World War II veteran honors other soldiers’ service

May 24, 2011

By Warren Kagarise

Issaquah resident Eugene Klineburger keeps fellow veterans alive in his memory. By Greg Farrar

Eugene Klineburger is humble about the years he served in the U. S. Army during World War II and immediately after the conflict.

“I never did anything really great during the war. I did what they told me to do,” he recalled.

Klineburger, 92, did not see combat, and instead served stateside as war raged in Europe and the Pacific. The longtime Issaquah resident guarded prisoners of war and detained Japanese-Americans at camps across the West from 1942-46.

“I appreciate what my fellow soldiers went through, I really do,” he said.

Like Klineburger, more than 16 million people served in the armed forces during World War II. The National World War II Museum estimates about 1,000 veterans of the conflict die each day.

December marks 70 years since the attack on Pearl Harbor and the United States’ entry into the fighting. Ties to the long-ago battles loosen as the greatest generation fades into history and baby boomers settle into retirement.

“As they’re aging and dying off, it will be like ancient history,” Klineburger said.

So, he helps to preserve World War II history by sharing tales about the years he spent as a military police officer. Soldiers transported German prisoners of war to Papago Park near Phoenix, and captured Italians to Ogden, Utah. The government sent interned Japanese-Americans to Tule Lake, Calif. Klineburger served at each site, as well as the Davis-Monthan Field — now Air Force Base — in Tucson, Ariz.

Once, German prisoners escaped and, although more than 100 miles from Mexico, trekked toward the border.

“They figured if they could get into Mexico, they’d be free,” Klineburger recalled. “Well, you’ve got a bunch of foreigners walking across the desert that couldn’t even talk English and didn’t have anything to eat. Well, we caught them pretty easily.”

The industrious Klineburger spent a hardscrabble childhood in Arizona before joining the Army as a young man.

“I never dreamt of my dad buying me a bicycle,” he recalled. “If I wanted a bicycle, I went out and scrounged parts, put them together and rode it.”

Down Mexico way

Klineburger developed a mechanical aptitude and impressive marksmanship early on.

“I’d ask Mom what was for dinner and she would say, ‘I don’t know. Go out and get it,’” he recalled. “So, I’d go out and shoot jackrabbit, we’d bring it in and cook it for dinner.”

Klineburger developed a lifelong fascination with cars during his Arizona boyhood, after he started fixing up old Model Ts.

The restored cars came in handy, especially as a counter-revolution known as the Cristero War raged just across the border in Mexico in the late 1920s.

“We used to sit on our side of the border with binoculars and watch the war in our Model T Ford,” Klineburger said.

Following World War II, he and his brothers settled in Washington in 1954 and took on a successful taxidermy business in Seattle.

In addition to the taxidermy outfit, the Klineburger brothers operated a tannery and organized big game hunts around the globe. The ventures earned the family a write-up in Sports Illustrated in 1964.

“We told people we were the three Ts: tanning, taxidermy and travel,” Klineburger said.

The business attracted high-profile clients, including astronauts, racecar drivers, royalty and former Texas Gov. John Connally, the man riding in the same car as President John F. Kennedy on the day he was assassinated in Dallas. Roy Rogers and World War II hero Jimmy Doolittle became good friends with Klineburger.

Even though Klineburger’s service ended after World War II, his ties to the military never slackened. For years, he remained in contact with some fellow soldiers, but all have since died. In the most recent conflicts, his grandsons served in Afghanistan and Iraq as reservists and helped evacuate wounded soldiers from the battlefield.

Now, almost seven decades after World War II ended, Klineburger still recalls memories — some serious, some lighthearted — from the men he served alongside during his years in the military.

“Some of those guys from New York, they’d never seen a gun before,” he joked. “They didn’t even know which end to use.”

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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