On April 3, 1946, Technician Fifth Grade Donald Whitaker boarded a train and left Camp McCoy after serving two years, six months, and seven days in the Army during World War II.At that time, Camp McCoy — later known as Fort McCoy — was a transitional installation for many service members going home from the war. Tens of thousands of troops made their way through the installation to eventually leave and get to their original home of record. For Whitaker, that was DuPage, Ill.“McCoy was full of guys getting out who were happy to get back,” Whitaker said. “There was one guy who was trying to talk people into re-enlisting. They’d say I’m sorry, and then he was laughed at. The Soldiers in the Army were happy the war was over, and they wanted to go home.”Whitaker expressed that memory during a visit to Fort McCoy on July 16 — nearly 75 years after leaving the post. The 95-year-old Whitaker made a special visit to see the Fort McCoy Commemorative Area and the many World War II-era artifacts at the historical area. The former Soldier also shared some of his memories from his service.According to his records, Whitaker joined the Army in September 1943. He joined with the idea he was going to participate in the Army Specialized Training Program, or ASTP. ASTP was a military training program instituted by the Army during World War II to meet wartime demands both for junior officers and Soldiers with technical skills.“I was supposed to go into the ASTP program, which would include two years in college and come out with a commission,” Whitaker said. “And after I finished my 17 weeks of (initial Army) training, they canceled it. I was supposed to come to the University of Wisconsin (in Madison).”With the commissioning program out of sight, in 1944, Whitaker went with his unit to train at Camp Livingston in Alexandria, La.“We started jungle training because we thought at that time we were probably going to be going to the South Pacific,” Whitaker said. “So we were there — I don’t remember how long for sure — and then they put us on a train for Boston for more training and then overseas to Europe.”Whitaker boarded a ship and went overseas. He served there until nearly the end of the European campaign. He said they served in Cologne, Germany, as well as Salzburg, Austria. During that time, Whitaker said he served as part of a labor pool completing all sorts of duties besides being a bandsman.“When the band went over to Germany, they took away our instruments, and we were in a labor pool,” Whitaker said. “We were guarding prisoners, we were road guides, we did kitchen patrol, and we did other service and security at night. Cooks have to be used — they are not combat Soldiers. We were support Soldiers. That’s what I was.”Whitaker recalled a story where he was with another Soldier, and they found themselves behind German lines when they took a wrong turn at an intersection. He said they got up to where they saw a German gun emplacement and had to make a choice.“We shut our vehicle off, turned it around manually, and stayed as quiet as we could,” he said. “We then rolled it down a hill, popped the clutch, and got the heck out of there. We probably would have become prisoners of war had we kept going.”Whitaker also remembered when he was performing perimeter duty at his deployed camp and had a German officer approach holding up a white flag.“He wanted to surrender to another officer,” Whitaker said. “We had a brigadier general at the camp, so I went to wake him up in the middle of the night. He told me, ‘Corporal — you better not be kidding me, or I will have your stripes.’”That officer did surrender not just himself but also more than 9,000 German troops, Whitaker said.And then his time in Germany was done in 1945.“(Our) division had … action in various places,” Whitaker said. “Then we were thinking we were done when Victory in Europe Day came. But they sent us back, we went through a parade in New York, and then all off the sudden we are in Oklahoma training on this equipment for amphibious training to go to the South Pacific.”By summer 1945, Whitaker had crossed back over the Atlantic, done some quick training in Oklahoma, and crossed the Pacific to the Philippines.“I had a friend in the Navy, and I had more time on the water than he did because I went across the Atlantic and back as well as the Pacific,” he said.Whitaker was in the Philippines when the war was officially ended Sept. 2, 1945, when the Japanese signed the official surrender on the U.S.S. Battleship Missouri.“After Germany, we knew we were going to the South Pacific,” Whitaker said. “We were told at that time that (Gen. Douglas) MacArthur had a plan to invade Japan with 1 million men with the expectation of millions of American and Japanese casualties. But that never came about because of the atomic bomb. And we were absolutely thrilled when we heard that. It’s not that we wanted to see people killed. It’s just that it was a much lesser amount than if we had invaded. Then, of course, the emperor surrendered, and that was the end of that.”Even after the surrender and the end of the war, Whitaker said that in the Philippines, people were still dying.“We had a number of Japanese soldiers who didn’t give up, and we had a number of them coming into camp at night and killing Soldiers (at our base in the Northern Phillipines),” Whitaker said. “They even brought in Japanese officers to tell them the war was over, and they thought the officers were lying to them.“I also played Taps for a number of Soldiers who were killed,” he said.Eventually, in March 1946, Whitaker arrived back in the United States from the Philippines and was sent to Camp McCoy. By that time, he had earned a Meritorious Unit Award, the American Theater Service Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Theater Service Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Service Medal, and a Good Conduct Medal. Mostly, though, he was ready to go home.“I just remember coming in by train (to McCoy) knowing you were getting out, and we were all saying the sooner the better,” Whitaker said. “We had to go through some lines to give up this, that, and the other thing. They also gave us training about transition back to civilian life.”Whitaker said that in the years he served, he was 18 to 21 years old.“In a way, I would say it was good for me,” Whitaker said. “I think serving was definitely good for the country. I went with the idea that I wanted to do my service, but I also wanted to come back, so I didn’t take any unusual chances. … When you are deployed, you have to remember to do your duty and then come back.”After the war, Whitaker earned a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in music from Northwestern University in Illinois. He then worked in the music business for more than 50 years before retiring.The July 16 stop to the Commemorative Area was his first stop back at the post in more than seven and a half decades, and he said it was worth it.“I’m glad I was able to see this,” he said. “It brought back a lot of memories.”The Department of Defense has observed the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II throughout 2020. See more of the observance at https://www.defense.gov/Explore/Spotlight/WWII.Learn more about Fort McCoy online at https://home.army.mil/mccoy, on Facebook by searching “ftmccoy,” and on Twitter by searching “usagmccoy.”