A Wichita veteran saved many lives during WWII, thanks to his time as a member of the East High swim team.
Loren Winders is now nearly 99 years old and was studying at Wichita University when he received his draft letter.
He said they’d draw the numbers on the movie screen, he was number eight, and one of the first from this area to head overseas.
“The man upstairs was looking out for me, during WWII,” Loren Winders said.
But the 21-day voyage to get to where the battles were being fought in the Pacific was anything but smooth sailing.
“It was so rough, that you would walk down the halls and the ship would roll and it would slam you against the side of the wall,” Winders said.
The troops were aboard a converted luxury liner.
“We tied our machine guns to the railing, and that’s all we had for armament,” Winders said.
Once they arrived in Australia, with only a compass in hand, Loren Winders became concerned.
“I said we are going to lose some men in those swamps, if they don’t know how to swim,” Winders said. “We’ve got a full field pack on and everything else and can’t even dog paddle or know how to keep their heads above water.”
Winders’ mother kept every letter he ever sent and one thing he wrote home about still makes him laugh.
“One of the first I saw in Philippines was a white-haired old lady, riding a water buffalo, smoking a cigar,” Winders said.
He says as the war dragged on, hunger became a real issue and said one time the Filipinos asked him to shoot a parrot.
“They just built a fire, burned the feathers off, didn’t cut it open or anything else, just started eating it with the internals and everything else, but that’s just the way it was. I shared food with them,” Winders said.
He vividly remembers the word for food was kai kai and he still has this sheet of translations, but he says the foreign language was the least of their concern. As the war continued and the U.S. military continued to defeat the Japanese, the enemy troops became desperate.
“In all our battles, the Japanese were in caves and everything else. They would fire their weapons, big guns and everything else and then retreat, back in the caves, and nothing happened,” Winders said. “We had a hard time with that.”
Winders said it is so hard to explain on the pages of a book, what they saw or didn’t see in the jungle.
“A person could be that far away from you and if they stay still and don’t move, you can walk right past them and you don’t even know they are there,” Winders said.
Because of all they endured. Tokyo Rose called the 41st Division The Jungeleers.
“They played all things to make us Yanks homesick and everything else,” Winders said.
Winders never got leave time while in the service and says the troops enjoyed writing some satire about the concept.
“If a man dies, while waiting to be rotated, it will be interpreted, that he does not wish to return to the United States, and application will be automatically canceled,” Winders said.
After more than three years of fighting in the Pacific, Winders made it home, unlike so many others, including his buddies in the foxhole right next to him during one battle.
He now cherishes a book that honors their sacrifices, that will never be forgotten.
When Winders returned from the war he applied at McCormick Armstrong, a company that promised him six weeks of work and he was there just shy of forty years.
For fun Winders bowls and carries a 166 average on his senior league.
Winders is also one of three men credited with saving the fire museum in Wichita.