PRIMGHAR, Iowa | The names of 11 Primghar, Iowa, men killed in action means something to Don Wittrock. He's 92 and a lifelong resident of the O'Brien County seat.
"I knew some of these men," he says.
Earl T. Conaway died in World War I; Dwight D. Bress, Chester M. Dau, Marvin L. Geerdes, Calvin C. Gibson, James M. McCauley, Byron Nelson and Donald Smith all died in World War II; Gordon W. Luedke was killed in the Korean War, and both Dennis E. Koepp and Joel L. Miller died during service in Vietnam.
Eleven men. All left family and friends like World War II veterans Don Wittrock behind.
Their names are now etched in granite, along with 460 others, people like Wittrock, who came from Primghar to serve Uncle Sam when he needed them most. Their names are part of the Primghar Veterans Memorial, a site on the courthouse square in Primghar dedicated on Friday amid a steady drizzle.
The dedication, complete with a reading of KIAs, helps start Primghar's quasquicentennial celebration.
"We raised right at $100,000 in less than two years for this project," says Chateau Thierry American Legion Post No. 36 Commander Brad McDowell. "We have a little money left over for upkeep."
Granite monument pieces adorn the southeast corner of the courthouse square. There are three flagpoles featuring the U.S. flag, the state flag and a flag for prisoners of war and those missing in action. New sod serves as a damp, spongy cushion for some of the several hundred spectators who brave a cool shower for this dedication.
Nobody complains about the rain. This is farm country, a small Siouxland town where corn and soybeans reign.
"We haven't had rain in a month," says Levi Lundquist, a veteran who served during the Vietnam War. "We really needed this."
According to Wittrock, Primghar needed a memorial like this to help show how 460 soldiers and their families stepped up in time of war. Just a few feet from Wittrock stands his younger brother, Walter "Dick" Wittrock, 88. The siblings saw each other once while serving in Europe during World War II.
"Dick" Wittrock had connections with the military's mail service, and he was able to pinpoint where Don's anti-aircraft outfit was located. They met at Spa, Belgium, not long after the D-Day invasion in 1944.
The Wittrocks would make it home just before Christmas 1945. Several of their childhood pals, however, weren't so fortunate. And the names presented on an honor roll at the memorial takes a surviving veteran back a few decades.
Bress, Geerdes, Nelson and Gibson were friends and peers of Don Wittrock. He also knew Luedke, who was killed during the Korean War, and Miller, a casualty during the Vietnam War.
He's not sure, but he may have seen James McCauley's B-29 bomber shot down over Germany.
"The German anti-aircraft .88s (88-millimeter guns) shot down three or four planes flying in formation over us in Germany," Wittrock recalls. "They were on a run to bomb a German factory. I'm almost sure McCauley was in one of those planes."
For the first time, Wittrock relays that story to McCauley's sister-in-law Lorraine McCauley, of Primghar. Both McCauley and Wittrock are at the Primghar Veteran's Memorial examining the roster of KIAs when the memory returns.
"She hadn't heard that story," Wittrock says quietly.
On a weekend marked with fireworks, a big parade, the customary street dance and burnout contest, it's a quiet conversation that speaks volumes, causing one to pause and reflect.