SIOUX CENTER—Longtime mail carrier Harold Vermeer will be taking another stroll down the streets of Sioux Center, this time as one of the Sioux Center Summer Celebration parade marshals.
The parade is scheduled for 5 p.m. June 8.
Vermeer, a World War II veteran, will act as parade marshal alongside the American Legion Department of Iowa vice-commander.
The 92-year-old was born in Sioux Center, but his family moved to Hull when he was only 2 years old. It was in Hull where he grew up and went to school. His was a small class of 20 students – 10 boys and 10 girls.
During his high school years, he was active in sports. Vermeer was on the school’s basketball team and he enjoyed playing baseball. He graduated high school in 1944, and in November 1944, he enlisted into the Navy — one month before his 18th birthday.
“I enlisted … because I didn’t want to be drafted,” Vermeer said. “I wanted to be in the Navy, and if you get drafted, you don’t have any choice. So, I enlisted one month before my 18th birthday and spent my 18th birthday in boot camp.”
He also had a sister who was in the Navy’s WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) and a brother-in-law in the Navy.
Vermeer went to boot camp in Great Lakes, IL. The one memory that immediately came to mind was how cold it was there; not surprising, given he arrived there in December.
As he put it, “It was darn cold.”
After Vermeer completed training there, he was assigned to go to basic engineering school, also at Great Lakes. Soon enough, he was transferred to Shoemaker, CA, to be assigned to a ship.
“I was assigned to the USS Mercury AKS-20,” Vermeer said. “It was a cargo and supply ship. We’d supply ships at sea.”
When he first came onto the ship, it had just completed repairs from being attacked by a Japanese bomber. He spent one year and two days aboard that ship with about 275 men.
Among the important supplies the ship carried was food. To keep perishables fresh required 12 large refrigerators, each containing different sets of food and set at different temperatures: milk in one, potatoes in another, one for meats, and so on.
When they reached the ship they were to supply, they’d run a line between the two ships and run supplies over to the waiting ship.
Vermeer started off working in the ship’s engine room due to his attending basic engineering school. In the engine room, they’d check boiler temperatures and monitor generator speed and other gauges, and write down the readings and make sure that everything was running correctly.
It was a hot and noisy environment. He believes his work down there might be at least partially responsible for his hearing loss. It certainly didn’t help the matter, at the very least.
That came to an end when an officer called Vermeer into his office. The officer had noticed Vermeer had taken typing classes in high school. Because of that, the officer had a better spot for Vermeer in mind than the engine room.
“After that, I didn’t have to be down in that hot, noisy engine room anymore, except to bring down the lists of the watch for the day and stuff like that,” Vermeer said. “I had to make the assignments of the people who were going to stand the watch down there.”
Working in the engineer’s office, he said, “was much better than standing watch.”
Through his time in the Navy, he got to see both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. He still marvels at the size of the oceans and how there would be nothing but water in all directions.
When the war ended, his ship even went through the Panama Canal.
Vermeer was discharged July 5, 1946, at the age of 20. He returned to Iowa and attended Northwestern College in Orange City for a business degree.
When he wasn’t busy with school, he had a job with Mutual Telephone Company to keep him busy, putting in underground cable throughout Sioux Center.
He met his wife, Mildred, through his work at the telephone company. He was doing some work for them during the winter, and got a black eye from a slip-up with a tool he was using.
That black eye caught Mildred’s attention at the restaurant she was working in when Vermeer and his manager walked in.
She said that if she knew his name and address, she’d send him a get-well card. His manager grabbed a napkin, wrote down the information and passed it to her.
Soon, he and Mildred were dating, and they married June 28, 1949. They had three children together, all sons: Brad, Lyle and Lance. They have seven grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren.
Mildred died Aug. 8, 2017.
His work with Mutual ended when he applied for and got a job carrying mail with the Sioux Center Post Office. His first day of delivery was Sept. 16, 1949.
At that time, they did two deliveries a day, and he would walk his seven-mile route through all kinds of weather. That helped keep in him shape, and he thinks that helped him stay in good health even now, free of aches and pains.
It wasn’t always easy, though, like when he did his route in minus 28 degree weather and his eyelids kept freezing shut.
Vermeer did that job for 32 years and four months before retiring.
“I enjoyed mail carrying,” he said. “You got to visit with people and get to know the kids and know the dogs. Never had any problem with dogs. I liked dogs and they seemed to know it.”
Through his job as a postal carrier, he got to see the town change around him through the years, from a little town of 1,860 people when he moved to Sioux Center in 1947 to today.