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Vernon Wernecke

Wernecke, Vernon I.

Vernon Ira Wernecke, 95, of Sheboygan entered his eternal home on Monday, December 10, 2012. He died at Sheboygan Senior Community.

The son of Calvin and Leona (Hetzel) Wernecke, Vernon was born December 25, 1916, in Newton, Wisconsin, and baptized and confirmed at Salem Ebenezer German Reformed Church, also in Newton. His family included six brothers and three sisters.

He attended White Trail Elementary School in Newton and Lincoln High School in Manitowoc, graduating in 1933 at the age of 16. It was the height of the Great Depression; thus he worked on his mother's parent's farm the year following his graduation. Then he was hired by the Arthur Raab family in Sheboygan to be a houseman, chauffer, and groundskeeper. Mr. Raab, who had multiple sclerosis, needed daily assistance, and Vernon worked for the family for seven years. During four of those years, he drove Mr. Raab to California, stopping at national parks on the way, to visit his parents, and those trips fostered Vernon's love of the western part of the US.

In July 1941, six months before Pearl Harbor was bombed, Vernon was drafted into the US Army, and for two years he worked as a medic in the US at Ft. Bragg in North Carolina. In December 1942 he was cleared for top secret duty and, due to his knowledge of German, was trained to be a code-breaker. In early March 1943 he, along with three others, was sent to Algiers, Africa, upon which they was promptly dispatched to Tunisia to the fighting area. There they worked with the British Radio Intercept Unit, part of the British 8th Army, which had been engaged in battles with German General Rommel's army across Northern Africa for over a year. In Tunisia, Vernon and his code-breaking unit learned the British system of breaking the German code, including the various methods the Germans used to confuse their enemy.

Upon the invasion of Sicily, Vernon and his group were sent there, and from there they followed the fighting into Salerno, Italy, becoming attached to the US VI Corps. In January 1944, the company landed at the Anzio Beachhead, behind the German lines, remaining there for four months until additional troops arrived to push the Germans north of Rome.

Then Vernon's company were sent to Naples, joining troops moving into Southern France and entering German territory north of Alsace in late fall. When the Battle of the Bulge broke out, the VI Corps took over 30 additional miles of front line so that General Patton's 3rd Army, which had been located left of the VI Corps, could move north to the Bulge. By March 1945, VI Corps crossed the Rhine River and reached Innsbruck, Austria, when the war in Europe ended.

However, the war in the Pacific was still being fought; thus, Vernon and all other troops who had lengthy service time remained in Austria, allowing men with the least amount of service in the European theater to return to the States by boat, then take the train across the US, and board boats to fight in the Pacific. When the war in Japan ended, Vernon and others returned home; he was discharged in November 1945. He had been promoted to Master Sergeant, the highest non-com grade 1-1/2 years before this; he also received a Bronze Star for excellence in code breaking in the African and European theaters (several others in his unit also received a Bronze Star).

Upon his return home, Vernon went to work in the auto parts industry, first obtaining work through Mr. Raab's brother-in-law, who owned the Ford dealership in Sheboygan. Vernon moved to the Lincoln-Mercury dealership when he was offered the parts manager job. After it was sold, he moved to Menzer Auto Parts, where he worked for about fifteen years. He finished his career in the auto parts industry at North Side Auto Parts, the largest and busiest auto parts store in Sheboygan, retiring at age 63.

In the early 1960s, Vernon had moved from Sheboygan back to the home farm in Newton, WI, to assist his parents, who had a 150-tree orchard. While working in the auto parts industry, he started a door-to-door apple-sales route in Sheboygan, continuing it for 40 years and making friends with many of his customers. After retiring from North Side Auto Parts, Vernon worked full time in the orchard. His parents lived with them until they observed their 75th wedding anniversary. Following their death, Vernon sold the farm and moved again to Sheboygan.

Vernon had many interests, including the love of classical, big band, and polka music, which was nurtured at a young age; he played the trumpet in high school. For many years he was an active member of the Sheboygan Stamp Club. He especially enjoyed trips to the national parks in the western part of the US; in his later years he performed volunteer work for the Sierra Club in some national parks. He also enjoyed the company of his many family members and friends.

Until the age of 95, he was a volunteer with a local group, the Centreville Settlement, restoring an 1849 building called the Lutze Housebarn, located about three miles northwest of Cleveland, WI. It was built by German settlers who came to the area.

Though he chose not to pursue college, Vernon supported the efforts of others who did; he built upon the heritage begun by his father's mother's family, the Friedrich Reineking family. They donated half the land for the first Missionhaus campus and were also part of the group that founded the Missionhaus College and Seminary, now Lakeland College. In addition, Vernon's brother, Reverend Glenn Wernecke, established scholarships at the college to honor their parents, and Vernon later followed in his brother's footsteps by establishing some additional scholarships. In 2010, he was selected by Lakeland College to receive the Honorary Alumni Award.

Vernon is survived by his siblings Ethel (Roger) Pauba, Reverend Glenn (Joanne) Wernecke, and Jean (Wally) Schultz, as well as many nephews and nieces. He was preceded in death by his parents; brothers and sisters-in law Reverend Winston (Heidi Nagel), Adrian, Donald (Charlotte Ek), Lloyd (Meta Glander), Dale (Muriel Spiering); sister Audrey Grosshuesch; sister-in-law Aleeta Ramm; and brother-in-law Jim Bonk.

A memorial service, to be scheduled sometime next summer, will be held at Hope Church, located at 612 Ontario Avenue in Sheboygan, WI.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Vernon's memory to Lakeland College or to another organization chosen by the donor.

The Lippert-Olson Funeral Home has been entrusted with Vernon's arrangements.

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Published in Manitowoc Herald Times Reporter on Dec. 16, 2012
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