When Merle ‘Skip’ Virchow joined the service at 17 years old in August 1944, his age didn’t prevent him from enlisting.
“At the time they didn’t care,” the former Waterloo and Marshall resident said.
Virchow, 94, shared a bit about his experience in the United States Navy on May 24 when the Waterloo American Legion Post 233 recognized his 75 years with the organization.
Waterloo American Legion Commander Lawrence Kilian presented Virchow with a plaque from the local and national chapters of the organization. Among the citations on the document, it was noted Virchow’s continuous membership demonstrated he was an outstanding contributor to the American Legion and dedicated to the ideals of the organization.
As a member of the Waterloo American Legion, he was active with the sliders hamburgers and was on funeral detail.
Additionally, he was one of the first military members to take an honor flight from Madison to Washington D.C. to visit the nation’s capitol and see the World War II Memorial.
Virchow joined the Legion in 1945, a year after he enlisted as a Waterloo High School student. During his senior year in high school, he attended radio school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where the veteran learned Morse code. In 1945, he was assigned to a landing ship tank, which lands on the shore and opens the bow doors for tanks and jeeps to disembark.
During the May 24 ceremony, Virchow recalled his experience the day World War II ended.
“I was lucky enough to be in the Philippines when the war ended,” he said. “Everybody was happy, they shot a couple of red flares up off the ship and that was our celebration. At the time, everybody wondered when we would go home. That was the first thing – when do we go home.”
Troops were sent home based on a points system; those with the most points went home first. The Waterloo native had four points so he stayed in the South Pacific for a bit longer.
“Then they didn’t know what to do with me. I was at a camp for reassignment … and after about a month and a half I went to the guys and said ‘I’m still here, what happened?’”
When the troops asked for Virchow’s name, he learned his service records couldn’t be found.
“Back then you couldn’t carry your service records with you, they had to be sent ahead,” the veteran explained. “And being at the end of the alphabet, my record was on the end of the card table… and my record fell on the floor.”
Eventually, the documents were discovered and Virchow returned home to Waterloo.
“I had a nice tour of the South Pacific,” he said before listing off the locations he was based in – Guam, Guadalcanal, Caledonia, and Pearl Harbor. “I had a good time. I thank the Navy for that.”
Virchow recalled how his late wife, Arleen, wrote him a letter every day while he was stationed in the South Pacific.
Virchow now lives in Sun Prairie. His daughter, Jill Stuntebeck, said last year, they were unable to visit Virchow in person though they kept connected using Facetime and waving to each other through the window from his residence.
“We were able to take him out for his birthday this year in March,” she said.
At 94-years-old, Virchow still likes to crack jokes, always wears red socks and has accolades for his fellow Legion members.
“They’re a great bunch of guys and they all work together and working for the good of the community.”