Ruff saw different kind of ‘cemeteries’ following WWII

Erwin Ruff served in the naval part of the Army immediately following World War II. (Photo by Audrey Posten)


By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor


For McGregor’s Erwin Ruff, World War II didn’t include fighting in the South Pacific or Europe. In fact, when he served, the war was over and  the demobilization process was underway. However, that didn’t mean he didn’t see his fair share of cemeteries; they were just of the machine variety rather than human.


Ruff was drafted into the naval part of the Army in Sept. 1945, at the age of 22, and was stationed with the 29th Transportation Corps in Dutch Harbor, Alaska. However, due to the influx of troops returning home, Ruff said he waited two months for his service to begin. During that time, he “fooled around” in Alaska, enjoying many of the area’s fishing opportunities. Ruff said catching king crab was the best. It was also rather easy.


“You would get up before the sun, get in a row boat and just go around the docks and get one,” he expained.


Once his service finally began, Ruff helped make sure the soldiers on the ships going to and from the harbor had a balanced meal, rationing out enough food for 15 days or a whole month. Ruff said the food was “pretty good” and included everything from cheese to steak and chicken, which was defeathered and quick frozen in order to preserve it.


“It was probably safer than the ones today,” he said.


The war’s end brought more than just an influx of troops home. There was also an influx of machinery—everything from caterpillars to jeeps to semis. Much of it came into Dutch Harbor, where Ruff saw it put out to pasture in barren fields, never to be used again.


“Some of it was wrecked, but a lot seemed brand new,” Ruff recalled. “It all got stored in cemeteries. It was just like putting up tombstones.”


Bombs also made their way to Dutch Harbor, where they were defused and dumped into the water. 


“Barges were loaded up with 500 bombs,” he said. “Barge after barge dumped the bombs.”


Ruff said these actions were hard to stomach.


“I don’t believe in that stuff,” he said. “I didn’t like how they dumped the stuff and polluted the water.”


Despite that, Ruff said he enjoyed his time in the service. One of his fondest memories was sleeping on the dock and having the waves rock him to sleep.


“But it’s just a dream now,” he said. “I dream back on what I did, and I had it pretty nice, but that part of my life’s done. There were lots of good times, but everything’s like that. You have to move on.”


Ruff’s enlistment ended on Feb. 7, 1947. Ruff said he considered staying in Alaska, but decided to return home. In 1951 he married his wife, Eileen. They have eight children, 17 grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren.


Ruff enjoys spending his time farming and making maple syrup and sorghum. He is also the commander of the local AmVets.

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