When a man has seen so much of the world and lived for almost 96 years, it’s hard to surprise him.
Gaylord “Pete” Dye’s kids managed to pull a fast one on their father, surprising him with a gathering, dinner, and his picture on the wall of a place created to honor U.S. military veterans.
You’ll now find a collage of photos and service awards for the Christian County native on the west wall of Cafe B-29 in Ozark. Dye, who was raised in the southern Christian County community of Chestnutridge, is one of less than 496,000 American veterans of World War II still living today, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Dye joined the Army in 1943 at the age of 18 as a glider infantryman, but soon became a paratrooper.
Glider infantry tactics were used heavily in World War II, but have since been long phased out. Glider planes could carry heavy equipment, were quieter and demanded less training of the troops who manned them. However, the planes were sometimes vulnerable to enemy fire, especially while under tow from towing planes. They were also susceptible to rough landings when they weren’t under fire.
Dye said he had enough of serving in the gliders after “three crash-ups.” He underwent training to become a paratrooper.
“The only way I could get out of the gliders was to join the paratroops,” he said.
He continued serving with the 17th Airborne Division, training as a paratrooper and a cook. Dye almost didn’t make it to Europe because he crashed into a tree in a training exercise.
“On my last jump in the United States, why, I broke my leg. They were going to transfer me out of the 17th Airborne and go to the 11th, a medical detachment. I told the general that I was cooking for—I told him I wanted to go across with them,” Dye said. “I went across with a broken leg.”
Dye was in the Battle of the Bulge, the Battle of Bastogne and the Rhine River jump as part of Operation Varsity.
“You couldn’t forget that,” Dye said.
Dye made his way as a man who was willing to fight for his country and also keep his fellow soldiers fed.
“I cooked for all of the enlisted men that were in our company through combat. We had to give them one hot meal a day,” Dye said. “You had to give them a pretty regular meal every day—meat, a regular meal.”
Dye’s culinary skills caught the attention of Maj. Gen. William Miley, who commanded the 17th Airborne Division. Miley, reportedly, couldn’t resist sharing some good food with Lt. Gen. James M. Gavin, the third commanding officer of the 82nd Airborne Division during World War II.
Gavin led the division in the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944 and January 1955. The 82nd Airborne Division became known for covering 36 miles in a single day, and captured more than 100,000 German troops on the way to Berlin.
“Gen. Miley told Gen. Gavin, and then I had to stay in and cook for them,” Dye said. “I must have been a really good cook.”
Dye was with the unit for its occupation of Berlin, which lasted from April to December of 1945. He was prepared to go to Japan when the war ended in 1945.
“We already had our shots and everything whenever Truman dropped the atomic bomb, and we didn’t have to go to Japan,” Dye said. “They made me stay in Berlin for six months after the war was over.”
Post-war Missouri life
Pete Dye, now 95, still cooks, still does all of his own household chores and still drives. He and his wife, Wanda, were married for 65 years before she died in 2011. They had four children, three boys and Cora, a girl, the youngest. Dye has 10 grandchildren and more than 20 great-grandchildren.
Dye was 21 when he became a cook at Nora’s Cafe in Springfield, and that’s where he met his wife, a waitress.
“My mama was a redhead. One of his cousins had bet him some money that he couldn’t get a date with her,” Cora Parrish, Dye’s daughter, said. “So he kept tipping her. Coffee was a nickel, he would give her a dollar and tell her to keep it. Finally, he got a date with her and they were married three months later.”
“We made such good salary then. We made $26 a week,” Dye quipped.
Gary Dye was having a meal at Cafe B-29, when he came up with the idea to honor his father’s service in World War II. He spoke with one of the cafe’s owners.
“I said, ‘How did you get all of the memorabilia on the walls and everything?’ and she said, ‘Well, they’re donated.’ I said, ‘My dad is a World War II vet. If I had a picture made of him, would you put it up?’ and she said, ‘Well, yeah,’” Gary Dye recounted.
It was as simple as that. More than a dozen friends and relatives were waiting to surprise Pete Dye when he walked into Cafe B-29 on Wednesday afternoon.