David Brenzel, served in Pacific in WWII, dies at 92
David Brenzel, a letter-writer of sly humor, an ex-gandy dancer and the father of nine who once began a reminiscence with the sobering fact that he "lived through a week in 1970 when seven of my kids were teenagers at the same time, so not much can bother me," died last week at 92.
Brenzel also survived 40 months as a prisoner of war in the Pacific under conditions that gave him nightmares for the rest of his life.
"For Dave, the war is finally over," his family wrote in his obituary.
Brenzel only began describing publicly the horrors of the war after making a trip to the Philippines in the 1980s, said his wife of more than 60 years, Agnes.
He was taken prisoner after the fall of Corregidor Island in 1942, survived forced labor, survived living below decks of the "hell ships" used to house prisoners, and was repatriated a month after VJ day.
When he returned, the U.S. government paid him $1 per day for his prison time, his wife said.
He spent 30 of his 40 months of slave labor as a welder in a Mitsutbishi shipyard refurbishing the Japanese Navy, an experience that soured him for parades (the prisoners were "paraded" 2.5 miles to work every day in Yokohama) and Mitsubishi, a company name he often remarked brought flashbacks.
"We put in full days on empty stomachs, kept lively by guards carrying pick handles, which we referred to as vitamin sticks," he wrote.
"He had a wonderful sense of humor," said his wife, who grew up across the street from her husband-to-be in Milwaukee. Her only brother married his only sister, she said. The couple lived in the village of Oregon for the past 18 years.
He didn't talk with his family about his prisoner of war experiences. "It was something the children didn't know about, growing up, until about the seven or eighth grades, when a teacher would tell them to ask your parent about where they were during the war," she said.
"He had nightmares most of his life, but he would just say in the morning that "I dreamt about the war last night."
Brenzel was the "writer, photographer and cartoonist" for the Wisconsin Tax News, a publication of the Public Expenditure Service of Wisconsin, for 40 years.
He was known, his family said, for his rescue of snapping turtles, split pea soup and "ardent interest in garden rodents."
He also wrote many letters to the editors of the Wisconsin State Journal and The Capital Times, some with wry comments about his prisoner of war experience, and others with a pixie-ish bent, such as how he was a gandy dancer for the Milwaukee Road back in the 1920s and how he survived having seven teenagers at once for a week in the 1970s.
Tribute printed in the Wisconsin State Journal
by GEORGE HESSELBERG - firstname.lastname@example.org