World War II Veterans: Francis Lindauer

Rachel Mummey/The Herald
Francis Lindauer of Ferdinand held a photograph of the USS Suisun where he was assigned with the Navy as an engine mechanic during World War II. In September, Lindauer, 85, was the youngest of 70 Hoosier veterans invited to participate in an honor flight from Indianapolis to visit the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Herald Staff Writer

FERDINAND — Thousands of county residents have gotten to know 85-year-old Francis Lindauer during the last quarter-century through his “How Man Harnessed Power” farming history presentations at his 80-year-old dairy farm off Club Road in Ferdinand. But the man known for his collection of steam-powered and horse-powered machines is also one of the youngest World War II vets around.

Francis volunteered for the U.S. Navy on Jan. 17, 1945, at the age of 17 and served as a fireman first class on the USS Suisun, AVP-53, a small seaplane tender whose name was pronounced “Susan.” The small Suisun would swing a 150-foot boom with a fueling line out to large, thirsty Consolidated PBY Catalina seaplanes, according to Francis.

“They were big monsters, those old planes,” he says.

But Francis’ job was below decks in the engine room maintaining the ship’s diesel engines.

The Suisun earned two battle stars for her World War II service in the Pacific and was present for Japan’s formal surrender in Tokyo Bay on Sept. 2, 1945. Lindauer came aboard after the Suisun had continued on to international waters just outside the United States.

He says he joined the war effort at such a young age to follow the example of his older friends who had departed in uniform.

“It just seemed like you needed to be part of it,” Francis says.

His parents had to sign a consent for the enlistment.

“They wasn’t just wild about signing, either,” he says. “But, I guess I kind of won out.”

After Navy boot camp at Recruit Training Command Great Lakes, Ill., Francis remembers boarding a Greyhound bus and striking up a nighttime conversation with an older gentleman in the back.

“He asked where I was from,” Francis says. Thinking no one would know where Ferdinand was, he told him it was a little town between Louisville and Evansville before mentioning it by name.

The old man not only knew of Ferdinand, Francis says, he bought all his whiskey there.

“He named me two farmers — our neighbors — and he told me just how to get there,” Francis says with a chuckle. “From then on, when somebody asked me where I was from, I just said Ferdinand right away.”

The Suisun carried lots of high-octane fuel and had been a sought-after target during hostilities. But Francis never talked about such things with the “old-timers” who had served on the ship while she was in the Marshall Islands and Saipan.

“When you are just coming off the farm, you just do what they tell you,” Francis says.

What his superiors told him to do was scrub decks with vinegar and steel wool. He also had to hang on a ladder on the side of the ship to chip old paint away and paint the Suisun’s hull.
There was good chow and Francis learned a lot about machinery.

Francis routinely took a small boat to the nearby aircraft carrier USS Franklin D. Roosevelt  — sometimes called the “Swanky Franky” — for church services during his enlistment.

Francis returned from service and married the girl back home from across the field, Juliana Weyer. He was 21 and Juliana was 22.

He and his wife had gone to grade school in Ferdinand together. They were neighborhood friends who wrote back and forth while he was in the Navy and, during the course of that correspondence, the friendship morphed into something more.

Francis drove Juliana to Gatlinburg, Tenn., for their honeymoon in a 1936 Chevrolet coupe.

Juliana’s aunt and uncle originally had owned the farm where the Lindauers settled and reared six children: sons Mike and Phil of Ferdinand and daughters Janice Hochgesang, Sharon Mehling and Joan Guillaume of Ferdinand and Sue Brames of St. Anthony.

Francis, whose military decorations included the Victory Medal and Good Conduct Medal, is a lifetime member of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2633 in Huntingburg. He has been a member of Ferdinand American Legion Post 124 more than 60 years and is a former post commander and longtime member of the memorial honor guard. He is also a member of Navy Club Ship 90 Dubois County.

In September, Francis was among 70 World War II veterans from Indiana treated to a trip to Washington, D.C., thanks to Indy Honor Flight, a nonprofit organization headquartered in Mooresville that seeks to transport veterans to see their memorials at the nation’s capital.

The veterans, many of whom returned from World War II months after its end and never received an official homecoming, were welcomed at airport concourses during the trip with poster-size service pictures of themselves on display.

Each vet was in a wheelchair and had a guardian to wheel him around the memorials and to a changing of the guard ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

On the flight home, the veterans read cards and letters of thanks handed to them in the fashion of the mail calls they experienced while in active service. The average age of the honor flight vets was 89. The oldest was 96. Francis — at 85 — was the youngest.

The once-in-a-lifetime trip featured a bagpipe procession, cheering people and a welcome-home kiss from a woman dressed in 1940s clothing.

It was one of the best experiences of his life, Francis says.

When Juliana, listening to Francis spin the tale in their kitchen, asks about the kiss, her husband is quick to note that every veteran on the trip got a kiss. Besides, he adds, their wedding day was the best day of his life.

“And that’s been 65 years ago!” Francis adds.

“Sixty-four and a half, if you want to be technical,” Juliana says. “In May we’ll be married 65 years.”

Contact Bill Powell

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