Veteran’s Day: The Story of Eddie, Bobby, and Al
By Hans Zeiger
Stahl Junior High School
November 10, 2011
This morning I want to tell you the story of three kids who grew up here in Puyallup. They were neighbors. If you go down around Decoursey Park—that’s the neighborhood where they grew up about 75 years ago. Their names were Al, Bobby, and Eddie.
Al Tresch was the son of a Swiss immigrant dairy farmer, a hard worker who saved up money from odd jobs in Tacoma to buy a big dairy farm in the valley. There were three brothers, Albert, Robert, and Jim. Albert was the mischievous one in the family, and I’ll say more on that in a minute.
Bobby Bigelow grew up on ten wooded acres across Pioneer from the Tresches, and across Fruitland from the Washington State College Experiment Station. His father was a farmer at the Station. The Bigelows were a prominent family in the community.
And Eddie grew up on the grounds of the Experiment Station, where his father worked as the foreman. Next door to the Myerses were the Kinseys. Essey Kinsey and Eddie Myers were best friends. In the evenings after school at Maplewood Elementary, Essey and Eddie, along with Ruthie and Bobby Bigelow and a few other neighborhood kids, played games in the fields.
All three of these kids played an important role in their school.
Everybody liked Eddie because he had a way of making everybody feel welcome. He wasn’t a genius, and he repeated the first grade at Maplewood. But people liked him because he was the most joyful and the most caring guy you could find.
Eddie was the quarterback of the Puyallup High School football team. His high school classmates remember him at what’s now Sparks Stadium, as he grabbed hold of the punts from fourth down. Eddie was only 145 pounds, but as his teammate and friend Don Henderson told me, “Eddie Myers was fearless.”
Bobby was a quiet kid who spent much of his childhood exploring the DeCoursey woods and learning the local trees and flowers. He was a Boy Scout. He loved to be outdoors. Not many people remember Bobby, because he was just so quiet. He kept to himself. But he was a good and loving brother to his two sisters, one who was older and one who was younger.
As for Al, he is well-remembered for all the wrong reasons. He was the dropout, the troubled teen, the overweight kid. He dropped out of the fifth grade at Maplewood Elementary in the 1930s and became the town bully. If you talk to the old-timers around here, they’ll tell you that Al Tresch was a terror in town. He often got in fights. He weighed over 300 pounds by the time he should have been in high school. They called him “Fat Tresch.”
Well Eddie graduated 71 years ago in June of 1940 and left for Washington State College. He was a couple years into his education when he entered the Army. Assigned to the 417th Infantry Regiment, 76th Division, Lt. Myers met up with his men at Camp McCoy, Wisconsin. He was made a rifle platoon leader.
Lt. Howard Randall from Texas joined the 76th as a rifle platoon leader in June. Since he was new to the platoon, he was at a disadvantage in relating to the men, but he quickly observed that Lt. Myers had won them over. Eddie made himself available to the GIs to assist them with personal troubles or to reassure them about the stresses of war. He was a counselor and friend. Some men in the platoon were illiterate, so Eddie took time to transcribe their letters home.
On Thanksgiving Day, 1944, the 76th boarded the troop transport USS Brazil out of Boston. They continued training at Bournemouth, England. Just before Christmas, the troops at Bournemouth learned that the Germans had gone back on the offensive at the Ardennes Forest on the Western Front, and so they were ordered to ship across the channel to France.
The 76th marched from Limesy to Luxembourg in less than two weeks through the snow, arriving in Junglinster on January 26. The winter was deadly. Snow blanketed the ground. Inadequately booted and clothed, the men struggled to survive.
In the Luxembourg winter of 1945, Lt. Myers was almost, as his football teammate Don Henderson had known him at Viking Field, “fearless.” But as Howard Randall remembers, “We were all afraid that we were going to get killed or wounded in combat.” And by war’s end, three of six officers in Eddie’s company had been killed. The other three were wounded. One wounded officer became mentally unstable.
The first officer in Eddie’s company to be severely wounded in the Battle of the Bulge was the company commander. Then the executive officer was killed. With no time to mourn the dead, Eddie took over as company commander.
In mid-February, several hundred men of the 76th penetrated the Ziegfried Line. They crossed the Zauer River through German-occupied territory. On the other side, Lt. Myers led his men as they climbed about 450 feet up a mine-laden escarpment. At the top was an obstacle course like no other. Stretching 1,000 yards across and three and a half miles into the distance were 144 German pillboxes. Inch by inch, pillbox by pillbox, the infantrymen made their way through.
It was after two days of rest beyond the Ziegfried line that the 76th began an assault on the town of Welshbillag. Two-hundred fifty men charged into the town.
Two German tanks fired rounds of 88-mm rifle shells into the advancing Americans. Some men were killed instantly. A shell landed beside Lt. Randall; it was a dud. Lt. Myers was hit in the stomach. He was losing blood quickly. Some of his men helped him into a barn. Most of the platoon continued on, fighting through the night. Eddy sat up in the barn in agonizing pain. Eddie was 21.
That same month that Eddie was killed, Bobby was in hard combat in the Philippines.
After high school, Bobby went off to Oregon State to study forestry. And it was there that Bobby was drafted for the Army. He went to Basic Training in Texas. In basic training, he formed a close friendship with a quiet young Japanese-American man named Frank Yano. They had similar personalities, similar interests. After boot camp, Bobby went on for cavalry training at Fort Bliss, Kansas with the 1st Cavalry, 5th Regiment. Frank, along with his two brothers, was assigned to the segregated all-Japanese American 442nd Infantry Regiment, training at Camp Shelby in Mississippi.
And before Frank was to depart for service in Europe, he asked Bobby to be the best man in his wedding.
By the summer of 1944, Frank was in Europe, where he and his two brothers in the 442nd saw some of the toughest fighting in Europe. Frank earned the Bronze Star for helping to rescue wounded comrades. Bobby was with the 1st Cavalry as they took back the Admiralty Islands, and then they waited there for the invasion of the Phillipines.
Bobby was in the fifth assault wave into the Philippines. “I guess by now you have read all about us in the paper,” he wrote home to his mother on November 6. “It’s quite a place, we traded stuff and got chickens several times so have had fried chicken. Lots of sweet potatoes and corn too. The people here are sure glad to see us come and are a great help to us.” On Thanksgiving Day, as the Army fought its way through the Philippines, a dinner of roast turkey and three fresh eggs was sent out to the men on the lines.
From a foxhole, he wrote to his mother on December 4. The Army, he said, was “doing a swell job” as it pushed its way to Manila. “Right now I’ve got three inches growth of whiskers and haven’t washed in just about that length of time.”
But the road to Manila was hard. They fought at Leyte and Luzon. Bobby’s high school classmate Del Martinson was in the infantry, and he described for me the nightmare of a Japanese ambush in the Philippines, dropping to the ground and laying there absolutely helpless with bullets whizzing just above his head. And he described the sensation of wanting to get up and run away but somehow being unable to move. Martinson’s squad leader was killed in that ambush.
And in the midst of things like this, Bobby provided medical aid to countless men along the way. By the first week of February, the 1st Cavalry was in Manila. They participated in the liberation of 3,000 civilian POWs at the University of Santo Tomas. And then in combat on the Jones Bridge over the Pasig River, Bobby went out to aid a wounded soldier. And as he bent down to help, he too was shot. He died shortly after that. And so, when I drive by the Veteran’s Memorial in Pioneer Park, with the soldier bending down and reaching out to help, I think first of Pvt. Robert Bigelow.
Somebody else who thought first of Bobby was his best friend Frank Yano. And a few months before he was killed, Bobby learned by letter that Frank’s wife had given birth to a girl. And in honor of Bobby, the girl’s name was Roberta.
Well, what about Albert Tresch, the dropout and the town bully? He ran away and joined the Army in 1939. He was in the Philippines by 1941, and then he was fighting to defend a place called Coreggidor as the Japanese took over more and more of the island. And in the final days there, Albert Tresch and another young soldier put their lives at risk. There was a Japanese machine gun nest that got in the way of the soldiers, and Albert volunteered to go around with a grenade to take out the nest. Well, they succeeded, and for that he was awarded the Silver Star.
But it would be years before Albert Tresch saw Puyallup again. Coreggidor fell, and the survivors of that battle were taken prisoner by Japan. For the next four years, Albert struggled to survive, first along the trail that became known as the Bataan Death March, and then in a hellish place called Fukuoka not far from Nagasaki, where he spent those dark days trying to survive. Most of the men in those camps, and along that Death March, never made it.
Most of what I know about the Bataan Death March comes from a survivor I knew named Bryce Lilly, who grew up in Tacoma and just passed away in 2009. Mr. Lilly came and spoke at Aylen at a Veteran’s Day assembly like this one when I was in junior high and told about the horrors of Coreggidor, where he was shot in the head, bandaged up, and fought on. He recalled being fed nothing but a handful of rice and a cup of water as they marched 70 miles in 100 degree heat. He recalled being packed into a transport ship with dead and dying men. In Japan, he worked as a slave laborer in a steel mill. Before the war, Mr. Lilly was 175 pounds. When the war was over, he was down to 70 pounds.
Like Bryce Lilly, Albert Tresch struggled to survive. He knew that freedom was waiting on the other side. To him, home meant something special.
And he finally made it home that fall of 1945. Not long after Albert had stepped through the farmhouse door at the dairy farm on Pioneer, he asked his brother Jim to take him up for an airplane ride. Jim had just gotten out of the Army Air Corps, and Albert had never been in an airplane before. After years of confinement, he longed to see Puyallup from the sky. Jim and Albert drove across town to the little airfield beside the river. Jim arranged to rent a plane for the afternoon, and in a few minutes the brothers were airborne.
Jim came in low over downtown, over Pioneer Park, over Puyallup High School, and then they flew low over Pioneer Street, disturbing more than a few residents unaccustomed to an airplane among the local traffic. A few dutiful citizens, conditioned by an era of blackouts and night watches, phoned the police.
But the Tresch brothers had taken to the airspace of their parents’ dairy farm, circling round the cows as they grazed in the pasture, startling them into a desperate trot. Near the fleeing cows stood their strong old Swiss dairyman father, his fist raised to the heavens as the plane swooped up to avoid the old growth cedar tree in the middle of the pasture. But they were too close, and the wing clipped off the top of the tree, and as the cedar boughs came in for a landing amid the riled cows, mother Tresch was out on the back porch, hands on her hips, rejoicing in the homecoming of her sons and hoping that they would come home alive for dinner. Al was completely thrilled. That, to Al Tresch, the hero of Bataan, was freedom.
By the time they landed at the airstrip, every police car in town was waiting at the end of the runway. Out stepped the daredevil flier and the prodigal town bully. Jim rolled up his sleeve to present the cops with his ruptured duck tattoo. They let him off. Obeying the speed limits, Jim and Al drove home for dinner.
In the years after the war, life moved on, and many in that generation tried to forget the pain of the war. When somebody asked Al if he would share his experiences about the war at the Puyallup Kiwanis, he declined. Al died a number of years ago, and his brother Jim Tresch died last year.
Frank Yano became a postal carrier but he said little about the war. In the 1960s, Roberta Yano made a weeklong visit to Puyallup to meet Bobby Bigelow’s family, and she and her father kept in touch with them over the years. Bobby’s best friend Frank Yano died in 2008.
And about 20 years ago, Howard Randall traveled with the reporter Bill Moyers of PBS to visit a Luxembourg cemetery. Randall guided Moyers to a special part of the cemetery. Randall stopped in front of a white cross and pointed at the name: Edward J. Myers. And finally through tears he told of the man he and many others came to love. He recalled how he was a good man, how he was like a father to his men, and how Eddie hailed from a place called Puyallup, Washington.
It’s been more about 75 years since Eddie, Bobbie, and Al grew up together here in Puyallup. Our community has grown and changed since then. But because of the sacrifices they made in that war, we have freedom and opportunity today.
Others have made sacrifices in later wars, and they deserve our thanks too. So as I conclude, let’s thank our veterans once again.