Stuehmeyer, Petaluma WWII vet, dies at 93

Henry Stuehmeyer, a Petaluma resident and decorated World War II veteran who helped liberate thousands of captives from the Dachau concentration camp, is set to be memorialized this weekend after his death on Dec. 14. He was 93.

Services are being held on Sunday at the Petaluma Veterans Memorial Building from 2-4 p.m. Stuehmeyer will receive an Air Force military service and 21-gun salute, said his son, Jeremy Stuehmeyer.

Henry Stuehmeyer died in his sleep at the Petaluma Post-Acute Rehab nursing home, marking a peaceful end to a life that began as an orphan in Missouri and was filled with traumatic moments, including the sudden loss of a family member, numerous military battles, and five bouts with various forms of cancer.

“He was never injured by a bullet, shrapnel or a dagger,” Jeremy Stuehmeyer said of his father. “Every time he went to witness or be part of a ceremony for a Purple Heart, he should have gotten a medal for not being injured.”

Henry Stuehmeyer was born on July 7, 1925, in Lincoln, Missouri, and he was orphaned at a young age with his six brothers and sisters.

When he was 16, he ran away from the orphanage, leaving his siblings behind, and briefly stayed with his birth mother and then his uncle while working at a store in St. Louis, his son said. Stuehmeyer eventually enlisted in the U.S. Army and was sent to Camp Gruber in Oklahoma for training.

It was there where he met Raymond Deming, who served alongside him during WWII and became a lifelong friend.

At 18 years old, Stuehmeyer was deployed to Marseilles, France, in December 1944 as a member of Cannon Company C with the 232nd Infantry Regiment of the famous 42nd Rainbow Division. During his tour, he manned a howitzer, and would eventually see action in France, Germany and Austria, his son said.

He survived the Battle of the Bulge and later earned his first of three Bronze Stars for bravery during the Rhineland Offensive in Reichswald, Germany.

On April 29, 1945, the 42nd Rainbow Division helped liberate 30,000 prisoners being held by the German SS forces at Dachau, the first concentration camp created by Adolf Hitler.

Stuehmeyer rarely talked about the experience, according to his son, but did share how struck he was by the Nazi soldiers that told the Allied forces that day not to feed the captives - even after their defeat.

“It was so bad that what they saw, some of the men from his unit had to leave (initially) and come back,” Jeremy said. “The survivors were happy, they were dancing and singing. But it was a fright to see at 19 years old.”

Last summer, Stuehmeyer met with Nick Hope of Calistoga, a Holocaust survivor he freed that day. The Petaluma meeting was arranged by Jeremy and Hope’s son, George, who randomly met in 2017 during a visit to Dachau.

After the war, the elder Stuehmeyer transferred to the Air Force in 1949. During his decades of service, which included three tours during the Vietnam War, he once witnessed an atomic bomb test in the Nevada desert in 1956, his son said.

To get a better view, Stuehmeyer and a few soldiers got on top of a bunker, but were exposed to radiation, and each man that was with him that day went on to die of cancer, Jeremy said. Stuehmeyer had five types of cancer throughout his life, and later was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, but always endured.

He left the Air Force in 1975, and got a government job with the Navy in San Francisco and worked on the docks in Oakland, making the daily commute from Petaluma.

Twenty years later, he retired as a staff sergeant after 51 years served with three different branches of the military.

Over the years, Stuehmeyer collected countless medals and honors for military campaigns completed with distinction in North America, Europe, Africa and Asia. He received commendations from the Air Force as well as good conduct and battle victory medals in WWII and Vietnam, and was honored several times for his long service. He also received the National Service Defense medal.

“His whole life he didn’t want to talk about anything from the wars,” Jeremy said. “He never watched anything on TV. He never talked about politics or religion, he just kept it to himself.

“Brought up in an orphanage, you’re a quiet lad. You do what you’re told. You don’t discuss anything. You were brought up that way.”

Stuehmeyer is survived by his second wife, Elsie, and her children Lorna, Mark and Alison, as well as his first wife, Joan Thorpe, and four children, Timothy, Martin, Jeremy and Michelle. He also had eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Last weekend, George Mendonsa, the sailor returning from war in the iconic photo from Times Square in 1945 dubbed “The Kiss,” made headlines after dying at 95 years old.

As the so-called “Greatest Generation” steadily passes into the history books, Jeremy Stuehmeyer, a genealogist and professional family tree researcher, said he hopes more grandchildren and great-grandchildren make an effort to take their smartphones, turn on the recorder, and ask their living ancestors about the stories that shaped their world before it’s too late to ask.

“I want people to learn,” he said, “and be surprised and amazed of what people can do if they get up and go.”

(Contact News Editor Yousef Baig at or 776-8461, and on Twitter @YousefBaig.)

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