WWII Veterans Remembered: U-Haul Honors North Dakota’s Kermit E. Shoen

Jun 20, 2020

Pacific Theater veteran and Sentinel Butte native Kermit Shoen will be memorialized in the lobby of the renovated Ford Island Control Tower at Pearl Harbor

U-Haul® was born as World War II was coming to a close, with its first one-way trailers made available to the moving public on or about July 4, 1945.

Just as U-Haul is celebrating 75 years of service this year, America will soon celebrate the 75th anniversary of V-J Day. This signifies Victory over Japan and is observed Sept. 2 when the signing of surrender occurred, effectively ending WWII.

Kermit Shoen, circa 1945

Veterans such as Sentinel Butte native Kermit E. Shoen returned home to start a new life after the war, and in doing so planted the seeds of prosperity for U-Haul, a product of the peace for which they fought.

WWII-era Navy veteran L.S. “Sam” Shoen (Kermit’s cousin) and his wife, Anna Mary Carty Shoen, conceived U-Haul in June 1945 when they recognized a basic need while moving up the West Coast, having left behind most of their belongings since one-way trailer rentals did not yet exist. From that idea, an industry was created and a new level of mobility became attainable for every American family.

New Display at Pearl Harbor

Today, U-Haul is committed to honoring veterans and supporting veteran causes. This is accomplished through recruiting veterans and giving them hiring preference; direct assistance to veteran groups; participation and sponsorship of Memorial Day and Veterans Day parades; and supporting Pearl Harbor tributes.

The Company’s 75th anniversary tributes will peak triumphantly with the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum’s dedication of the renovated Ford Island Control Tower on Aug. 29. U-Haul Pacific Theater veterans’ bios and photos will be displayed in the tower lobby. Kermit will be among those memorialized on the lobby wall.

The tower will showcase a new elevator, gifted by U-Haul CEO Joe Shoen, providing public access to the observation deck where America’s lone WWII aviation battlefield can be revered and our heroes remembered.

North Dakota Roots

Kermit was born in Sentinel Butte in 1917, the second of four sons born to Edward and Sadie Shoen, a Scottish-Irish couple who ran cattle and raised grain on a small ranch in the Badlands.

It was a hard life. At 17, Kermit worked as a ranch hand, bartender, cab driver and other odd jobs around Fargo to help his parents and younger brothers survive on the homestead. He was one of 17 students to graduate from Sentinel Butte High School in 1935.

Kermit joined the Army in April 1941. He was assigned to the same North Dakota National Guard unit as his brother Rodney – Company K, 164th Infantry Regiment, Dickinson. The unit trained at Camp Claiborne, La.

The “164th Marines”

Soon after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, the 164th was dispatched to the South Pacific. They landed on Guadalcanal on Oct. 13, 1942, to relieve Marine forces pinned down by the Japanese. Kermit was awarded the Silver Star for bravery during the brutal jungle fighting of the second battle for Henderson Field, which is also known as the Battle of Coffin Corner. While issuing an order during the battle, Kermit was shot in the mouth. He survived, but would carry a piece of shrapnel in his cheek for the rest of his life.

The 164th became the first U.S. Army unit in WWII to engage the enemy offensively. For their actions at Guadalcanal, the unit earned a Navy Presidential Unit Citation, as well as the respect of its Marine cohorts. The unit was authorized to wear the 1st Marine Guadalcanal Patch on their uniforms and became known as the “Little Marines” and the “164th Marines.”

Kermit fought in four major campaigns in the Pacific. For his service, he was awarded the Asiatic-Pacific Service Medal (four bronze campaign stars for Guadalcanal, the Northern Solomons, Leyte, and Southern Philippines), the Philippine Liberation Medal (one bronze service star), the Navy Presidential Unit Citation, the Philippine Presidential Unit Citation (one star), the Silver Star and the Bronze Star medals.

Family Business

Kermit Shoen, artist portrait, 1973

Following the war, Kermit joined U-Haul after meeting with his cousin, Sam, in May 1952. Sam was mapping the first major expansion of the U-Haul network.

“He didn’t talk me into coming in with him. It was the way he talked me into it,” Kermit recalled in a 1973 interview. “He didn’t speak of making a lot of money. He talked of what we could do for the people – you know, society – that would make our lives worth the candle.”

Kermit was a revered U-Haul leader for more than 29 years, working in many capacities. He constructed trailers, was an area field manager servicing neighborhood dealerships, rental company president, and regional vice president. He passed away in 1981.

Veteran Ties and Appreciation

The Shoens started U-Haul upon Sam’s discharge with $4,000 of accumulated Navy pay and the courage formed by the cauldron of WWII. With the help of other veterans, the young couple forged their new enterprise from the freedom that victory produced.

Today, U-Haul serves all 50 states and 10 Canadian provinces, helping millions of families move every year. Kermit is one of the many veterans who laid the foundation for the present prosperity U-Haul enjoys.

U-Haul is one of a myriad of companies built by these incredible veterans, who are to be saluted and remembered during this 75th anniversary celebration. Thank you, Kermit.

Find more veteran tributes in the History and Culture section of myuhaulstory.com.

NOTE: Featured image includes (back row, L-R) brothers Kermit, Rod and George Shoen; and (front row) parents Edward and Sadie Shoen.

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