomfortable for them, and very fun for us. I also spent time aboard the USS Hepburn FF-1055 and the USS Lang FF-1060, where I earned the designation of Enlisted Warfare Specialist.

Thank you to the City of Emporia, and Emporia Main Street for Honoring the Military Veterans in such a public format.

Edward J. Rathke HT-1 (SW) U.S. Navy