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USS Landing Ship Tank 751
Vermillion teacher keeps World War II ship's history

VERMILLION, S.D. -- Browse through any library or book store, and you'll find a number of books about major events and well-known stories of World War II.

But most don't contain the details, the everyday anecdotes that Dale Mette enjoys hearing.

For more than two decades, his basement has filled with reminders of those short tales from his father and a handful of men.

Mette unintentionally became the unofficial historian for the former crew of the USS LST 751, the ship his father, Wilmer, served on in the Pacific Ocean during WWII. Inside a well-worn sketch book, Mette has jotted down notes and stories -- a few of them perhaps embellished over years of telling -- from the men who served with his father.

With a smile, Mette recounts those tales. There's the one about the Japanese pilot who waved to the U.S. sailors as he zipped by about 10 feet from the ship, knowing they wouldn't be able to swing the guns around fast enough to get a shot at him.

There was the ship's basketball team proclaiming itself champions of the southwest Pacific in 1945 after amassing a 92-2 record against the crews of any ship that dared to challenge them.

And when Gen. Douglas MacArthur stepped onto Leyte island, making good on his promise to return victorious to the Philippines, LST 751 was on the beach next to where it happened, the crew crowded along the rails to watch him wade ashore -- several times as it turned out.

"They filmed it four or five times until (MacArthur) was satisfied with it. That's the kind of stuff I love to hear about," said Mette, who in the process of learning all these stories has compiled dozens of photos documenting the ship's history.

Mette had never heard any of these stories before his father asked him for a little help.

"My dad never talked much about his wartime experiences," Mette said.

Justin Wan, Sioux City Journal 

Dale Mette displays semaphore flags given to him by the former signalman of the USS LST 751, a World War II amphibious ship. They are among the artifacts, photos and stories Mette has compiled about the ship his father served on.

Wilmer D. Mette, who was known to most people as W.D., grew up in Miner County, South Dakota. He married his wife, Fern, in 1942, and they were living in Baltimore when he was drafted into the Navy Reserves in September 1943. He served on board the LST (Landing Ship Tank) 751 from the time it was commissioned until after the war was over. A motor machinist mate 1st class, W.D. helped maintain the diesel engines on the ship, a vessel with a flat keel that allowed it to support amphibious landings by carrying tanks, vehicles, cargo and troops directly onto shore.

After the war, W.D. returned to Madison, South Dakota, where he and Fern raised Dale, his brother and three sisters while he owned and operated a cold storage locker plant.

In the early 1990s, W.D. saw an ad about a reunion for former LST 751 crew members. W.D. called the phone number, and the man who answered said he had only three names. W.D. took it over and asked Dale to help out.

"This just kind of really snowballed," Mette said.

W.D. threw himself into finding as many of his 100 or so former shipmates as possible, and in June 1993, they had their first reunion in Des Moines. Ten more reunions would follow until the final one in June 2004, the year after W.D. died.

Mette accompanied W.D. to four of those reunions. Prior to the first one, Mette, who has taught high school art in Winnebago, Nebraska, for 33 years, painted a banner with a picture of the ship. The banner went to every reunion, and each veteran signed his name near his duty station on the ship. The banner contains the names of all sailors confirmed to have died, a list that keeps growing.

According to the list of former crew members Mette has compiled over the years, there might be six still living.

"It's just been humbling to actually have met these men and their wives and become part of their families," said Mette, who also painted a picture of the ship that he gave to the U.S. Navy art collection.

Justin Wan, Sioux City Journal 

Dale Mette has jotted down numerous stories told to him by former crew members of the USS LST 751, keeping his notes, along with drawings, in a sketch book. Mette gathered the stories at crew reunions he attended with his father, Wilmer, who served on board the ship in World War II.

For all his note taking and research, the veterans named Mette an honorary crew member, and the ship's signalman gave him a set of semaphore flags that he had used throughout the war. The captain's son has given Mette the ship's Third Substitute Pennant, flown when the captain was off the ship.

Mette stays in email contact with the sons of the ship's captain, executive officer and first officer, all now deceased.

"We call it the 751 family. We try to keep the memory of this ship alive," Mette said.

The ship's communications officer wrote a history of the ship at the end of the war. Mette owns a copy of it and hopes to update it with the stories he's collected.

"I've always thought that needs to be rewritten with all the little asides and vignettes that I was told and then illustrate it with the photos I have," Mette said.

The stories aren't all tales of bravery and great deeds, but they give a glimpse into the everyday lives of young men who missed home, worked hard and did their part in America's war effort.

Most of those men have now passed, but their service lives on in the stories stored in Mette's home.

Under proposed legislation, Iowa schools would be allowed to forego hiring nurses

DES MOINES --- School districts would be given the flexibility to decide whether to hire full-time school nurses and librarians under a sweeping piece of legislation advanced Tuesday by statehouse Republicans.

The proposal also would eliminate requirements that schools report some health screening measures, which the bill’s supporters say are duplicative.

Amy Sinclair, a Republican from Allerton and chairwoman of the Senate’s education committee, said the proposal’s simple goal is to grant more authority to school boards and other local officials who, she said, know best how to serve the students in their districts.

“We are giving those options back to the school boards, where they rightly belong,” Sinclair said. “This allows them to make the best decisions possible for the kids they serve.”

The bill is opposed by a slew of health care advocacy organizations but supported by groups representing rural school districts and the state’s school boards.

Now, schools are required to gather students’ health screening information from parents. The elimination of that requirement is among the legislation’s many proposals.

School boards requested the elimination of those mandates, according to Emily Piper, a lobbyist for the Iowa Association of School Boards. School boards think the requirement is redundant because health care providers are required to provide that information to the state’s public health department, Piper said.

“Our intention is ... to better focus our attention and our energies,” Piper said.

Sinclair clarified during a legislative meeting on the bill that the proposal does not allow schools to remove the requirement that health screening tests are conducted.

“There’s no elimination of screening or the data collection,” Sinclair said. “It eliminates the schools from being that (data) collection point.”

Herman Quirmbach, a Senator from Ames and the top Democrat on the Senate’s education committee, said it is important that schools continue to collect that information because it is easier for parents to work with local school districts than the state, and it’s easier for a school district to reach out to parents than it would be for the state to do the same.

Quirmbach said his concern is if districts do not collect the health screening data, children who do not get those screenings could slip through the cracks.

“The schools need that information,” Quirmbach said. “They’re the most effective at gathering that information. They’re going to be the most effective at making sure that requirement is satisfied.”

Piper said rural districts could be helped by eliminating the requirement that all schools have a full-time nurse and librarian. She said smaller districts may prefer to contract with individuals to perform those duties as needed.

Quirmbach said he would be amenable to a discussion about modifying the requirement and how it applies to some districts, but he opposed the proposal to remove the requirement altogether.

Health care advocacy groups pushed back against the repeal of the requirement that each district employ a nurse, and others testified about the need to have librarians to assist students with their research.

“I can tell you that it’s critical to have a school nurse in every single district, every single day,” said MaryAnn Strawhacker, with the Heartland Area Education Agency.

Sinclair and Jerry Behn, a GOP Senator from Boone, approved the legislation, which heads to the full Senate education committee. Quirmbach did not sign off on the bill.

Tim Hynds, Lee Enterprises 

Heelan fans celebrate a point in the closing minute of the team's 55-46 win over Grinnell in Class 4A first round girls state basketball action played Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019, in Des Moines, Iowa.

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Woodbury County GOP passes resolution supporting Steve King, chiding House Republican leaders

SIOUX CITY -- Woodbury County Republican leaders have passed a resolution that supports U.S. Rep. Steve King and rebukes U.S. House GOP leaders for their decision to strip King of his committee assignments over his published comments on white supremacy.

King, an outspoken conservative, came under fire for a Jan. 10 quote in a New York Times story in which he asked, "White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive? Why did I sit in classes teaching me about the merits of our history and our civilization?" 

The Iowa 4th District congressman has since repeatedly tried to distance himself from the comments, claiming he was misquoted and refuting suggestions that he harbors white supremacist or white nationalist views.

King said he considers himself a Nationalist trying to preserve Western Civilization.

"Since when is asking a question qualify one to be punished?" the Woodbury County GOP Central Committee said in the resolution. "Our Founding Fathers felt very strongly that to have a free country we needed freedom of speech.  However if we are not careful, we will no longer be able to have a debate over differing ideas and opinions or express our views if they differ from the liberal left."

Sioux City is the county seat for Woodbury, the largest of the 39 counties in the 4th District. 

In the wake of the national uproar over King's comments, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy removed King from his four committee assignments for the next two years. The House also passed a rare resolution rebuking King for his comments.  

"We are very disappointed in the national Republican leadership who denied Representative King of his rightful due process in believing a New York Times reporter over King’s testimony and his nine terms of honorable service," the Woodbury County Republicans said in the resolution. "We believe the opposition decided to ambush Representative King since they could not get enough votes to defeat him in the recent election."

King, a nine-term incumbent, eked out a 3-point win over Democrat J.D. Scholten in November in the heavily Republican district.

King's critics over recent years have objected to what they claim are a series of racist comments and his association with politicians and groups with white supremacist ties. For example, King raised eyebrows in October with his endorsement of Faith Goldy, a white nationalist candidate for mayor of Toronto.

In the wake of his white supremacy comments, King faced a chorus of calls for his resignation. The Journal, the largest newspaper in the 4th District, and three other daily Iowa papers with circulation in the district, the Ames Tribune, Des Moines Register and Fort Dodge Messenger, all published editorials saying he should step down.

The resolution approved by Woodbury County GOP leaders opposed such a move.

"We, the Republican Central Committee of Woodbury, support our 4th District US Representative Steve King and encourage him to continue to represent us and carry out his duly elected term with his long held conservative values, which include fighting for the traditional family and protecting the innocent lives of unborn babies," the resolution read.

Woodbury County Republican Party Chair Suzan Stewart said the resolution was unanimously approved on Feb. 12.

King, who has announced plans to run for re-election in 2020, has already drawn at least three GOP challengers. His primary opponents include state Sen. Randy Feenstra of Hull, Woodbury County Supervisor and former state legislator Jeremy Taylor of Sioux City, and former Irwin mayor Bret Richards.

Justin Wan, Sioux City Journal 


Steve Alexander