Wally Peters holds the longest continuous membership in the American Legion Post 210 of Waupun. The World War II Navy veteran is a Waupun Veteran of the Year. / Colleen Kottke/The Reporter Media
Cliff Teletzke of Waupun, a member of VFW Post 6709, is a Waupun Veteran of the Year. / Colleen Kottke/The Reporter Media
WAUPUN — Although they fought in two different wars, Waupun veterans Cliff Teletzke and Wally Peters both served in the Navy: one sailing the seas on a destroyer while the other patrolled the skies in a sea plane.
The octogenarians, who both joined the service when they were only 17, will share another common thread this Memorial Day in Waupun as Veterans of the Year. Teletzke, 80, and Peters, 89, will be honored during the annual Memorial Day Service at 10 a.m. Monday following the parade which starts at 9 a.m. in Waupun.
From Pollywog to Shellback
Raised by his grandparents since birth, Teletzke formed a strong bond with his aunt and uncles whom he considered his siblings. This admiration would later color his decision to join the Naval Reserves while still in high school.
“Both of my brothers (uncles) had served in the Navy during World War II, one landing barges on the beaches of Europe and the other was a cook,” Teletzke said. “It seemed almost a family tradition to join.”
Following his graduation from Waupun High School, Teletzke found himself working at the local shoe factory for 75 cents an hour in 1952.
“Everyone else was joining up and heading over to Korea and there was really nothing to do here, so I went down to the post office and signed up for active duty,” Teletzke said. “My sister (aunt) was very upset.”
The Waupun man was assigned to a destroyer charged with patrolling the Sea of Japan and the Yellow Sea, accompanying the USS Lexington. As the aircraft carrier’s plane guard, the small destroyer was called on to rescue the aircrew of planes that crashed into the sea during flight operations.
“I always wanted to serve aboard a destroyer, also known as the workhorse of the Navy,” Teletzke said with a grin. “It was rough riding, especially in high seas when we had to strap ourselves into our bunks at night to keep from getting thrown out.”
While the names of the ports of call have faded from memory, Teletzke still remembers receiving the telegram informing him that his dad (grandfather) had passed away.
“He just thought the world of me,” Teletzke said of his grandfather. “I was out in the middle of the Pacific and my commanding officer offered to have a helicopter fly out and get me. By the time I would have gotten home, there really would have been nothing I could do. I still have that telegram.”
Teletzke vividly recalls his baptism by fire when his ship passed over the equator on a cruise to Australia. At the time, Crossing the Line was an initiation rite in the U.S. Navy that commemorated a sailor’s first crossing of the equator. Seasoned sailors (shellbacks) would test the mettle of the new shipmates (pollywogs) by putting them through often brutal tasks.
“Heading for the equator we (pollywogs) knew we were gonna get it,” Teletzke said. “They paddled us with fire hoses hardened by salt water, made us crawl through a slop chute with garbage that had been saved for a week, and shoved bread, straight out of the oven into our mouths. Afterwards I was so black and blue.”
A retiree of the Department of Corrections, Teletzke is lauded by VFW Commander Frank Mesa for his tireless devotion to elderly veterans and his community.
“His service and volunteerism go above and beyond the VFW Post,” Mesa said.
Waupun Veteran Wally Peters has the longest record of continuous service on record of the Waupun American Legion organization. Peters says it’s been more than seven decades since he signed his legion membership card.
“I was on leave from boot camp and one of the old World War I veterans saw me roaming around town and invited me to speak at the legion meeting. Just to please the old guy I went,” Peters said. “Then on from there they talked me into speaking at the high school with the Navy recruiter. To my amazement over a dozen of my friends joined up.”
Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Peters set out to join the Army, but was instead persuaded to join the Navy and found himself headed to the Great Lakes Naval Academy for training. Upon completion, Peters was slated to attend submarine school in Connecticut.
“I told them if I have to fight, I want to see what I’m doing. I don’t want to be down (below the surface) with someone dropping stuff on me,” Peters said. “So they assigned me to the naval air station out in California.”
As part of his training, Peters was sent to school to learn the skills of a signalman, aerial gunner and radio operator. His aerial gunnery trainer at the time was actor Robert Stack, who would go on to earn medals for his sharp-shooting skills during WWII. Peters was then assigned as a crew member of a PBY Catalina sea plane tasked with patrolling the Pacific searching for Japanese submarines.
“Since the Japanese had destroyed most of the newer planes at Pearl Harbor, we had an older sea plane without any landing gear, just pontoons,” Peters said. “My job as a radioman was to spot these submarines and call for help to knock them out.”
On one mission over the Pacific, the engine of the old plane died as the pilot was passing over a group of small islands.
“He tried to fly over the island and land in the water but we landed on the ground instead, killing two of the crew and injuring four,” Peters said. “I have no memory of what happened and never flew again.”
Peters headed back to Waupun on a charter bus and married his childhood playmate, Shirley.
American Legion Commander Bob Patrouille said Peters’ decades long membership is the longest in the history of Post 210.
“We’ve had veterans with 50 and 60 years of continuous membership but never more than 70 like Wally,” Patrouille said. “That’s pretty amazing.”
Colleen Kottke may be reached a firstname.lastname@example.org or (920) 907-7968.