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Book details Enid veteran's war experiences through his letters home

Enid News & Eagle - 12/26/2023

Dec. 25—A new book by a former Enid resident recounts her father's time in World War II, as detailed through the letters he wrote home.

The book, "Carry On, Letters from the Pacific Theatre," feature letters written by Squire Utsler and was published by his daughter, Lori Lenz. It is available on Amazon.

Lentz decided to write the book after she found hundreds of letters her father wrote his parents when he served in the Navy and Marines.

"I'd seen the album with the letters, but I did not put it together until after he died in 2019," Lenz said.

Utsler joined the Navy in 1943 after graduating from Enid High School. He was anxious to go to war and defend his country, Lenz said. He became a member of the Seabees naval construction force.

He was sent to Camp Peary in Virginia. Apparently his father took his son's departure rather hard at the train station.

"In his first letter home he asked his mother if his Dad was still crying," Lenz said.

One of his more memorable experiences in his short time with the Seabees was being an extra in the John Wayne movie "The Fighting Seabees."

"Dad got to dance with the actress Betty Grable, but wrote his parents he'd rather dance with his Enid High School sweetheart, Dorothy Horrall," Lenz said.

When military leaders discovered what an excellent marksman Utsler was, the government switched him to the Marines, Lenz said. He was sent across the country again by train to Camp Pendleton in San Diego. Thus, Utsler completed two boots camps and wore two uniforms in the war.

"Dad grew up hunting and handling guns," Lenz said. "It was pretty common for him to hit 25 to 30 out of 30 bullseyes."

One of his more challenging assignments in the war was the beachhead in Guam, she said.

"They hit the beach under fire and had to dig a hole in the sand to place the machine gun," Lenz said. "The .50 caliber machine gun was so big and fired so rapidly it had to be cooled with a water hose attached to the gun."

She said a team was needed to operate it.

One of the more interesting stories in his letters was about the hose being hit by a bullet and spinning out of control, Lenz said. Somehow it ended up spewing scalding water under his clothes and giving him third-degree burns.

Utsler said he didn't see the medics because so many soldiers were suffering greater injuries, Lenz said. He also served as a sniper. Lenz said some of his sadder stories he related in his letters were of the bodies on the beach. Utsler said the Americans took care of their dead but the Japanese did not. It created quite a smell.

Her book is filled with pictures, clippings from Enid newspapers and names of many friends he knew in Enid. Lenz noticed a big change in his letters over the two years he was in combat.

"He was so anxious and excited in the beginning, and as time passed, he dealt with the realities of war and his attitude suffered," Lenz said.

His letters were censored and at times his parents received them with holes cut out. He would address his letters to Mom and Dad and the censor, she said.

When the war ended, he became angry it took so long to get home. Men with families who served less time were sent first, Lenz said.

When he finally reached the United States, there was little transportation available for him to get home to Enid. He hitchhiked to Norman and arrived on Christmas Eve in 1945. He and his sweetheart were married on New Year's Day in 1946. They were married 73 years.

Utsler was a civil engineer at Vance Air Force Base for many years until he decided to pursue his dream of starting a fish hatchery. This led to designing and building lakes, including Willow Lake and Fountain Lake of Enid; Fox Lake in Edmond; and Squire's Landing in Stillwater, Lenz said. He was gifted in being able to take a piece of raw land and turn it into a beautiful place with a rustic resort-like feel, she said.

He was an avid sportsman who loved to hunt and fish and train his Brittany hunting dogs. He was a member of the Grand National Quail Club and hosted celebrities such as Roy Clark and Sam Walton at his Wind Canyon Ranch near Salt Plains.

Lenz and her husband, Joel, both graduated from Oklahoma State University and owned Wheatland Animal Clinic in Enid before retiring. They enjoyed the RV life for several years before settling in a home on Beaver Lake in Arkansas.

Her son Tyler, who has published a fiction book, helped her with the formatting, editing and publishing of her book. "Carry On" in the title comes from the way Utsler signed off on his letters home. Lenz said she hopes to have book signings in Enid.

Byrd is the education reporter for the Enid News & Eagle.

Have a question about this story? Do you see something we missed? Do you have a story idea for Suzie? Send an email to sbyrd@enidnews.com.

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