Heroes With Hammers

Over fifty years ago in World War II, our country needed the help of able-bodied shoers to take care of her mules. Today, these men remember the excitement, hard work and terror that came with the portable forge

“I DON’T KNOW WHAT the history books tell you, but they told us before we even started up the Ledo road into combat that 80 percent of us would never come back.”

That’s Lester Hollenback of Deltona, Fla., as he invites us to join him in this piece of history, remembering back over 50 years to 1944 when he was a part of the famous Merrill’s Marauders. He had the distinct privilege of shoeing our nation’s mules, sometimes right at the enemy lines.

“Fortunately for us, they were wrong. 80 percent came back,” he smiles.

Remembering Back...

The story begins when Hollenback, feeling the obligation to serve his country, joined in the one area where he knew he could be of best service: the cavalry. It was a long, tiring time, the 77-year-old recalls. And it wasn’t easy.

“I learned to shoe horses with my dad,” he explains. “It’s in our blood. My dad, brother, nephew and son are all horseshoers. But when I was drafted, I wanted to go to horseshoeing school. They had one in Fort Riley, Kan. This was January of 1943. I took my basic training with the cavalry since they still had a horse cavalry at that time.”

Hollenback explains the procedure was to put in requests for horseshoers. As a graduate, he was sent to Fort Bliss, at El Paso, Texas, for the Mule Quarter Master Pack troops. The four troops each housed 300 head of mules, with four shoers in each troop.


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