The subject of this profile was a Tuscarawas County resident for only a few years before making the ultimate sacrifice to his country. The branch of service in which he served is not often associated with war, but during World War Two it’s members played a pivotal role in the war effort.
Conrad Proeger (1844-1896) immigrated from Germany in the late 1850s and gradually made his way westward, eventually arriving in Wooster, Ohio sometime before 1870. There, he met and married Ohio-born Louisa Barnhart (1846-1900) and the couple began raising their family. Conrad died in 1896 and Louisa lived with her unmarried son Edward Proeger (1870-1935), a painter, during the last years of her life.
Four years after his mother’s death, and three years after the birth of their first son, Edward married Susan Over (1882-1970). The couple’s son, John Proeger (1901-1965), worked as a “dipper” at a Wooster area aluminum plant while their daughter Georgia (1903-1963) worked in the plant’s shipping department. Somehow John met Irene Dilgard (1903-1975), a local woman enrolled in business college in Wooster, and the couple married in 1921. The marriage did not last, but before it ended the couple had a son named Walter Tracey Proeger (1924-1943).
After her divorce from John Proeger, Irene and Walter relocated to North Canton, Ohio. There Irene met and married Frank Yanders (1885-1966), a gas company employee, around 1934. The couple welcomed a daughter a year later and, by the summer of 1940 had moved to New Philadelphia, Ohio. Walter attended the New Philadelphia High School for the last couple of years of his education, though his picture does not appear in the yearbooks for those years.
Walter turned 18 years old in June 1942 and shortly after registered for the draft. Rather than wait to be drafted, Walter enlisted in the Coast Guard Reserve in July 1942 and was sent to the newly created Coast Guard training facility at Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland for his basic training. Shortly after Walter completed his training, he met and married Baltimorean Louise Tkeisen (c. 1924-1991).
It is important to note that, during World War Two, the Coast Guard crewed over 350 naval ships, including LSTs (Landing Ship, Tank), cargo and attack-cargo ships, frigates, and transports. They also manned ships for the Army, and thousands of amphibious-type assault craft. Walter, in the fall of 1942, was a crew member on a number of missions to escort convoys of men and material to Great Britain. During the winter of 1942-1943 he was posted at Bodie Island Coast Guard Station in North Carolina. In March 1943 he was assigned to the Coast Guard crewed transport USS John T. Dickman on its way to North Africa to support the Allied invasion of Sicily.
The USS Dickman was tasked with transporting the 1st Ranger Battalion of the 1st Infantry Division to its landing site of Gela, Sicily. Six other transport ships carried the remaining elements of the division. The nature of Walter’s death, and his subsequent initial burial on land, indicates that he was either a driver or gunner of one of the landing craft that carried the soldiers to the beaches. The morning of July 10, 1943 men of the 1st Division loaded into assault boats and began the assault on the Gela beaches. As they neared the beaches at 7:00 am that morning the assault boats came under heavy machine gun fire. It was this machine gun fire that cost Seaman 2nd Class Walter Proeger his life.
The after action report on the role of the USS Dickman in the assault mentioned that “all the boats made their landings on the spot and though opposed by intense machine-gun fire, only experienced one casualty.” That casualty had a name, Walter Proeger, and he would never meet his infant son born just weeks before his death. Walter Proeger is buried at the Plain Lutheran Cemetery in Blachleyville, Ohio.
© Noel B. Poirier, 2021.