Today’s #VeteranOfTheDay is Marine Veteran William E. Lentsch, who received a Purple Heart for injuries during the Battle of Savo Island.
William Edmund Lentsch was born in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1922. His childhood was difficult, as he experienced a poor relationship with his parents and grew up during the Great Depression. At 14 years old, he ran away and spent three years helping his uncle on his homestead in Valdosta, Georgia. Lentsch returned to Connecticut, asking his mother to sign the papers needed to join the military. When she agreed, he traveled to a recruiting office in New York City. In July 1940, he joined the Marine Corps.
Lentsch went to Parris Island in South Carolina for basic training and then volunteered to go to sea school in Norfolk, Virginia. Lentsch served with the 1st Marine Division aboard USS Vincennes. He worked on the ship as a “hot-shell man.” It was his job to catch the shell casings dropped from the 38 caliber guns and throw them overboard. In March 1942, Lentsch and USS Vincennes went to the Pacific.
In April, USS Vincennes accompanied USS Hornet as a part of Task Force 18 during the Doolittle Raid on Japan. Later, Lentsch fought in the Battle of Midway and the Battle of Guadalcanal aboard USS Vincennes. At the Battle of Savo Island, torpedoes sank the ship. One of strikes broke Lentsch’s legs. He climbed three decks up a ladder and slid into the water. Lentsch was shot and played dead in the water, but was later rescued and transported to USS Solace.
He eventually went to Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego, California. Lentsch spent six months in San Diego before transferring to Brooklyn Naval Hospital in New York City. On crutches, he spent another six months at this hospital. In 1944, Lentsch discharged as a private first class. During his service, Lentsch received a Purple Heart.
He returned to Connecticut, working for General Electric in Bridgeport while using a cane. As a condition of employment, he helped sell war bonds and promoted blood plasma donations at the factory. Later, Lentsch worked as a mail deliveryman in Dayton, Ohio, and San Diego, California, for 27 years. He advocated for better treatment of disabled Veterans and wrote a book entitled “My Story.”
He passed away in 2016 at 94 years old.
We honor his service.
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Veterans History Project
This #VeteranOfTheDay profile was created with interviews submitted to the Veterans History Project. The project collects, preserves, and makes accessible the personal accounts of American war Veterans so that future generations may hear directly from Veterans and better understand the realities of war. Find out more at http://www.loc.gov/vets/.
Writer: Nathaniel Scott
Editors: Alexander Reza and Theresa Lyon
Fact checkers: Giacomo Ferrari and Patrick E. Woods
Graphic artist: Kiki Kelley