Local World War II vet to celebrate birthday on Freedom Honor Flight


La Crosse, WI (WXOW) — The Freedom Honor Flight out of La Crosse on Saturday will go as scheduled.

The flight was in doubt due to concerns about the path of Hurricane Florence possibly causing weather problems in Washington D.C. A shift in its projected path has cleared the way for the flight to go on, taking dozens of military veterans and their guardians to tour monuments in Washington D.C.

Jim Lamke grew up on a farm in Highland, Wisconsin in the southwestern part of the state.

“My childhood friends were being drafted or enlisted, because of the shortage of men,” Lamke said.

Not wanting to be left behing, Lamke also found a way to serve in World War II.

“One day, I just told my dad, ‘I’m leaving.’ He said, ‘Where are you going?’ I said I’m going to New York, and I’m going to join the Merchant Marines,'” Lamke said. “Well, he said, ‘How can you do that? You’re not old enough.’ Oh, I said, ‘For the Merchant Marines I am!'”

Less than one  year later, he enlisted in the Navy, serving first as a bookkeeper on the Island of Adak in Alaska.

“I was a pretty good typewriter,” Lamke said. “They said, ‘Good, we’ll put you right in the office.'”

Then, he returned to California where he cleared tests for underwater demolition. That involved him going along the coast, using chemicals to break apart pipe obstacles meant for ships approaching the shore.

“We’d go down the shore, do all these obstacles, put the material on,” Lamke said. “Then, we had a lieutenant at the end of the string and only had so much time.”

Lamke enlisted one more time, serving as a bookkeeper for two different ships on the east coast before returning to Wisconsin. He attended UW-La Crosse with the help of the GI Bill before getting married and starting a family.

“The only Navy part I think about any more is when I take the boat and go fishing,” he said.

The World War II veteran will relive some memories on Saturday as part of the Freedom Honor Flight. His granddaughter, Emma, will be his guardian, celebrating what happens to also be his 90th birthday.

“There’s got to be a watering hole someplace,” said Lamke.

Lamke is locally known for starting Lamke Tree Farm in Trempealeau and serving concessions in the Mary E. Sawyer Auditorium for years.

The Freedom Honor Flight will depart at 7:30 a.m. on Saturday, September 15 from Colgan Air Service Hangar 4 in La Crosse. Flight 22 is named the Tri-State Ambulance Freedom Honor Flight in honor of the Tri-State Ambulance organization and paramedics who have supported veterans on each of the previous 21 flights.

The public is encouraged to attend the morning send-off ceremony beginning at 6:15 a.m. and the popular welcome home ceremony when the flight returns that evening. Hangar doors open at 8 p.m. Saturday evening.

Mackenzie Amundsen

Mackenzie Amundsen

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