OKEECHOBEE — Veteran Earl Yoder grew up in the Hershey Orphanage in Pennsylvania, and said it was a wonderful place and still is. He got a good education, and his two younger brothers were there with him. He even got to meet Mr. Hershey, he said. They were all treated very well. There were 20 boys and two house parents. The majority of the house parents over the years were Mennonites. They had to work hard on the farm, but he didn’t mind, and it paid off later when he was drafted into the Army during World War II.
He did his basic training at Camp Blanding in Florida and then went to Germany on a ship. It took about 13 days, and he was so sick, he said. Not all the men were sick but quite a few. “That was an experience!”
Mr. Yoder served his country in Germany on the Swiss border and said it was beautiful. When he first arrived in Germany, they asked if anyone had any experience on a farm, and he immediately raised his hand, even though he had no idea what he was getting himself into. “It was the first time I ever volunteered for anything in the service.” It turned out to be a good decision, though, he said, because he ended up in the cavalry and got his own horse — Eight Ball. “He was an eight ball, too!” The horses the men were given were German horses.
He was stationed near where the SS troops from the German Army trained.
He and Eight Ball spent their time in Germany patrolling the borders and looking for SS troopers. The only ones they ever found were the ones who wanted to be found, he said.
“I still have a picture in my own mind. It was at the start of the Alps near Switzerland. At that time, the Germans escaped anywhere they could go. We had to go find them. It was quite a life. It was beautiful.”
After he got out of the Army, he wanted to go to college, but it didn’t work out. He ended up working for the railroad as a fireman for a short time and later took two years of classes to become a machinist.
One of his brothers enlisted in the Navy and the other was in the Army. Both made it home safely.
He and his wife, Cynthia, met on a blind date and have been married for 53 years. They started coming to Okeechobee in 1987 and became permanent, year-round residents several years ago.