Ohio’s Oldest Living Veteran: William Dormaier
by Circe Olson Woessner
Although the Dormaiers are not from New Mexico, we believe that our readers would enjoy reading about Ohio’s oldest living WWII veteran.
At 106, William Dormaier is the oldest living WW II veteran in Mansfield, Ohio, and there are only about 10-15 male and female veterans who are older. I recently got an email from his grandson, Bob, who shares his grandfather’s story.
“Grandpa was born in Kent, OH, on April 24, 1908. Teddy Roosevelt was President. That was four years before the Titanic sank; nine years before America entered WWI. My grandfather and my grandmother, who is 96, have been married for over 71 years this March (2015). They still live on their own in an apartment that they have shared since 1972. I have been lucky enough to spend many hours with him and my grandmother over the last months, due to medical issues for them both.
Grandma was able to drive and do all their shopping and take them to all their doctor appointments until she suffered a detached retina in March 2014. I call Grandma “the lil ole lady from Mansfield”. They own, and she drives/drove a bright orange 1999 Mercury Cougar coupe v6 auto with about 30,000 mile. As usual, they bought it new, so all the miles are from her driving.
You can see in this photo, taken on June 18, 1944, that Grandma absolutely adored Grandpa. She still looks at him in the same way, every time one of them leaves to go to the doctor. They kiss 3 times, EVERY time… They say that to this date, they have never had a fight or argument.”
When William Dormaier volunteered to join the Army in 1943, his new bride, Jayne, was surprised. He was just three months shy of his 35th birthday—an age many considered “too old” to serve. “I never thought they’d take him,” she admits. They were married in March of ’43, as soon as he finished training, before he shipped out to the war in Europe.
Dormaier started his military stint with Battery A, 266th Searchlight Battalion. He learned to run the huge lights (10,000,000 candle power), to shoot the .50 caliber machine gun and to use radar to track enemy aircraft. He was promoted to Sergeant right before being deployed. Because of his age, the men in his unit called him “Pops”.
He served in both the European and Pacific theaters during his three-year enlistment. In Germany, he was about 100 miles from his father’s hometown, but could not visit because it was under enemy control. When he thinks back on that time, he says, “I couldn’t see much of Germany. We were at war. I was in the northeast part and I could see the Rhine River. My father was born on the Mosel.”
In France, because the searchlight streams made the unit an easy target, he came under fire and his foxhole was bombed by a German plane. He once told a reporter, “You could put a Jeep in the hole the plane left behind.”
Dormaier’s unit got to Paris the day it was liberated. There was no electricity, the streets were empty, and the citizens were on the brink of starvation. In a conversation with grandson, Bob, Dormaier told him,
“There was a place roped off where soldiers could get a sandwich. These poor old ladies would brush the crumbs off the table, they were that hungry. Most of the people left some sandwich. It was terrible. No food. No gasoline. The trucks would run on steam. They had a wood-burning fireplace in the back of the truck to run it by making steam. “
Because of the timing of his arrival, Dormaier was able to sightsee. He recalls, “ I had my situation outside of Paris. It was still wartime. One of the officials in the town I was in, took me to Paris every day. We had to take a short train ride, and we never paid for the train. Every day we’d go to a different place. Every day –a different place. Churches…courthouses…I was the first American soldier to go through the catacombs—21 bodies.”
Dormaier says he has been to many countries, many in Europe, but he has never visited China or India.
He describes his time in Europe, “There were pretty nice cities. Everybody in Europe was friendly. We were there to protect them. They all treated us good.” It wasn’t all tourism and sightseeing. Dormaier describes the situation on the ground: “It was plain fields up [there]. It was cold as hell. There was no wood…nothing to burn. We couldn’t sleep on the ground. We’d freeze to death…we dug holes below the frost line.”
Because of his 10 -plus years of tire building, both for Firestone in Akron and for Mansfield Tire & Rubber Company, Dormaier soon switched to a unit which specialized in maintenance and tire repair. That unit shipped out of the French port of Marseilles, headed for the Pacific. His ship crossed the Atlantic, passing through the Panama Canal. They ultimately ended up in the Philippines. Dormaier described Manila as “pretty much flattened.” He admits he didn’t think much of the Philippines. “Manila was the only place we saw people living. There was no electricity. There was a Japanese prison camp. It was our camp; our prisoners. They had a lot of Japanese prisoners there.”
Despite it being wartime, Dormaier, again,managed to play tourist. He traveled the length of the island by bus. Not all of his experiences were pleasant. “One night, I stopped at a bar and I sat down with the fellows to have a drink. One of the guys with me, all of a sudden, said, ‘Let’s get the hell out of here!’ I asked him why, and he said he’d been outside and someone stuck a gun in his side to rob him. He told me he’d had a coke bottle in his hand and broke it over his attacker’s head. ‘When the man collapsed, he told me, ‘ I think I killed him!’ I ran out with him—and I never saw him again.”
Once back in the States, and out of the military, Dormaier worked at Mansfield Tire for 28 years and retired in 1955 as Production Manager on the third shift.
12-23-1946 : Honorable Discharge
Honors & Medals:
Mansfield, Ohio Blue Lodge #35
02-11-1952 : Entered Apprentice
02-20-1952 : Fellow Craft
03-21-1952 : Master Mason
2012 : 60 year pin
Mansfield, Ohio Grand Chapter #28
04-01-1952 : Mark Master
04-15-1952 : Past Master
04-29-1952 : Most Excellent Master
05-06-1952 : Royal Arch
Mansfield, Ohio Grand Counsel #
03-13-1952 : Royal Master
03-13-1952 : Select Master
05-08-1952 : Super Excellent Master
Mansfield, Ohio Grand Commandry #
10-14-1952 : Order of the Red Cross
10-28-1952 : Order of Malta
11-25-1952 : Knights Templar Order of the Templar
Mansfield, Ohio Scottish Rites, Valley of Columbus
Bob adds, “in the early 1950’s, during the Cuban missile crisis, they built a custom home. Their house was built with a bomb shelter in the basement and with a lot of room for supplies. It was always stocked. My grandmother was a beautician, and it also had a beauty parlor added to the front of the house. They sold that house in the late 60’s to buy a 4-unit apartment building, that they sold a few years later, so they could travel a little. They still live on their own in the same place they’ve shared since 1972.
Dormaier was 105 years old before he applied for VA benefits, and when his initial appointment at the VA’s Mansfield Outpatient Clinic fell on his 106th birthday, the VA staff went out of their way to welcome him with balloons and a specially decorated birthday cookie.
Robert Dormaier is appreciative for the warm welcome.
“This was his first ever visit to any VA facility. What a way to spend a birthday. Stacy, the VA Clinic Director made sure that all the staff treated him and Grandma with all the respect that they deserve. Grandpa and Grandma were so happy with their treatment at the VA clinic. that Grandpa agreed to do a short interview for the VA newsletter and website.”
William Dormaier still appreciates his military service. “I always had a place to sleep; food—I never paid for it; it’s amazing—I don’t know how I got by. I got on a boat and go here, then I’d get on another boat and go there. Had to work a little bit to earn my pay.”