Donald Eugene Lemme was born on January 15, 1924, in Illinois to Arthur and Charlotte.1 Arthur was also born in Illinois, but Lemme’s mother was born in Germany. His father worked as a machinist and mechanic at the Rock Island Arsenal while he was growing up. Lemme had a younger sister named Lois. He grew up in Rock Island and was a high school basketball and track star.2 In fact, he was a record holder for the high hurdles in track. In 1941, he was confirmed in the Lutheran Church.3
At the age of 19, he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps on March 27, 1943.4 After basic training and radio training in San Diego, he was deployed with the 4th Marine Division to the Pacific Theater during World War II.5 The Pacific Theater battles were fought mainly against Japan in the Pacific Ocean. Lemme participated in many battles, specifically the Roi, Namur, Saipan, Tinian, and Iwo Jima invasions. On two of those occasions, Lemme was actually injured.6 On Saipan, he was shot in the head during a firefight.7 Some newspapers in Texas, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts reported a story about this fight. A summary of this story is that a platoon of 4th Division Marines got caught in Japanese fire and had fought valiantly, though there were many casualties. A Navy hospital corpsman, Jim Sherwood, had been shot while trying to save another Marine during this battle. The rest of the platoon tried to save those two, and Lemme was shot in the process. Eventually, they got Sherwood and the rest of the injured Marines out of that situation, but Sherwood sadly passed. Luckily, Lemme survived. After his recovery, Lemme served again. In about a year and a half, the battle of Iwo Jima happened, and he was injured by shrapnel on that island. Again, he lived through it.8 In 1945, he was stationed in Hawaii to help train engineering unit Marines about land mines.9 During his time, he became the rank of Sergeant. Lemme was then released from duty on August 20, 1946. From his service, he received two Purple Hearts—one for Saipan, one for Iwo Jima—as well as a Bronze Star Medal, a Gold Star, and a Presidential Citation Unit award.10
Less than a year later after the war, Lemme married Virginia Mangelsdorf in January of 1947.11 Together, they had three kids: John, born in 1948; David, born in the mid-1950’s; and Jane, born in 1959.12 He was hired in November of 1947 by the Rock Island County’s Sheriff’s Office as a Deputy Sheriff and Jailer.13 8 years later, he was appointed as Rock Island County’s civil defense coordinator.14 This job coordinates preventative and responsorial procedures in the event of an attack (atomic or nuclear bombs were the threats at this point in time with the Arsenal).15 It also functions as a position to plan for emergencies in the community, like floods and fires. These measures include evacuations, shelters, and emergency response. While in this job, Lemme was a leader for the county’s response for any emergencies, continuing his service to others. In January of 1964, he resigned from the county post and began to serve in the same role for the western side of the State of Illinois.16 He worked in that job for the next 15 years until his retirement in 1980.17
During his life out of the military, he was involved with many things.18 He was a board member of the American Red Cross since at least the mid-1960’s.19 He was also a member of the Disabled American Veterans. From newspaper clippings, he was also involved in the Rock Island Republican Women’s Club.20 He was also a member of the Crown of Life Lutheran Church. In 1998, he moved to Arizona with his wife. On July 18, 2001, Donald Lemme died at the age of 77.21
From his story, it is clear that Donald Eugene Lemme was a man of service. From the military, to the Sheriff’s office, to his work as a civil defense coordinator, his life was 100% service. Amazingly, he survived two casualties during WWII to then become a protector of the people of Rock Island County and the State of Illinois. The awards he received for his service in World War II are a lasting legacy of his unending service, courage, and valor he displayed throughout his entire life.
1 Donald E Lemme’s memorial page – Honor Veterans Legacies at VLM (va.gov); U.S., World War II Draft Cards Young Men, 1940-1947 – Ancestry.com; U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007 – Ancestry.com; 1930 United States Federal Census – Ancestry.com; 1940 United States Federal Census – Ancestry.com
10 05 Dec 1944, 3 – The Rock Island Argus at Newspapers.com; 20 Sep 1945, 24 – The Daily Times at Newspapers.com; 09 Jun 1945, 6 – The Daily Times at Newspapers.com; 23 Jul 1946, 9 – The Rock Island Argus at Newspapers.com