Steve Ketzer, being sixteen years old in
July of 1940, lied about his age and joined the army. His parents were
divorced. Joining the army got him out of a difficult situation at home.
He was trained as a scout, to ride and repair motorcycles, then assigned
to a recon company with the 1st Armored Regiment, 1st Armored Division.
They were shipped to Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland in 1942 to continue
training and prepare for D-Day. In the meantime, a battalion of U.S. Army
commandos was being formed, later to be called Rangers, Darby's Rangers,
and a call went out for volunteers. Steve volunteered, passed the initial
interviews and tests, and was sent with the new Ranger Battalion to
Achnacarry, Scotland to be trained under British Commandos. He survived
that training, and was with the Rangers when they spearheaded the landing
at Arzew, Algeria in North Africa. The Rangers continued to conduct
raids, but mostly stood down in Arzew while the main body of U.S. forces
came ashore. During that time, Steve went AWOL to see the coast line, and
upon his return Darby busted him to private and threw him in Arzew's old
world dungeon. He was temporarily reattached to a recon company with the
1st Armored Regiment (I don't think this had to do with his being busted,
but with a desire for action_).
Steve was scouting with a buddy who rode
in the sidecar. They were behind enemy lines near Faid Pass when Rommel
started his push toward Kasserine Pass. Steve and his buddy rode across
the desert and were strafed by a German fighter, but managed to escape.
They were attempting to get back to the front line, or where their outfit
was last bivouacked. They did, but the area was then held by Germans, not
Americans. The Germans machine-gunned the motorcycle, killing Steve's
buddy, and seriously wounding Steve's left leg. He was captured on
February 14, 1943. At the time of his capture, he was wearing a leather
bomber jacket with Lt. Colonel Oak Leafs which was given to him by a
bomber pilot whom he rescued and rode back to the front lines some time
earlier. The Germans assumed he was an officer. He gave his correct
name, rank and serial number, but they refused to believe him.
Consequently, he was given special treatment and flown in a German Junker
to Naples. Shortly thereafter, the Germans discovered through the Red
Cross that he was a private and not a Lt. Colonel. Steve was thrown in
with the enlisted POW's. He couldn't recall all the prison camps he was
in, but recorded them on his War Benefits Application Form as follows:
From Kasserine Pass
to city of Tunis. From Tunis to Naples, Italy. From Naples to P.W. Camp
7A(?) Germany. From 7A to P.W. Camp 5B. From there to P.W. Camp 2B. From
there to 10C(?). From there I was liberated.
Soon after his capture, German doctors
wanted to amputate his left leg. Steve refused. He allowed the doctors to
experiment on him by laying in a bone graft, and it worked; although the
left leg was then a bit shorter than the right and developed a blood clot
in 1958 that nearly killed him. Steve spent most of his time at Stalag 2B,
where he learned to act and play the upright bass, or bass fiddle (There
is a photo of Steve Ketzer, and he is mentioned in Edwin Suominen's book,
"Twice to Freedom: Stalag 2B"). He had a beautiful voice and sang blues,
Jazz and Swing. He escaped three times, once staying free for a month, but
was recaptured. On his last attempt, the Germans promised to kill him if
he tried it again. He didn't. When Darby's Rangers were wiped out at
Cisterna, Italy, owing to bad U.S. intelligence, a few Rangers taken
prisoner filtered into Stalag 2B, and Steve was reunited with them.
Steve, along with the other POWs at 10C,
was liberated by British troops on April 28, 1945. He was discharged at
Camp Chaffee in Arkansas on August 15, 1945, and returned to Hot Springs,
Arkansas, where he, in 1940 or 41, spent time in the Army/Navy Hospital
recuperating from a broken leg suffered during training exercises in
Louisiana. He met Jane Kilby at the hospital, a doughnut dolly and the
love of his life. Alas, when he returned to Hot Springs in 1945, he
discovered Jane had married a sailor (thinking Steve dead). Steve stayed
in Hot Springs, lived with Jane's parents, and for six months played bass
and sang in a jazz quartet that performed in Arkansas and Texas. Caught
up in the jazz life, he was either in trouble, or saw himself heading in
that direction. He re-enlisted and joined the Army Air Corps for a
three-year stint on February 1, 1946. He was sent to Okinawa. They
didn't know where to place an ex-POW Ranger, so they made him the base
fire marshal. Soon his musical talents were discovered and he was put on
detached service to the Special Services Detachment and played bass, acted
and sang in the Soldier Show Program at the Ernie Pyle Theatre in Tokyo,
where he performed in the musical revues, "Tico-Tico" and "On the Midway."
He appeared in performances presented on tours of military installations
in Northern and Southern Japan and the Philippines.
Steve was shipped back to the states, to
Barksdale in 1948, at which point he took up flying and earned a private
pilots certificate. He later added commercial pilot and multi-engine. He
still rode motorcycles and owned a Harley-Davidson until age 62. On
February 1, 1949, after discharge from the Army Air Corps, Steve married
Jane Kilby, who had two sons from her previous marriage, Charles and
Jerry, and I, Steve Jr., came along eleven months later. Steve moved the
family to Long Beach, California in 1952, where he attended Long Beach
City College and earned his aircraft mechanic Airframe and Powerplant
Certificate. He landed a job with Douglas Aircraft and worked in
Experimental and Testing during the design and construction of the DC-8.
He held down a second job at Sunset Beach Airport where he worked on
general aviation aircraft, which he loved to build and fly. In 1961, he
moved the family back to Hot Springs and started an aircraft maintenance
and charter business. He worked in aviation for the remainder of his life
to support his habits of flying, motorcycle riding, boat racing, and
touring the United States in a big RV. I once asked what freedom meant to
him, and he replied, "To be able to go where I want to go when I want to
go." And go he did, at 100 MPH, non-stop until he reluctantly returned to
God in 1993. He paid for freedom, and he enjoyed it. He had a ball. We
had a ball. I sure miss him.
Steve Ketzer, Jr.
Click to enlarge - Steve on bass at the Ernie Pyle Theatre in Tokyo, Japan