As with many stories that begin as a recognition associated with the military, most of these Court of Honor stories encompass the non-military portion of the story and bring to light much more about the person than just the time that was spent in the military. Such is the case with Homer Focht.
On June 30, 1923 Homer was born on a small farm 1 mile north of Wallin…that would be about 9 mile north of Stanton and 2 mile east m/l. He had 2 brothers and 2 sisters, all of which were older than Homer. His dad would die on 12/24/29, when Homer was 5 years old. After his father passed away, his mother bought an 80 acre farm that would be Homer’s home for the rest of his “home” days until he went away to military service. Homer attended Beaver #3, which was 2 mile east of Wallin Lutheran Church and 2 mile west of hwy 71. It was about 1/2 mile from the Focht home. The roads were dirt, and Homer had to walk to school regardless of weather conditions. He attended this school for all 8 grades.
During this period of time – from the late 20s until he graduated from the 8th grade in mid-to-late 30s, times were tough. Most everyone knows about the “Great Depression” (…no one during that period would reference the period as “great”) conditions of the time, but not all remember the weather patterns of that period. There are many weather records made during the middle 30s that still stand to this day including heat & drought, cold & snow, etc.
As with many farms of the time, the Focht farm had milk cows, stock cows & calves, sheep, chickens, and hogs The Focht’s work horses were not “horses” – they were mules…two teams. During this period of chinch bugs, grasshoppers and drought, the pastures were completely dried up with virtually no vegatation for livestock. So each morning during the summer Homer would take the 35 m/l cows and let them graze the road ditches for up to a mile west of the home place. Upon returning with the cows, he would then take the 40 m/l head of sheep to the east in order to let them graze the road ditches. Additional chores included milking 6 cows – Homer would milk 3 and brother Charlie would milk 3, then shelling ear corn for the laying hens using the hand-crank corn sheller. They had a Burr-mill stationary grinder that they used to grind feed for the hogs and sheep.
Beside the livestock, the family had a huge garden and orchard. They raised a lot of beans and potatos. The orchard included peach, pear, apple, cherry, and mullberry. Like a number of families, they sold their cream and eggs to Martin & Sons out of Red Oak. Once a week, Homer’s brother would drive their mother to Red Oak to deliver the cream and eggs and then she would pick up the cream and egg check and go buy the staples needed. Those staples were basically flour and sugar – just about everything else needed for food was raised on the farm. The Focht family was fortunate enough to have an ice chest in the basement and once a week, the ice man would bring 100 pound block of ice and that would last for a week.
During the late fall and early winter, they would go through the corn crib and select the very best ears of corn. The kernels from these ears would be their seed corn for planting in the coming spring. The ears had to be filled well and with straight rows. Then these ears would be hung in the corn crib where they would dry. During the late winter and early spring, the ears would be taken down and the kernels on both ends would be hand stripped before running the ears through the hand sheller. The reason of course is because they did not want to keep the small, deformed kernels that make up both ends of an ear of corn.
In the fall of 1937, Homer started high school at Stanton. For the first couple of years, he stayed in town with his brother Aaron that lived in Stanton. During the last two years of his high school, Homer would drive a Ford Model A. He had 4 other students that he hauled to/from school each day, and he charged them $1 per week. Gas was 10 to 15 cents per gallon and oil was 15 cents per quart. He did have a set of chains in the back, but he mostly depended on the Montgomery Ward “Nobbies” for the mud and snow. During his high school days, Homer participated in 6-man football, basketball and baseball…baseball was his favorite and best sport. His graduating class of 1941 had 5 boys and 16 girls – only Homer remains from the boy graduates and there are 2 or 3 girls still alive.
His favorite school subject was ‘farm shop’ (image that!). A M Kirkerberg(?) taught the class that Homer remembers in vivid detail, including the classes on repairing harness then dunking them in the tank of harness oil. Wood working and mechanics were also included in this class. (Other than the harness repair, don’t you think this would be a good offering in todays’ schools?..but I digress with an editorial). The real highlight of this class may have been the 6 volt Wind Charger that Homer and classmates made. They selected a perfect 2×6 from the lumber yard in Stanton for the prop/blades and then they had a Model A generator rewound so that it would operate in ‘slow motion’. The finished product was mounted on the wash house roof on the Focht Farm and it was used to light a 6 watt bulb and to provide the power for the battery powered radio, thus extending the life of the battery.
After high school and at the age of 18, Homer got a chauffeur’s license and for a short period of time he drove a truck for his brother Aaron and then for Clifford Swanson. Clifford had a young lady that was a baby-sitter for his small son, Larry and this young lady caught the eye of Homer. She gave Homer a feeling that was never replaced by anyone else and would eventually become his wife. But the chance for serious romance would be short-circuited by military service. He enlisted on 12/7/42…exactly one year following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He was then called to duty during the summer of ’43.
Sidebar: Dorthy’s dad died in 1940 when Dorthy was but 12 years old. After that the family moved to Red Oak. When Dorthy was a senior, in the fall of ’45, she was selected as Red Oak Homecoming queen. In the spring of ’46 she graduated with honors from Red Oak High School. In case you wonder about Homer and Dorthys’ attraction, it is absolutely worth noting that from the summer of 1943, when Homer departed for military training, until his eventual release from military service in 1946, she wrote EVERY day!…that has to be the roots of a true love story.
In that summer of 1943, Homer, along with Harlan Peterson went to Omaha to the Post Office and took a test for acceptance in to the Army Air Corp. Homer flunked the academic portion and Harlan passed the test.
Sidebar: Harlan left immediately for flight training and would ultimately be shot down over the Pacific and would lose his life.
Failing the Army Air Corp test, Homer decided to try the navy flight training. He also took that test in Omaha and passed the initial physical. For the flight test, he boarded a train in Villisca (when such passenger trains ran north and south) for the trip to Kansas City where the test was being conducted. He also passed this test and was sent to Pre-Flight Training in Cornell College, Mount Vernon Iowa. After a couple of months of training, the “skipper” announced that the additional flight training had been closed and that the 400 cadets that were here for pre-flight training had an option of going to Florida for gunner training, Chicago for deck-hand training, or they could receive an honorable discharge, go home and report to their local draft board. Homer didn’t want to be a deck hand, so he and 324 other cadets took the early out.
After reporting to the local draft board, Homer re-took the Army Air Corp test and this time he passed the test. So in December of 1943,he was shipped to Fort Leavenworth in Kansas for 2 days where he received his clothing issue and from there he was shipped to Wichita Falls Texas for 10 weeks of training. While here, they received training on 30 caliber Carbines and 50 caliber Thompson Sub-Machine Guns. They had to be able to disassemble and reassemble each of these guns – BLINDFOLDED! He had gotten to this base at about 135 pounds and would leave at about 165 pounds (and no doubt a lot tougher).
From Wichita Falls Homer was transferred to the Iowa State Teachers College in Cedar Falls Iowa for CDT (College Training Detachment). (…now it is University of Northern Iowa). Here 400 cadets trained alongside 600 Waves. The discipline was such that even a brief glimpse at the females could produce a serious consequence. The training here was academic as well as more physical training. Up at 5 a.m. – lights out at 9 p.m.
From Iowa to Minter Field in California. Minter Field was originally constructed under the Defense Landing Area Program for the U.S. Army as a flight training center opening in 1941 and closing in 1949. This included more physical training in preparation for pre-flight school in Santa Ana California. This was 10 weeks training for Pilots, Navigators, and Bombardiers. After training, each individual was issued a 45 hand-gun and one 50 Caliber Thompson Sub-Machine Gun for the B25 crew.
In the fall of 1944 Homer and his crew were shipped to flight school in Tulare California were he would eventually solo in a Stearman PT17 model 75 …then to Bakersfield California for basic flight training in the North American AT-6 “Texan”. The 10 weeks of training on this 600 horsepower plane that had instruments and retractible landing gear, included “under the hood” training, i.e. flying with instruments only. …then to Douglas Arizona for training on the North American B-25 Mitchell. Following this training, Homer was commissioned along with 300 others, including 150 Chinese pilots. They all were given a 10 day furlow. Homer had a sister living in Ponca City Oklahoma and the military had a “bone yard” in Ponca City. Homer was allowed to fly a “red-lined” B-25 plane to Ponca City, where he then spent some time with his sister before catching a bus to Red Oak.
After returning from their furlow, he and his crew, along with 14 other B-25 crews were assigned to Lincoln Air Base in Lincoln Nebraska, before then being transferred to Greensboro North Carolina for preparation as part of the Invasion of mainland Japan. Unknown at the time, they would have been a part of over 60 aircraft carriers, 1000 m/l bombers, and 1000 m/l ships of all kinds. But just prior to any further action, the A-bomb was dropped and of course WWII came to a rather quick end.
Homer was discharged from the service in September of 1945. A couple of days after returning home, Harold Larson came by to see if Homer would be available to help him harvest his corn crop. Harold had broken his leg and needed someone that could operate his tractor/corn picker. The tractor was a Farmall F-20 and the cornpicker was a one-row pull-type Woods Brothers.
Sidebar: Homer would marry his long-time love-of-his-life Dorthy on Ground Hog Day 1947 (02/02/47). They had one daughter, Barbara. They were married for 60 years until Dorthy passed away in 2007.
In early 1946, Homer bought an Army surplus Allis Chalmers bulldozer.And the rest, “as they say“, is history. Homer has continued in this same business for over 65 years! Of course that is not the end of this story. Homer never wanted to get to big as to lose control of the jobs and the quality of the work. As a result, he never had more than 3 or 4 machines at any one time. If he were doing the job, then he knew the work would be done right.
In 1948, Homer joined the Air Force Reserves and got flying time out of Offutt Air Force Base in Bellevue. After 8 years, his work load was such that he resigned from the Reserves and was discharged as a Captain.
The following are some of the primary projects that Homer has undertaken:
- In the middle 50s, he had a 6 month project of clearing over 75 acres of trees in preparation for a lake project that most now recognize as Viking Lake @ Stanton.
- The years following that portion of the project would see Homer performing additional tasks of building boat docks, roads and parking areas for Viking Lake.
- An even bigger project that came about because of his performance at Viking Lake was building Lake Anita.
- Aside from these projects, the bulk of Homer’s business days have been building countless feet/miles of Terraces, likewise with tiling, and simply to many dirt working activities to note them all.
Without question however, his most notable event in his 65 years of earth moving projects was a “near-death” event that happened around the early 60s when the Caterpillar D8 that he was operating went through the bridge on Walnut Creek, 1 mile south and 1/2 mile west of the Stratton Church. He credits Jim Pierce as being his savior. Jim discovered the accident and managed to get him out of the creek and into Doc Smith’s car in order to get him to Red Oak, where Doctor Skallerup “…sewed him up with 25 stitches!”.
Homer is still going strong with daily activity in “dirt moving” projects and is currently working on a project south of Red Oak, near Coburg.
Homer’s love for flying that had started when he first heard and then viewed a autogyro plane fly over their farm when he was but a very small boy. Autogyro planes first flew in 1923, so Homer had seen one of the very first to fly anywhere. Since his childhood days, followed by military flight training, he has continued his passion for flying to this day. During our interview, Homer expressed a small concern about passing his physical again at the end of July in order to renew his Pilot’s license. Amazing! He owns a 1968 Beachcraft mode l 36, 6 passenger airplane that is hangared at the Red Oak Airport. Homer had purchased in ’55 for $1000, that he traded for the Bonanza in ’65. It is a 1944 Howard DGA-15P that is painted ’56 Dodge blue and it is now worth approx. $250,000. Homer reports that the “DGA” stands for “Damn Good Airplane”.
Reporter comments: This is by no means “the end of the story”. At age 88, he is very active, not only in his work projects, but also in civic and military organizations. To those that know Homer, he has to be one of this community’s most inspiring characters… carry on Homer – lead the way!