‘I just did my job’: Craig WWII veteran reflects on long life, service after Pearl Harbor
For many from the Greatest Generation, Dec. 7, 1941 is a day that lives in infamy, not only because they lived through it and remember just what happened that day. They can remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when news filtered to the mainland that the Japanese had attacked the Pacific Fleet in the early dawn hours at Hawaii’s Pearl Harbor.
For Walt Cisar, now 96 years old, that day didn’t affect him at the time like many other Americans from that generation. No, instead, he carried on with his day picking corn in fields in Kim, a small town in Las Animas County in southeast Colorado, paying no real mind to what was happening “half a world away.”
As the United States entered into World War II shortly after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, young men across the country raced out to volunteer for service, allowing them to choose their branch rather than leave it up to the draft to decide their fate for them.
For Cisar though, a good machinist job in Denver opened up in 1942, allowing him to settle down, work hard at his craft and afford his own place, an apartment in the Mile High City. In 1943 though, the draft came calling for Cisar’s services, landing him in the 25th Infantry Division in the United States Army.
“It was an automotive machine shop where we rebuilt engines,” Cisar said from his home on Alta Vista Drive in late November. “I certainly wasn’t happy at the time to be drafted; I just got another raise and I was doing pretty good. That turned my life upside down, obviously.”
Cisar left a good job in the middle of the war to travel halfway across the country for basic training at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Aberdeen, Harford County, Maryland in 1943.
The tough basic training was nothing in comparison to what Cisar would experience in early 1945 storming the beaches of Luzon to try and root out the Japanese dug in on the Philippine island.
Much like other landing craft during World War II, Cisar’s ran aground on a sandbar, forcing he and his fellow soldiers to swim ashore through deep water and gunfire. Once on shore, things turned even more hectic for Cisar and the rest of his unit.
“I remember I wasn’t on shore very long before I was hit by some shrapnel,” Cisar said. There was a D-8 Cat Armored Bulldozer on shore, and Cisar dove underneath to evade gunfire and explosions all around him.
“As that was going on, I just remember saying to myself, ‘I wish I wasn’t here right now,'” said Cisar, who earned a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star in WWII.
Dug in under the D-8 Cat, Cisar ended up spending the night in that position as the Japanese rained down bullets and artillery on the invasion force. Rains came in the morning though, allowing Cisar and the rest of his fellow soldiers to regroup and push for the hills of Luzon.
The rain certainly helped that day, but Mother Nature didn’t let up on the American boys invading Luzon. It rained day after day, according to Cisar, forcing him to sleep in muddy, water-filled foxholes at night.
One day early in his campaign on Luzon, Cisar and a fellow soldier loaded up a jeep with ammunition and started to drive it towards the front lines. The jeep stalled, forcing the driver and Cisar to abandon it. Moments later, according to Cisar, the jeep was blown up by a Japanese sniper as Cisar escaped serious harm.
Dodging a bullet with the jeep, the rain ended up getting Cisar on Luzon, sending him to the hospital with jungle rot. After recovering from jungle rot, Cisar was put back on the front lines with his unit, eventually helping root out the Japanese from the caves. Shortly after, Cisar’s unit was sent to Japan, where the 25th Infantry Division then served in the Occupation of Japan after the surrender of the Japanese in September 1945.
Following his discharge from the military in April 1946 as a Technician Fourth Grade, Cisar spent two months in the hospital with severe ulcers before returning to machinist’s job in Denver.
He was one of the lucky ones to go off to war and not only come home safely but also return to the job he once held.
While back in Denver, Cisar married a school teacher from Cañon City before then moving to Craig so that his first wife could “be home closer to momma.”
Cisar and his then-wife settled in Craig in 1953, starting a long life in Moffat County, where Cisar operated an auto parts store and a machine shop, bringing NAPA to Craig before selling the store.
Since then, Cisar has been able to relax in Craig, checking the weather and the stock market every morning before then playing cards with friends at the museum and the Belltower, with his third wife, Peggy.
While his military service helped him see the world outside of the Colorado and his birthplace in South Dakota, it’s not something he likes to talk about, nor harp on.
“I did my job; it’s over,” Cisar said.
A life well lived to this point, and a job well done.