Milton Klettke – WWII Veteran

As featured in the Whitman County Gazettephoto submitted by Milton Klettke. *Klettke (left) rides trains with fellow European Theatre Military Police.

Milton Klettke, 95, of Diamond has gone by the nickname “Milt” since his grade school teacher called him that when he was young.

Klettke served in the Army, including the activated Army National Guard/Reservists from 1945-1947. While in the service, Klettke served with the European Theatre Military Police (ETO), serving during World War II.  

“It was in December 1945,” Klettke said, noting that he wasn’t in the service long, “I was a draftee. My birthday is in May.” Klettke just turned 18 when he was called to Spokane in July for a physical.

“There were 3 names starting with ‘K’ in Adams County that month,” Klettke said. “Koomb, one of them at Fort Lewis, didn’t pass the physical. They sent us from Fort Lewis to Camp Roberts, where I was trained. They called us dog faces: always with our faces to the ground.” His group graduated as riflemen. “After that we got to go home for 2 weeks. That was 1946.”

Klettke thought back to how different times were in that time. “We couldn’t make calls on the train. It’s interesting to realize how restricted we were back then,” he said, noting that at the time they didn’t have cell phones. “We sent a telegram, or a letter.”

At the time Klettke’s group did not know where they were going to be shipped too. “We just hoped it wasn’t to the Pacific to fight the Japanese,” he said. After that they went to New York

We went to New York, Fort Dix, and waited for a ship going overseas to Europe.

Klettke’s company was assigned to George S. Patton’s occupational Army. “Germans were afraid of Patton,” he said, noting that Eisenhower had also served in 1945, “He cleared out Paris.” Klettke noted that there was a lot of politics to do with the war, “I see some of the politics reflected now.” 

Klettke said it took 14 days to put them on a liberty ship. “I got to wave to the Statue of Liberty twice,” he said, “leaving, and the second time I was working because we had prisoners being transported.” 

Draftees got sent home early.

Klettke remembered his WWII memorial trip in 2010, “I was able to visit my uncle, Otto Eichelberg, buried in Normandy American Cemetery.” Klettke’s uncle had been a paratrooper killed in action July 5. The Cemetery is U.S. owned, and is 172.5 acres.

“One time he was within 28 miles of my headquarters in Salzburg, Austria,” Klettke said, remembering his uncle. “I wasn’t able to see him, because I was on duty.”

Being in the ETO, Klettke noted that there was no food and no law. “We were the law. Had to watch for smuggling and hoarding.” 

“We had white cartridges and belts, and had to shine our helmets,” he said, showing the small white belt that he still owns. “Hard to imagine that I could have worn this, but I was just 18.”

Klettke’s unit did a lot of traveling “We had to go to Vienna from Salzburg, guarding Nazi criminals.” Klettke helped transport 12 criminals. “11 guys and a woman. I wondered if she was that doctor who was from Buchenwald concentration camp, who had made furniture from inmates’ skin.” He explained that they never told him the names of who they were transferring. Klettke said that his unit had to watch every move of the criminals that they transferred, even watching them as they went to the bathroom. Standing outside their cells to watch them through the cell window 24/7.

“One of them killed himself, Goering,” Klettke explained, saying that he had sewed a cyanide capsule in his pajamas. “They were supposed to take away bags, but they didn’t.”

“We went to Italy several times on trains. Lived in tents there,” he said, with the duty of transferring supplies to Salzburg, Austria. There were 6 bunks on the train, canvas cots, and a solid wool blanket. “When that blanket got wet, it was hard to move it off,” he said “We lived in that train car, using a potbelly stove, and it would get cold, there were usually 4 of us. 2 on and 2 off. We had to watch both sides of the train, so we’d walk back and forth from both sides,” he noted that this was to avoid the train leaning more to one side.

Most of the supplies had to go to Munich, and they lived off of sea rations. “Spam and hard crackers,” he said. “And tiny little packages of grape juice.”

“We got to dangle our feet in the mediterranean. I learned a lot there,” Klettke remembered.

Klettke currently lives in Diamond, is extremely proud of his family, and has several nieces who send him hand painted cards. His wife, Beth Klettke, passed away August 17, 2007. “15 years ago, in August,” he said. “It doesn’t feel like it.” He has a long line of Veterans who have served, including his father, uncle and brother.


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