It was quite a treat to visit with Ervin and Shirley Thuerk recently at their well appointed Oakmont apartment and I so appreciated their genuine hospitality. Ervin’s recollection of his military service along with his mind-boggling memorabilia was both undoubtedly exceptional and disconcerting.
Ervin was born February 23, 1926 in Evanston, Illinois where he grew up graduating from Evanston High School in 1943. Ervin vividly recalls when he was 15 years old during his family’s customary Sunday dinner, with 12 at the table, when a neighbor abruptly interrupted their meal. The date was December 7, 1941, a date that would live in infamy. Pearl Harbor had suffered a major surprise attack by Japan’s Imperial Navy. Startling everyone, they immediately turned on a radio as their thoughts turned to Ervin’s older brother Carl, who was currently serving in the 3rd Army. Carl served in Europe arriving at Normandy Beach on Day +5. He was severely wounded on the first day of “The Battle of the Bulge” by a German V-2 rocket terribly disfiguring his head and face requiring numerous plastic surgeries for over one year.
Meanwhile, at age 18, Ervin was drafted April 19, 1944, and was sent to Fort Sheridan, Illinois’ Army induction station and then to Camp Maxey near Paris, Texas for basic and unit medical training. Following training, Ervin went by train to New York and he shipped out to South Hampton, England November 11, 1944. Soon, Ervin with his medical unit was sent via troop train to Tenby, Wales, and quartered in old RAF barracks. Ervin’s next assignment was to U.S. Army 125th Evacuation Hospital at Braintree Town in Essex, England, for two weeks where he aided shot up and disfigured combat soldiers fighting in France.
Old Blood & Guts
January 1945, Ervin’s unit shipped out Le Havre, France, in the Normandy region. Le Havre had been subjected to Nazi occupation forces and as the Allies forced them out, the Nazis destroyed the port’s infrastructure and sank ships. Le Havre suffered 132 bombings by the Allies during the war and was liberated September 12, 1944. For the remainder of the war, Ervin’s medical unit followed General Patton’s 3rd Army as they advanced across France and into Germany. Their assignment was constantly setting up tent hospitals during Patton’s push across Europe and caring for wounded soldiers of which there were just too many to count. General Patton periodically visited his wounded troops to cheer them up and he always commended hospital personnel. Ervin said, “They called him old blood and guts, but he had a human side”.
It was in April 1945, when an order from General Patton to Ervin’s unit requesting three medical personnel to the Dachau Concentration Camp to select a new tent hospital location. Ervin and two fellow medical aides arrived at Dachau just after its gates were opened and what they saw there was beyond horrific. Prisoners had lived in constant fear of brutal treatment and terror detention including standing cells, floggings, pole hanging, and standing at attention for extremely long periods. There were 32,000 documented deaths at that camp, and thousands more that are undocumented. Over 4,000 Soviet prisoners of war were murdered at Dachau. All dead were immediately cremated on site.
Climbing the Ladder of Success
After Hitler’s suicide and the Nazi’s defeat in May 1945, Ervin served in Passau, Germany until he transferred back to New York City and he processed out of the Army in New Jersey. Then it was to Fort Sheridan, Illinois, via troop train where he was Honorably Discharged June 13, 1946. Ervin went straight to his parent’s home and landed a job with Weismann Brothers, a packing and shipping company. Desiring a better paying job he went to work as an auditor for Bowman Dairy for 9 months and then he worked for Jewell Food Stores, which paved his way to an incredibly successful 29 year career. Throughout his career he steadily advanced up the chain of command culminating as Vice President of Store Operations of over 50 Jewell Food Stores. Ervin continued his education while at Jewell, attending Lake Forest College for four years, one year at the University of Chicago and Executive Training at Stanford University. At age 50, Ervin retired… but not for long.
Walter Woske’s Girlfriend
Going back to Ervin’s high school days, his best friend Walter Woske had joined the US Navy and the gang threw him a going away party. Walter had a beautiful girlfriend by the name of Shirley Ann Stewart who was still in high school, whom Ervin just happened to notice. After Walter departed for duty, Ervin sent Walter a letter seeking permission to date Shirley and after his good buddy complied, Ervin started taking her roller skating, the movies, etc. After the War, Ervin continued dating Shirley until they were married on April 19, 1947. Ervin and Shirley have three daughters, one son, eight grandchildren, and one great grandson.
You Can’t Keep a Good Man Down
Ervin became restless in retirement so he started a successful consulting firm, Thuerk Pro-Con in Westlake Village, California, in 1976. Eventually, he closed his consulting firm and moved to Palm Desert. But soon he joined Sun World International as Vice President of Merchandising and Marketing. Four years later, he restarted Thuerk Pro-Con for several more years. Finally, he retired at age 65. Ervin’s hobbies are travel, golf, stamp collecting, and studying his ancestry. Ervin was honored to place a U.S. Army wreath on Memorial Day 2012 at Washington D.C.’s World War II Memorial. Ervin’s military awards: Victory Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Theater Ribbon w/2 Bronze Battle Stars, 3 Overseas Service Bars, Army of Occupation Medal Germany, and the Good Conduct Medal. Clearly, Ervin has led an exemplary life, proudly served his country, and raised a fine family while successfully achieving the American Dream. Ervin D. Thuerk is a great American!
Bill Reynolds is one of the “Boys of ‘67,” Charlie Company, 4th/47th, 9th Infantry Division and director of veterans affairs for The Signal.