2012-02-16 / Front Page

Meyer tells World War II story for video project

By Mark Anderson, News Editor

Recording veteran’s stories Harry Meyer, center, waits to be interviewed by Kevin Jenkins, right, while Matt Britton prepares the camera for the veterans video project. (Staples World photo by Mark Anderson) Just a few years ago, Harry Meyer wasn’t sure how much of his story he was allowed to tell. During World War II, he and the secrets he learned were considered so crucial to the war effort that he remained locked away with his fellow radio communicators until the actual treaty was signed.

Meyer was part of the Navajo Code Talkers project, forwarding secret transmissions in the Navajo language so that enemies could not translate it.

“It was living, eating, sleeping in one room; five weeks and never saw daylight,” he said. Even after the war, he said they were “almost brainwashed” to not let any secrets out.

Now Meyer has told his story on camera for anyone to hear, part of a video project started by the Staples All Veterans and Community Park Association, with Central Lakes College student Matt Britton recording the interviews.

For the video project, Meyer was interviewed by Kevin Jenkins of the Veterans Park committee. He started by telling how he left high school in Red Lake Falls early to follow his teammates from their undefeated football team into the armed forces.

He told about being sent to radio school, then following battles in the Pacific and his assignments on Okinawa and Guam islands. Part of his story was about the friendship he gained with Admiral Chester W. Nemitz, a famous navy commander. He also told about after the war and meeting his wife, Lavoane, who was also present at the interview and helped remind Meyer of certain stories.

Sometimes it takes a little nudge to get a veteran to tell his story. Meyer said he was scheduled to go on the first Honor Flight out of Staples but was ill at the time of the flight. He said he used his ticket later and spent a week in Washington, D.C., looking through the navy archives to find out how much he was able to say. “It finally cleared my mind of a lot of things I had been holding back,” Meyer said. “The code talkers names have been released; a lot has been released but a lot is still secret.” He said many of the secrets turned out to be officers politically covering up mistakes that were made.

Meyer said years ago he met some of the Navajo code talkers, but wasn’t sure if he was allowed to reveal his role in the project to them. Now he thinks back on the respect he has for them. “I can’t say enough for the Navajos,” he said, “single-handedly they were the biggest life savers in the war.”

Meyer’s wife Lavoane reminded him of some of the humorous stories from the war, such as the pranks they would pull over the radio while locked up in their private room. One prank that hinted that the U. S. was gearing up for war in Russia taught Meyer that 95 percent of our soldiers were ready to go where their country needed them.

He also told about miscommunications they used to mess up Japanese code breakers so they could find out which of the codes had been broken.

He told about Admiral Nemitz walking into their barracks, opening the refrigerator he had signed off on fixing, to find it filled with beer. The Admiral grabbed some bottles, opened them up and sat down to talk to the men.

Also as part of the video project, Meyer brought in photographs of his war experience, which will be scanned in and added to the presentation.

The completed project will collect interviews with many World War II veterans to be played at the education building planned for the veterans park. Britton will take excerpts from the interviews for other educational purposes.

Meyer said talking about his war experience after years of silence has been good for him. “Stress levels go way down if you get a chance to open up,” he said.

Any World War II veterans who would like to be interviewed for the project can call Kevin Jenkins at 218-895-5000. They also hope to interview Korean War veterans as part of the project.

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