Terpstra lives life of service

Occupation survivor, Vietnam veteran a 'professional volunteer'

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  • Photo by Vera Olinski Herman Terpstra is shown in this undated photo.

  • Photo by Gale Miko Commander Herman Terpstra talks to a class at Wantage Elementary School in March.

Tulips. A buried SS motorcycle and sidecar. A Secret room.

What do they all have in common?

The answer is Herman Terpstra, of Wantage, a Vietnam veteran who lived through World War II in Holland. He is the owner of Herman's Automotive on Route 284 in Wantage.

Terpstra was born in 1938. He still remembers the Nazis (National Sozialist Party) invading Holland when he was 6 years old.

“I remember the parachutes coming down,” he said.

He tells fascinating stories about retaliation against SS troopers.

One time two soldiers accused his father, who owned a farm in Holland, and uncle of illegally butchering one of the family’s own cows. Every week the SS troopers counted the Terpstra’s cows and forbade them from butchering any.

The troopers then shot his uncle in front of their whole family, his mother, father, sister, brothers and Terpstra because of the missing cow. His dad and other uncle then killed the two SS troopers.

"They didn't get out of the lane," Terpstra said.

That night, his father and other uncle buried the two SS Troopers, motorcycle and side car under the manure pile. Terpstra could hear them shoveling all night.

Terpstra’s family was part of the Dutch underground. The Nazis also were looking for another uncle, so he hid in a secret room between their barn and house for two years.

"We were one of the lucky ones," Terpstra said.

Finally, Terpstra and his family came to the United States on Friday, March 13, 1950 with $100 in their pockets after selling their farm to a cousin.

"It's been a great life in this country," Terpstra said. "I wouldn’t trade it for anywhere in the world. People don’t understand how great it is in this country.”

Vietnam veteran

Terpstra later served in Vietnam from 1959 until 1967. His first day in Vietnam was a shock.

As a little girl approached him, the sergeant in command shot her. Then the sergeant showed Terpstra the grenade strapped across her chest. The young girl was a communist version of a suicide bomber.

Terpstra explained that is why Vietnam veterans are called baby killers: they were forced to shoot first before being blown up themselves.

The life of a professional volunteer

Currently, Terpstra serves as the judge advocate of the Sussex County American Legion, the president of the American Legion of Sussex, the Boy Scouts’ Chairman of the American Legion in the state, the state head of the Eagle Scouts, and the service officer of the county and Post for the American Legion.

He has also served as the past New Jersey deputy vice commander of the American Legion.

One of the biggest honors Terpstra has ever received is the Chapel of the four chaplains pin: a Jewish star with a cross in the middle.

The pin commemorates when the Dorchester was sunk by a U-boat while on its way to New York, off the Coast of Newfoundland. About 900 people were aboard, and there were only 600 life jackets. Four chaplains: Catholic, Jewish, Protestant and Dutch reformed, went down with the ship, locked arm in arm.

Call to action

At the age of 75, Terpstra encourages young wartime veterans to please become involved in the American Legion. The Legion needs help with all the volunteer work it does through the Sussex schools, scholarships and community.

Post 213 of the American Legion meets at 915 Rte. 23 North in Wantage, the first Tuesday of the month at 7:30 p.m.

Terpstra always carries an American Legion application in his pocket, with a smile on his face, and a story on his lips.

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