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Bob Lind, Published February 19 2013

ND family members were truly brothers in arms

The Zdeb family made its mark, and then some, in serving their country.

Joe and Edna Zdeb, who farmed near Valley City, N.D., then near Fingal, N.D., had 10 children. Six were boys, and all six volunteered for the military, serving a total of more than 60 years. One of them lost his life.

Here’s a rundown on those brothers:

John enlisted in the Navy in 1940, was on the light cruiser USS Savannah during the invasion of North Africa, then was on a repair ship.

He volunteered for submarine service in 1944 and was aboard a new sub when it made its first battle run but was told not to fire because the war was about over.

After his discharge, he was in civil service, then retired. He died at age 66 from lung problems, probably from asbestos and smoking.

Richard (Dick), enlisted in the Navy in 1939. He, too, served on the Savannah during the African invasion.

He then was assigned to the escort carrier Belleau Wood in the South Pacific and earned 13 more battle stars.

In 1944, a Japanese kamikaze plane headed for the Belleau Wood was hit by the carrier’s gun crews. But the pilot steered his plane onto the carrier’s deck, destroying 12 planes and killing or wounding many Americans. Yet the ship managed to limp home for repairs.

Dick died at age 82 of lung problems he attributed to duty aboard ship.

Orvel (Pat) joined the Navy Reserves in 1942, took engineman’s training at the North Dakota State College of Science, Wahpeton, and then was assigned to an LST based in the Solomon Islands.

One morning in July 1943, Pat’s ship, loaded with 325 tons of ammunition, and heading out to resupply the troops, was hit by a Japanese torpedo. Two explosions ripped the ship in half and it sank in 15 seconds.

Pat was listed as missing in action. His body was never recovered.

Joe tried to enlist in the Navy twice but was turned down because of teeth problems. But the Army Air Force accepted him in 1946.

He was assigned to the supply career field, serving at Keesler Field, Miss.; Wold Chamberlain, Minneapolis; Elmendorf AFB, Alaska; Tyndale AFB, Fla.; with the North Dakota Air National Guard, Fargo; and at Williams AFB, Ariz.

He took automatic tracking radar studies and was assigned to the Strategic Air Command to score simulated nuclear bomb runs for B-17s and

B-52s at the Salt Lake, Utah, and Bismarck bomb plots.

He served in the 64th Fighter Squadron during the Korean War.

He also was an instructor at several bases. One of his jobs was teaching technicians to run a guidance system that was a forerunner of the Predator missile program.

Joe retired in 1970, became a rural mail carrier in North Dakota, and retired from that in 1984. He lives in West Fargo.

Edward (Shorty) joined the Army in 1945. He was a bulldozer operator for a combat engineer unit in France and Germany.

He was seriously injured in an equipment accident but recovered and was discharged in 1947.

Shorty settled in Milwaukee, where he operated an electric blast furnace until the company closed in 1982.

Ralph joined the Air Force in 1952. He took reciprocating engine training, and then served at several bases to work on planes. In 1959, he was sent to Vietnam to fix a damaged C-124.

He took training as a Titan II ballistic missile analyst technician in 1962 and was assigned to the Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz., where he served on a launch crew for 7½ years, then on a missile maintenance crew until retiring in 1972.

Ralph, 78, lives in Tucson, Ariz., where he spent 10 years maintaining track repair equipment for the Santa Fe Railroad, then drove trucks and fixed cars.

Two of the girls in the Zdeb family married World War II Navy veterans. Florence married Owen Killoran, of Buffalo, N.D., and Grace married Audber Hansen, of Alice, N.D.

Another sister, Leona Hendrickson, has a son, James, who served in the Army during the Vietnam War. He’s one of many grandchildren of Joe and Edna Zdeb who served in the military.

“They’re too numerous to mention,” says Joe, who contributed the information for this story.

Joe, by the way, is 86, and, he says, is still able to dance the polka.

Dance on, Joe.


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