Following his (and his company’s) gallant actions to rescue the infantry from their pinned down position, the 775th Tank Battalion continued to support the 1st Battalion of the 126th Infantry through April 10, 1945. On April 11, the 775th was reassigned to the 37th Infantry Division. They were weary, but they fought on. For 3 weeks, Uncle Eg’s Battalion spearheaded the attack that resulted in the following casualties that he listed in his 3 page military history: the Americans lost 2 men killed and 8 men wounded, 3 tanks damaged but repaired and one tank lost over a cliff. The Japanese lost 375 killed, very few taken as prisoners, 3 anti-tank guns destroyed and over 20 pieces of artillery destroyed. On May 4, his company was finally sent behind the lines for a much needed rest.
They returned to the front lines on June 7 and on June 19 ran into an enemy tank attack. He listed 2 men by name that were killed in this action (undoubtedly, these men had meant a lot to him) and again mentions the enemy’s losses; 8 tanks destroyed and over 100 Japanese killed.
The last sentence of his military history states: “Went home with the 37th Infantry Division, spent my last evening with Pete Brower and Henry Gimbouros from Grand Haven” These were 3 very fortunate men that had just fought a long and incredible intense battle with an enemy that refused to surrender, except in very rare cases. The Japanese were brainwashed to fight to the death or kill themselves. To be taken prisoner was the ultimate disgrace for them and their families back home.
Egbert finally returned home to West Michigan in late December of 1945. My mother told me that the Christmas of 1945 was oone of her her happiest since her husband, her brother Egbert and brother-in-law Tony all returned home safely around that time.
I have read (or listened to) well over 200 books about our nation’s history and wars. One common theme that is sometimes mentioned is that the veterans of WWII (and wars prior to that) were typically left on their own to deal with their feelings. Post-traumatic stress disorder was real, but not a known reality to the army in 1945. The transition from the constant danger of death and being surrounded by brutal acts of war into the normal civilian life was very difficult for most of these young men. Many of the events that these men witnessed were so disturbing that they did not want to recall or talk about them. Some were haunted by nightmares related to what they had seen, done and experienced for decades and sometimes for the balance of their lives. I have no idea if Uncle Eg was one of these men who struggled with flashbacks and nightmares. But ever though he is no longer with us here on earth, my admiration for him as a Christian man who took care of his friends in battle and his wife when they needed him continues to grow. It greaves me some that I never said thank you for all he did for all of us. So I will say it now. Thank you Uncle Eg for your sacrifice so that I and my family remain free. To me, you are an American hero for what you did overseas, and a Vander Kooi family hero for all you did when you returned home.