Emil Meinert

As written by Victor Meinert....

Emil Christian Meinert was born near Davenport, IA, in 1888. He was the second oldest of four children born to Peter and Marie Meinert, well-known Scott County farmers. The oldest son in the family, Emil grew up in the manner of most farm youths at the turn of the century, with hard work a part of the daily routine, 365 days of the year. Long, hard hours did not diminish his keen sense of humor, nor did it discourage his burning desire to become an engineer. Always the life of the party, he was a gallant and handsome young man and a champion of his older sister, Emma, often arranging for her to get to dances at Maysville and elsewhere, where she might be with young people like herself.

In the early 1900’s, Emil became determined to pursue an engineering career. After much persuasion, Peter gave his son $600 to be used for tuition in Highland Park College, everything possible in the engineering line. His roommate was a medical student. Years later, they met again in Medicine Bow, Montana, where the roommate had acquired a fortune in business, after abandoning his medical career, years ago. Emil never left the field of engineering after graduating with high honors from Highland Park.

After completing college, Emil showed his graduation records to an official of the Velie Auto Company in Moline. He was hired at once and within three months was road testing the 1909 Velies, one of the early autos of the day. Three months later, his salary was increased to $100 per month, and he was promoted to traveling representative for the Velie firm, calling on distributors in 59 cities. His route stretched from Chicago to the West Coast. This was quite a contrast to the hum-drum work of a farm laborer, whose wages at that time were about $18 a month.

After several years with the Velie firm, which frequently involved test driving, and on some occasions, meant week-long stands at State Fairs answering thousands of questions, Emil established a business of his own in Davenport. He called it Hawkeye Motors. After a time, he brought his younger brother, George, into the business with him. Meanwhile, the other Meinert brother, Gus, remained on the farm, working for his father, and eventually taking over the home place.

It was while the Meinert brothers were operating the Hawkeye Motors firm that a cute little secretary entered into Emil’s life. She was Viva Smith, daughter of Adelbert Smith, of Clinton. Viva applied for the position of receptionist and secretary. She not only got the job, but soon found herself the center of Emil’s attention. He had lost no time in deciding his attractive secretary could be much more than just a business associate.

The Davenport venture was interesting and a lot of fun, but not profitable. Over-extension of credit and one or two untrustworthy employees caused Hawkeye Motors to fold. While Emil lost a business, he gained a fiance--none other than Viva Smith. George, meanwhile, had made plans to go on to the West Coast to find work in the state of Washington.

After Hawkeye Motors closed up, Emil continued his automotive interests. Very shortly he became associated with the Cadillac Company, servicing dealers. It was while he was doing this work in various parts of Iowa and elsewhere in the Midwest that World War I broke out. With war service imminent, Emil and Viva went to Chicago where they were married. Shortly after the honeymoon Emil enlisted, going to Washington D. C. to complete his papers and get his assignment.

Shortly thereafter, he was assigned to the Motor Pool at Omaha, where he was promptly put in charge of a large number of Army autos and trucks. This, of course, was exactly to his liking. In addition, he was also called upon to service cars owned or driven by the officers, some of whom had enlisted and promptly obtained high commissions. In this manner, Emil became acquainted with a number of influential persons, some of whom proved to be valuable contacts later in his career. One of these, a highly placed auto executive’s son, later was instrumental in Emil and Viva’s moving to Denver.

After the war ended, Emil and Viva, whom he always referred to as “The Skipper,” lived in Clinton where they became interested in the telephone business. This work took them too many parts of Iowa, including Des Moines and Sioux City. Emil’s prime interest, however, was the auto business, and soon he found himself back in it, working with Ford, Studebaker and other firms. He was classified as a Master Mechanic and earned quite well.

Denver was the next stop. There, a little girl, a “dream doll,” was born to them in 1921. Named Jane, she was a happy, healthy youngster until the day she was stricken by spinal meningitis, a dread disease that took her life almost instantly. The loss was taken very hard. Even to this day (1964), the Meinerts visit Jane’s grave near Denver, frequently.

Exactly one year after Jane was laid to rest, a second child, another daughter, and another “doll,” was born. It was Christmas day, 1923. She was named Betty and was as healthy as she was pretty… and still is. Betty is now married to Guy Rose, a mathematics instructor at Santa Monica College, who was born in Dallas, Texas. Betty and Guy have two handsome young sons, Dennis and Gordon. The Roses live in West Chester, not far from the Meinerts, where “Grampa” Meinert can be close to his two grandsons.

After a number of years in Denver, the Meinerts moved to California. Emil sent Viva and Betty, who was best known as “Tooty,” on by train; but Emil himself drove, including a stretch through Death Valley. While in this treacherous area, Emil befriended an Indian whose car had broken down in a critical spot. He was able to help the red-skinned stranger, who never forgot the kindness and who, more than a year later, presented Emil with two antique 1863 Springfield rifles. He walked many miles to reward his white benefactor in this manner.

In Los Angeles, Emil became associated with a Studebaker firm, headed by Paul Hoffman, later to become a member of President Franklin Roosevelt’s top advisory staff, and at one time, regarded as a presidential possibility in his own right. Emil knew Hoffman well, often rendering special services for the executive’s personal car. As a Master Mechanic, Emil served the Hoffman Studebaker firm long and well, and was an appreciated and respected employee for many years.

Others were also seeking Emil’s services, including an engineering firm executive who had various government contracts overseas. On several previous occasions, Emil turned down opportunities to go abroad. However, in December 1940, he was asked to go to Hawaii, an assignment he had been holding out for. Shortly after Christmas he left for Pearl Harbor, little realizing the part he as to personally play in one of History’s most fateful days less than a year later. The Hawaii work was very much to Emil’s liking. He was a construction engineer foreman on Ford Island, helping with the Hickam Field runways, power installations, etc., at our major Pacific base. Interestingly, the younger brother, George, his former Hawkeye Motors partner, now with the Mobil oil Company, was also stationed in Honolulu, thus enabling the Meinert brothers to occasionally be together for dinner or other social functions.

On December 7, 1941, Emil and four others with the Knudsen firm were at Hickam Field checking on some of the heavy equipment in use then. Everything was quiet and peaceful until that fateful moment when the first wave of Jap planes suddenly appeared and within moments, changed the course of history for the entire World.

Sensing the danger, Emil dove under a huge grader, where he was able to see the devastation wrought by the enemy bombers, and where he was a scant few feet from where the Nipponese bullets or bomb fragments struck the grader and then devastated more than 200 U.S. war planes located on the field. Meanwhile, another wave of Jap planes, made up of torpedo bombers, was striking. This one poured bombs on the U.S. Fleet anchored like sitting ducks in Pearl Harbor. Emil vividly recalls the flaming inferno as bomb after bomb hit its mark, exploding on the decks of the eight battle wagons, seven cruisers, and 28 destroyers, capsizing some and sinking ten others, converting the harbor into an oily sea, engulfed by fire and smoke as helpless sailors tried desperately to escape from their burning vessels, only to be trapped by the configuration on all sides as they sought to swim to shore.

Emil was one of the few Americans who can say, “I was there.” After the third wave of enemy planes, Jap dive bombers, had made their deadly pass, and those of our planes that could get off the ground were airborne, he crept from his hiding place to survey the carnage. Wherever he turned the story was much the same. Death and destruction, confusion and calamity, on all sides. Later it was learned that 2, 343 American sailors, soldiers and marines were counted among the dead.

Quickly realizing that the need for help was of life or death urgency, he hurried to the harbor, and as soon as possible joined a group in the tricky and dangerous process of righting the capsized battleship, California. Emil’s familiarity with pumps and directing large numbers of men stood him and others in good stead. Working around the clock, the job was done and many lives were saved. This done, Emil then took charge of a group of men using paving breakers in a desperate battle to save men trapped and still alive in the hulk of one of the U.S. war ships. Working without a stop, aware that some men were still alive, and fighting against time, Emil’s crew was able to cut through the steel and armor to get to the men. As a result 35 U.S. Navy personnel owe their lives to Emil Meinert and the others who had given their all for 36 consecutive hours in the race against death.

War against the Japanese was declared within hours after the Pearl Harbor attack, and from then on until 1956, Emil Meinert was in defense installation work in various areas of the U.S., Canada, the Pacific, and the Caribbean. And had he so desired, he could have served in similar capacities in Europe, South America, and Asia.

To briefly enumerate some of the ways and places in which he participated in war and later in peace efforts after Pearl Harbor, Emil served at the Pendleton Marine and Submarine Base near San Diego during 1942. Next he went to Port Hueneme Naval Base, where he helped on a multi-million dollar project and where he received a commendation for his work from the assistant to the Under Secretary of the Navy. His work at Hueneme also in California extended through 1943 and into 1944. His next assignment was at the Tacoma Naval Base, which took in part of 1944 and through the close of the war.

The end of WWII, however, did not end Emil Meinert’s service to the U.S. government. In 1946, he served with the Federal Public Authority in closing out the materials and supplies at Japanese concentration camps. Shortly thereafter, he was called to Guam to direct housing and airport runway construction, serving there into 1948. While in Guam, he was among those seeking out the “die hard” Japs who had refused to accept their Motherland’s capitulation.

Later in 1948 and through 1949, both, Emil and Viva went to Puerto Rico, where Emil directed hundreds of men in a Steam Turbine power plant project involving 2,300 employees and 12 million dollars. Next it was British Columbia, in Canada, in a Uranium mine project.

In 1951, the former Scott County Farm youth was called back to Puerto Rico to help with an addition to the Power Plant started in 1948.

Biggest project, however, was in the Philippines in the period 1952 through 1955. Here Emil was the “boss man” over hundreds of construction workers in connection with a 40 million dollar project, involving a Naval Base, hospital, airport runways, radar station, radio towers, etc.

When this job was completed hundreds of workers turned out for farewell dinner for “Ace” Meinert, giving him gifts, including handmade trays, carving sets, etc. It was a gala occasion, indicating the respect and esteem in which he was held, and topped off by some welcome bonuses for a job especially well done.

Since 1956, Emil Meinert has retired, spending his time with his apartment property, polishing his Cadillac, and enjoying his grandchildren.

 

 


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