Two Rusk County World War II veterans, both 100 years old, are the grand marshals of this year’s Mardi Gras parades.
Clarence Stine, of Ladysmith, and Elmer Wisherd, of Tony, are scheduled to appear as the honorary dignitaries in this weekend’s festival parades.
The Venetian Night Parade on the Flambeau River will be held during fireworks along Memorial Park, Friday and Saturday, July 16-17, at dusk.
The Mardi Gras Street Parade will be held downtown, Sunday, July 18, at 1 p.m.
Stine called the honor, “Great.”
“There is a lot to get ready,” Stine said. “I was kind of stunned. Oh, man. I was thinking can I do it or can’t I. I am looking forward to it. It is a great honor.”
Wisherd can’t believe he was picked to be a grand marshal.
“That was about it,” Wisherd said. “There are a lot of other people. I am going to accept the honor, and I am very honored to be asked.”
Stine was born in Rusk County. He left school as a young man to go to work. He was living in Chicago, Ill. and working as a press operator for RR Donnelley Printing when he was drafted at the age of 21 into the U.S. Army in November 1941, one month before the Pearl Harbor attack. He was inducted at Fort Sheridan, Ill. and received training in heavy weapons at Camp Croft, S.C.
He was a private first class in Company G of the 126th Infantry Regiment of the 32nd Infantry Division in the Pacific Theater of Operations. He was going to be a machine-gunner in the war.
One year exactly to the day of the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, a sniper shot nearly took Stine’s life. He carried the scars from that nighttime shot through the New Guinea jungle for almost eight decades. He lost an eye. He lost a cheekbone. He lost his upper jaw. His bottom jaw was broken. He lost many of his teeth.
“It put me out of business,” Stine said in a 2016 Ladysmith News story about his war experiences.
He was transported back to the U.S. with a few dozen other wounded but ambulatory service men on a Liberty Class ship, sailing through the Panama Canal and picking up more troops before docking in New York, N.Y. He was among the first soldiers returning from the Pacific Theater. He recalls the ship passing the Statue of Liberty.
“If I could have reached out I would have kissed her,” Stine said.
Not long after being honorably discharged from the service and upon returning home, Stine joined the local Veterans of Foreign Wars post in 1945. He served for a time as VFW post commander in Ladysmith. For years, he and other past service men and women devotedly took part in special ceremonies commemorating Memorial Day, Veterans Day and other special observances honoring those who served and those who paid the ultimate sacrifice in service for their country.
Wisherd was an aerial engineer with the U.S. Army Air Force 91st Squadron 439th Troop Carrier Group, serving during World War II. He flew into Normandy aboard a C-47 Skytrain aircraft, that provided support to the deadly ongoing fighting on the beaches below.
The pilot flew the plane. Wisherd kept it running.
Operation Overlord was the codename for the Battle of Normandy, the Allied operation that launched the successful invasion of German-occupied Western Europe during World War II. The operation was launched on June 6, 1944 with the Normandy landings or Operation Neptune, commonly known as D-Day. A 1,200-plane airborne assault preceded an amphibious assault involving more than 5,000 vessels. Nearly 160,000 troops crossed the English Channel on June 6, 1944 and more than two million Allied troops were in France by the end of August.
It was the largest seaborne invasion in history. The operation began the liberation of German-occupied France, and later Europe, from Nazi control. It laid the foundations of the Allied victory on the Western Front.
Battle waged for 2 months, 3 weeks and 3 days. The Operation Overlord victory was achieved by the Allies on Aug. 30, 1944.
Wisherd still vividly recalls his role at Normandy, his plane taking off from Upottery west of London and heading south across the English Channel toward France. Aircraft rumbled toward the English Channel and the white chalk cliffs and beachheads of Northern France, including Omaha Beach, site of the famous D-Day landing.
“The sky was just absolutely black with flak,” Wisherd said. “They knew right where we were coming in, so they had shells exploding right at the drop zone where the gliders were,” said Wisherd, who served in the U.S. Army Air Force from 1942 to 1945.
Mardi Gras kicks off this week with a ribbon cutting at 4 p.m., Thursday, July 15, at the main entrance to Memorial Park in Ladysmith. More events are scheduled throughout the area all weekend.