Monday, December 30, 2013

New Year's Eve reflections on two American heroes

As 2013 comes to a close I reflect on two men who died in the service of our country on New Year's Eve -- Bill Dail of Knoxville, Tennessee, who died in Vietnam; and Woodrow Hoffer of Monroe, Michigan, killed in action in World War II.

PFC Dail
Marine PFC Willie Fred Dail, Jr. was killed by small arms fire in Vietnam on Dec. 31, 1967. He was barely 19. I didn't know PFC Dail, but we both attended Fulton High School. He was in the Class of '66, two years ahead of me. Looking back I find it unsettling to realize how oblivious I was at that time to the war in Vietnam. On that New Year's Eve I was probably looking forward to a date that night and eagerly awaiting the resumption of basketball season after the holidays. It would never have crossed my mind that a boy who walked the halls with me less than two years earlier had lost his life half a world away.

A year later my attention was focused on Vietnam when my big brother, Joe, went there as an artillery officer. Fortunately he came home safe and sound.

PFC Woodrow Hoffer was killed in action in the Pacific on New Year’s Eve 1944. Eight weeks later on Feb. 27, 1945 his younger brother, Staff Sergeant Marion E. Hoffer, was killed in action in Europe.

I discovered the story of the Hoffer brothers through a postcard Woodrow wrote to a relative during the war. A chapter about them and their family is included in my book, Postcard Memories from World War II: Finding Lost Keepsakes 70 Years Later.

Becky and I had the honor of visiting with relatives of Woodrow and Marion last year. We were struck by how their family, and the entire Monroe community, still honors the memory of these brothers, and all others from Monroe who died in the service of our country.

Woodrow and Marion are buried overseas in cemeteries maintained by the American Battle Monuments Commission.  Woodrow’s final resting place is at the Manila American Cemetery in the Philippines, and Marion’s grave is in the Netherlands American Cemetery in Margraten, Netherlands.

Back home, their names are inscribed on granite benches placed by the family at a local cemetery, and they are also listed on a World War II memorial in a Monroe park.

As I learned about the Hoffer brothers, I couldn’t help but think about their mother, Mary Derickson Hoffer. When she observed Christmas in 1944 she had three sons in the service – Woodrow, Marion, and Bill.  A fourth son, Melvin, was safe at home. In the next several weeks both Woodrow and Marion were killed in action, and Melvin enlisted after learning of his brothers’ deaths.

Ed Hoffer, nephew of Woodrow and Marion, speaks fondly of his grandmother and her strength: “She had two gold stars and two blue stars on her door.  I can’t fathom her sitting in that house, wondering every   It didn’t hit home for me until I saw ‘Saving Private Ryan.’ How did she live day to day with that pressure?”  (A blue star on the door denoted a son in the service, while a gold star meant a son had been killed in action.)time a car turned around in the driveway if it was Western Union.

Ed’s sister, Norma Stahl, remembers their grandmother’s strength despite having lost two sons and a nephew in the war, and a third son, Norma’s father, in a traffic accident.  Norma wrote: “Grandma lived to be 100 and passed in 1992.  Her beauty, strength, sense of humor, and kindness to others, after suffering so much loss, has always been such an inspiration to me.”

When you toast the New Year, pause to reflect on the Dails and the Hoffers, and all the other families who gave so much to preserve our freedoms.

1 comment:

  1. Dear John Schlatter,

    I'm a volunteer of the website, which is a project of the Dutch non-profit organization Stichting Verenigde Adoptanten Amerikaanse Oorlogsgraven (Foundation United Adopters American War Graves). On this website we try to collect information about fallen American soldiers, who either have been buried in or listed on the Walls and Tablets of Missing at the overseas American War Cemeteries Ardennes, Henri-Chapelle and Margraten. With this database we want to keep the memories alive of the soldiers, who gave their lives for our freedom. Because beyond every cross, there is a soldier buried who has got his own story.

    As you can see when you will visit our website, we try to add as much information about and pictures of a soldier as we can. This is why I would like to take the freedom to ask your permission to use the information and the pictures on your website to complete our database. In specific the pictures of Ssgt. Marion E. Hoffer on May I also congratulate you on your fantastic website.


    Marc van den Berkmortel

    Fields of Honor - Database: A Face to Every Name

    The Fields of Honor - Database is a project by the Stichting Verenigde Adoptanten Amerikaanse Oorlogsgraven / Foundation United Adopters American War Graves. Please also visit and

    If you would like to support our mission to honor and remember those who sacrificed their lives for freedom during World War II, please consider making a donation.