World War II veteran Dewey Letheby is a bit of a Renaissance man when it comes to the art of life. Since his unexpected arrival into this world, he achieved what most only dream of—athletic prowess, heroism during war, a great love story and the adoration of his three adult children, Kirby Letheby, Randy Letheby and Melissa Plude.
“A family that plays together stays together. And here we are,” Kirby Letheby said.
Letheby, 96, was part of a Beloit Regional Hospice & Palliative Care pinning ceremony Friday honoring his military service at his home at Willowick Moments Memory Care. A party was held prior to the ceremony where he received gifts, cake, cheese, crackers and half a beer.
Letheby was born Oct. 30, 1925. His parents knew his twin sister Lois was on the way, but were surprised to discover she would have a twin brother, weighing in at less than 3 pounds. There is some debate about whether Letheby was toted around on a pillow or in a shoebox.
As a child, Letheby had an adventurous side, once disappearing to build a raft for cruising the Rock River.
“He was kind of like Tom Sawyer,” Plude noted.
At South Beloit High School, Letheby played running back on the football team and center on the basketball team. He worked as a caddy at the Macktown golf course and at a dairy factory, which allowed him to buy a car by age 16.
His talents didn’t go unnoticed. His sweetheart Shirley Chambers—a cheerleader voted best looking and best dressed girl in the senior class yearbook—fell hard for the young man’s charms.
Letheby volunteered for the Army Air Corps at age 17. After his high school principal wrote him a glowing letter of recommendation, his classmates went to the train station to see him off.
After his induction, he entered active service Dec. 17, 1943 in Fort Sheldon, Illinois, and reported to the Army Air Corps in Mississippi. He was reassigned to the Army 389th Signal Corps and was sent to North Dakota and then to undergo survival training in the California wilderness. Shipped out from Washington state, he was stationed on Guam with his ship departing for the Pacific Theater on Oct. 27, 1944.
Letheby never forgot the perils of ship life.
“Food was sparse,” he said.
Always resourceful, Letheby dug in the garbage for a moldy onion sandwich, which he sliced with the bayonet on his rifle. Others were inspired by his skills, taking to the trash to see what bounty they could find.
Due to rough seas, many of the soldiers were seasick. Although Letheby had a strong stomach, he made sure to snag a top bunk so needn’t fear anyone getting sick above him.
To keep his spirits up, Letheby kept a few pin-up pictures of Shirley and a stack of her love letters.
When his ship arrived at Guam, he first worked as a Jeep driver for majors and generals and as an on-call truck driver for troops and materials.
He said he enjoyed the island’s beauty and swam often, holding his breath to explore a coral reef.
“It was like Treasure Island,” Letheby said.
After U.S. forces defeated the Japanese Army to take back Guam, some of the Japanese soldiers hid in caves on the island. Letheby helped convince some to surrender.
After his enlistment, Letheby returned stateside to marry his sweetheart and build a house with a how-to book from the library. After an apprenticeship in pattern making at Fairbanks Morse he started a new company, United Pattern Works, with his friend Kenny Pospischil.
He loved working and taking his family camping and fishing, something his children still fondly remember.
“Our parents and us were best friends,” his daughter Melissa Plude said.