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Granite Falls Advocate Tribune - Granite Falls, MN
  • Horrors of war remained unspeakable for Howard Sheimo

  • It was called Oper­ation Overlord — the largest seaborne invasion force ever assembled.
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  • It was called Oper­ation Overlord — the largest seaborne invasion force ever assembled.
    The date, June 6, 1944, would later become known as D-Day or the Normandy Invasion. More than 1 million troops, half of them American, and half British or Canadian, were organized in 37 divisions for the amphibious assault.
    Operation Overlord called for landings on five beaches, each 3 or 4 miles in length, along about 60 miles of Normandy shore. The three eastern landings, on beaches designated Sword, Juno and Gold, were to be made by troops of the British Second Army. The two western beaches, called Omaha and Utah, were comprised of troops of the American First Army.
    Utah Beach was the westernmost landing and it appeared to be the most difficult and hazardous of the five. The first infantry assault wave of the 4th Division waded ashore at 7 a.m., receiving little enemy fire. Part of the reason for this was that the landing craft had mistakenly landed over a mile south of the intended site, which it turns out was well-defended by the Germans. The re­main­der of the landing craft were diverted to this “safe” area, and by nightfall about 36 square miles of French soil had been liberated at a cost of less than 200 infantry casualties.
    According to his obituary, Howard LeRoy Sheimo was one of the American troops to land on Utah Beach. Sheimo was  born on Nov. 7, 1915, in Granite Falls. After attending Granite Falls High School, he went to work for the Milwaukee Railroad in 1937. He married Daisy Coburn in Milbank, S.D., on Sept. 4, 1938.
    Sheimo, the youngest of three brothers, was inducted into the United States Army in 1942. Here’s where Sheimo’s military career becomes a bit sketchy.
    Sheimo, with later help from his daughter, Deb, made a large scrapbook containing dozens of photos from World War II. But there is hardly anything written under the photos and Sheimo never talked about the war, even to his daughter.
    From his photos it is apparent he took basic training in Camp Bullis and Fort Sam Houston, both in Texas.
    The majority of the photos in the album center around railroad activity in France, Belgium and Ger­many.
    Sheimo was part of C Company in the 744th Railway Operating Battalion (ROB), which was sponsored by the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific Railroad. The unit was activated in December 1943 and took basic training in Fort Sam Houston. The 744th ROB didn’t land in France until Aug. 28, 1944, on Omaha Beach, meaning Sheimo may have been transferred to the ROC a couple of months after landing on Utah Beach with the  First Army.
    Deb Enstad, Sheimo’s only child, recalls her dad telling her son-in-law that “he had to go around a lot of bodies and the water was red with blood.”
    Page 2 of 3 - That would be somewhat  inconsistent with the invasion on Utah Beach and more likely to have occurred on Omaha Beach, where there were about 2,000 Americans killed, wounded or missing. Or he could have experienced the atrocities of the war later on in France, Belgium or Germany.
    The movements of the 744th ROB seem to coincide with Sheimo’s photos of operating or destroyed trains and railways in France, Belgium and Ger­many.
    One of Sheimo’s photos has “The Ardennes” written under it. According to the Inter­net, the 744th was surrounded by Germans, but all the Americans escaped without injury, during the German counterattack in late December 1944 that stalled at the Battle of the Bulge.
    Sheimo, a Buck Ser­geant, by this time and a conductor. He may have been part of the battalion’s huge rail operations of moving large quantities of military supplies, redeploying Amer­ican troops and German prisoners of war.
    By September 1945, the men of the 744th began to return home under the point system, while a number were transferred to other railroad units in Germany for further duty.
    Sheimo returned to the  states in 1946 on the  SS Tufts, which sailed from the Belgian port of Ant­werp and arrived in  New York City 11 days later.
    According to the Internet, the 744th ROB served with distinction in France, Belgium and Germany. The unit was awarded three battle stars for the campaigns in northern France, the Ardennes and the Rhineland.
    Train and engine crews, raced with difficult operating conditions, did a highly commendable job of moving trains. C Company of the  744th formed a reunion association in 1947 which was later enlarged to include the entire battalion.
    The first reunion was held in Minneapolis. Enstad said her father attended many of these reunions. “I remember going to one with him in Kansas City,” she said.
    Sheimo’s scrapbook in­cludes a dinner ticket to the C Company, 744th ROB reunion at the Hotel DeSoto in St. Louis on Oct. 7, 1949.
    Sheimo retired from his job as a conductor with the Milwaukee Road in 1971. He and his wife moved to Arizona where they lived until Daisy died in 1984. He returned to live in Granite Falls to be closer to his daughter.
    Ken Hill, a neighbor of Sheimo, said, “He never mentioned anything about the war.”
    Sheimo was a longtime member of the Granite Falls American Legion and Montevideo VFW posts. He was buried with full military honors at Terrace Lawn Memory Gardens following his death on March 9, 2012, at the age of 96.
    As a token of their gratitude to the honor guard, the Enstad family donated a framed print to the Granite Falls Amer­ican Legion in Howard Sheimo’s name.
    Page 3 of 3 - Sheimo belonged to the United Transport­ation Union for 65 years, serving as its president and secretary for much of that time. He was a 3rd Degree Mason and past president of the Western Minnesota Shrine Club. He served as Worthy Patron of the Eastern Star. He was also a member of the Disabled American Veterans and he volunteered his time for many years at the Granite Falls Senior Meal Site.
    In 2002, for his spirit of volunteerism and service to his country, Cheimo received the President’s Volunteer Service Award from the President’s Council on Service and Civic Partic­ipation.
    Included in Sheimo’s scrapbook are German marks, French francs, Red Cross coupons, meal ticket cards and pay receipts.
    Sheimo returned home from the war with a couple of souvenirs — a Belgian 32-caliber pistol and a French camera, which he later sold.
    Like many soldiers in World War II and subsequent wars, Sheimo kept him memories deep inside him, even until his death.
    He could never watch any war movie on TV,” said Enstad. “He’d always cry whenever he heard anything about the military.”
    Enstad wishes she knew more about her father’s war experiences, but she knew he didn’t want to talk about them.
    Enstad does have the scrapbook and a framed collection of her father’s medals, which include the Normandy Jubilee of Liberty Medal, which he received on Aug. 26, 2002, and the World War II Memorial Dedication Medal, presented on June 9, 2007. He also received World War II and Army of Occupation medals.
    There is also a medal inscribed European African Middle Eastern Campaign, but no other information or photos in his scrapbook to elaborate on that medal.
    We can only speculate on what Howard Sheimo experienced during World War II and kept inside him for nearly 70 years. That’s apparently the way he would have wanted it.
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