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Local VFW post memorializes Navy electrician killed in WWII

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Elmer Goche was just a boy. He wasn’t even old enough to sign the papers to enlist in the Navy without his mom and dad giving him and the United States their blessing.

Jimmy White, retired Air Force, comes into the Wadena Pioneer Journal every once in a while to look up articles in the archive room or to just chew the fat with the friendly receptionist. He joined the Air Force when he was two weeks shy of being 20 years old. He was stationed at 13 bases all around the world. He’s originally from Henderson, North Carolina but settled down in Wadena after he married a lady from here (Sandy) while he was stationed at the base that used to be just north of Wadena (now Bell Hill). He said he “joined for four years and ended up retiring after 23.” White’s been a proud member of the VFW for 32 years.

A couple of months ago White’s visit was much more serious. He was researching a guy that was in the newspaper in the early 1940s. The trouble was, there wasn’t a lot of information to be found. White, a lifetime member of the Elmer Goche Wadena VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) Post No. 3922, came in to try to solve the mystery of the man behind the post’s name.

Elmer Leroy Goche was born on May 20, 1924 in rural Verndale. He was the youngest of three boys born to Nick J. Goche (April 7, 1897 – Aug. 6, 1975) and Rose Elizabeth Markfelder Goche (April  19, 1900 - Sept 22, 1986). His brothers are Leo Nicholas Goche (June 8, 1920 – July 2, 2011) and Marvin L. Goche (Oct. 30, 1921 – Jan. 19, 1969). When Elmer was in ninth grade the family moved to northwest Wadena. At age 17, Goche enlisted in the Navy in June of 1941. After boot camp, he was trained to be an electrician.

According to a letter that Jimmy found, “Elmer Goche Post No. 3922 was so named for the first service (enlisted) man to be killed in action on August 8, 1943. Elmer Goche, Electrical 3/c U.S. Navy, was assigned to the USS Vincennes [a New Orleans-class heavy cruiser] on duty near Savo lsland, Guadalcanal. Elmer was on duty as a watch (on a crow’s nest) when he was wounded and talking to Seaman Wilson (from Grand Rapids) in Fire Control. At the time Elmer was suffering from his wounds, he came out from the crow’s nest on his own and reported to sick bay. When in sick bay, the hospital was hit by a shell or bomb; at that time approximately nineteen other seamen and doctors were also killed. The Post Charter was dated June 18, 1944, with twenty-six original members. The Auxiliary Charter was dated Nov. 29, 1945 with fifty-one members.”

Once Jimmy and I started digging in the archive room, we found an article titled “Lost in Action” in the Sept. 17, 1942 edition. It said that a message from Navy headquarters informed Nick and Rose that their youngest son was missing in action. The article also said that Leo was in the Army and Marvin was also in the Navy.

Elmer’s first cousin, Romeo Goche (Navy) who lives north of Verndale, filled in some of the gaps about Elmer for me and provided more background information. What I thought would be a quick conversation turned into an hour long chat about both of their lives and military careers.

“You know where the Central Methodist Church is north of Highway 10 on Wadena County 26? Elmer was born right across the road. All that’s left of the farm now is an old red barn. When they moved to town, Elmer raised fish and birds for the dime stores. After hearing about Pearl Harbor, Elmer knew he was going to enlist. 18 or not, he was going to join the Navy.”

We found another clue in the March 23, 1944 Pioneer Journal titled “Superior Tells of Elmer Goche’s Death”.

The last article we found was in the June 15, 1944 edition titled “Veterans of Foreign Wars to Be Formed Here”

White said that the VFW was created as a place for vets to gather and to socialize, but it’s not limited to just members - everyone is welcome. They are heavily involved in community activities. There is a Color Guard Unit that participates in local parades, and presents the colors (flags) at events such as Homecoming parade and game, Chamber of Commerce banquet and most importantly, at veterans funerals throughout the area. They offer different types of services for funerals such as flag presentation folding, Taps, or full honors with rifle squad.

Once you start looking, you’ll see members of the VFW everywhere. They participate in the Veterans Day program at the high school. They were at the groundbreaking ceremony for the new wellness center.

Post No. 3922 adopted a National Guard unit in 2004 and have sent countless care packages to the men and women serving overseas.

The post even has a program that loans medical equipment for anyone in the community including non-veterans.

Some of the activities and features the post boasts are a newly remodeled banquet hall that can be rented for various events, Bingo on Thursday nights, pull-tabs, and Minnesota Lottery scratch off’s along with great food and drinks in the bar/grill area. From September through Easter, it hosts a walleye fish fry every Friday (except for the month of December). If you want to grab dinner and take it home, that is fine. The fish fry and regular menu items are available for take-out.

The post has 364 members; 360 men and four women. There are also 330 Ladies Auxiliary members. In order to be an Auxiliary member you have to be married to a veteran. A monthly newsletter is sent out and currently goes to over 600 households.

The post sponsors scholarships: the Voice of Democracy Scholarship, which is open to students in ninth through twelfth grades and Patriots Pen which is for seventh and eighth graders. The scholarships are based on academics, community involvement and on a one page essay. White said the judges look for kids that “get it”. They need to understand what patriotism means and how important it is.

In honor of their service, all veterans are invited to a meal at the post each Veterans Day.

I saw something on Facebook that is a good reminder.  It said “Thank you doesn’t begin to cover it. But it’s a good place to start.”

We need to remember every day, not just Memorial Day or Veterans Day what these men and women did and continue to do to keep us safe and to protect our freedom.

Thanks to all the men and women who have defended - and are defending - our country.

And a special thanks to Elmer Goche. You are not forgotten.