War diary gives son insight into father's time in militaryNearly 30 years after David Tefft died, his son, Gary, got a chance to hear his dad’s voice one last time.
By: Regan Carstensen, The Republican Eagle
Nearly 30 years after David Tefft died, his son, Gary, got a chance to hear his dad’s voice one last time.
David grew up in Red Wing, served in the military during World War II and raised a family of five with his wife, Florence, before dying in 1982 at the age of 74. Following Florence’s death in 2003, the couple’s children sorted through many decades worth of acquired belongings.
That’s when Gary came across a small, 4-by-5 ½-inch, leatherette book. Printed in gold letters across its brown cover were the words “ARMY DAYS.” Stamped beneath them in black was “S/SGT. D.W. TEFFT 20751930.”
Upon further inspection, Gary discovered the book was a diary David had kept during 1943 while stationed on Adak Island in the Bering Sea.
“I could hear his voice as I read it,” Gary said. “It was so much my dad.”
While flipping through each page, browsing entries that stretched from Jan. 1, 1943, to more than six months later in June, Gary said he got a much better feel for his dad’s time in the military.
“I was familiar with his service record and things, but of course this put an awful lot more detail in it than we had ever known,” Gary explained. “He had not been shy about talking about the war but you never get the intimate day-by-day details just by listening to war stories.”
David’s diary gives insight into his life as a mess sergeant for Battery F of the 216th Coast Artillery – Anti-Aircraft, which was formed from the Red Wing unit of the Minnesota National Guard.
The entries start at the beginning of a new year rather than the beginning of David’s time in the military. By the time he began making notes about his life as a soldier, David had already gone through a year of training in California, guarded the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and, following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, manned anti-aircraft guns mounted on the roof of Alcatraz Prison.
By 1942, the Japanese had begun attacking a United States military base on one of the Aleutian Islands off the western coast of Alaska. The men of Battery F were sent to Adak Island, in the chain of the Aleutian Islands, to ward off air raids.
“Unfortunately they were sent there with summer clothing,” Gary said, adding that the conditions on Adak Island are anything but comfortable during the winter months. “The weather is just horrible. The Air Force called it ‘The land of the 40 mph fog.’ There’s a constant wind and it’s constantly overcast.”
David’s diary painted a picture of the poor setting.
Jan. 2, 1943
Slept till 8:30 this A.M.; no breakfast; the weather is sure nasty; rain and snow and getting colder; did not think the tent would stand till morning in this wind.
Have at last got hold of enough lumber to put a floor in the tent, sure will help; only two of us left here now.
Jan. 22, 1943
Finished the revetment in front of storage tents today; just finished when it began to rain and snow; getting colder all the time.
Although the weather was uncomfortably cold for most of the men it offered some advantages to David, who was head of the kitchen and had the responsibility of cooking and preparing meals for his battery. With no access to a refrigerator, the cool weather was helpful in keeping meat and other rations chilled.
Unfortunately David didn’t have as much help when it came to the equipment he used. Several of his diary entries describe the unreliable stoves he had no choice but to use.
Jan. 3, 1943
Two fire units gone hay wire again; sent them in to be fixed up, but, they are nearly burned out and the rest are going fast; if I do nothing else when the war is over, will buy a couple of these stoves, just for the pleasure of smashing them.
Jan. 5, 1943
Worked most all day on the stoves; got them working, but, can’t get much heat out of them; guess we will soon have to build a fire out side and cook that way; but, what will we use for fuel?
Jan. 10, 1943
The stoves were working swell at midnight and then this A.M. could not get breakfast started till 7 o’clock. I sure can see now why Mess Sgts. don’t have any hair; what little I have got left is standing on end and I noticed yesterday that am getting a lot of grey around the temples, but suppose that will disappear after this is over, I hope so.
Gosh, what I would give to see just one tree.
When he wasn’t preparing meals, David kept busy by making the soldiers’ living situation as comfortable as possible.
Jan. 3, 1943
Finished the sections for the floor today, now, if the wind will only go down for a couple of hrs., will get fixed for winter.
March 3, 1943
Got one stove cleaned and hauled a load of rock for sidewalk around the mess hall this afternoon. It is a slow process as have to do it all alone; can’t spare any men for that kind of work. Guess I am too fussy about making things home-like.
Although dedicated to his job on Adak Island, David would have preferred to be much closer to home, as his final entry in the diary shows.
June 27, 1943
Sent one man back to the States this afternoon as a guard for Jap prisoners; sure wish I was making the trip.
It wasn’t until 1950 that David’s enlistment was up and he retired from the National Guard, having served 18 years. While raising his three sons and two daughters in Red Wing, David was active in the local VFW and served as an assistant Boy Scout scoutmaster.
Reading David’s diary ultimately cemented the way Gary has always felt about his father.
“My impression of my dad all of my life was that he was very responsible and duty-minded and just a reliable person. Overall you can see in all of his reports how he wasn’t just there because he had to be there. He was there to do a job.”