Kodet was band leader and WWII prisoner of war
Spectacular doings, entertaining years, and spending most of the rest of the time working, have filled the lives of Eddie and Marjorie Kodet.
Eddie has gone from directing a dance band, to parachuting out of a WWII bomber, to farming and ranching near Belvidere. Marjorie has been with him all the way (except the bomber incident).
Starting in 1935, Eddie Kodet and the Kadets played their big band sound throughout South Dakota, northern Nebraska, and eastern Wyoming. Eddie would organize the jobs and lead with his alto sax. A certain gal started teaching at the Belvidere school in 1938, and Eddie Kodet and Marjorie Lueck soon started seeing each other. Eddie states, “The band and playing were something I really enjoyed an awful lot. I think Marjorie did too. She used to make sandwiches so we could feed the guys before we got to where we were to play. Ol’ Bill, a bachelor, especially looked forward to her sandwiches.”
Eddie continues, “There’s quite a lot of things to leading a band.” Marjorie remembers the practices where, “I served food until 4:00 in the morning.” He played the saxophone, clarinet, trumpet, drums, and sang.
In 1942, life changed. Eddie and Marjorie were married. Also, Eddie was suddenly in the Air Force. Reminiscing, Eddie looked at Marjorie and said, “She followed me everywhere I went, except Italy.” He spent almost three years training as a flight mechanic and then in flight training. He was shipped out to southern Italy in early 1944, and she waited in Minneapolis, just beginning her first pregnancy.
Kodet was based in occupied southern Italy just “at the right time not to be there.” Eddie explains, “We were probably one of the first bomber groups to land in Italy.” Eddie was an engineer/gunner on a B-24 bomber with the 459th Bomb Squadron. The Giulia airfield runways were quickly erected out of steel mesh. “Our first missions were over Vienna, Austria, which was the third most fortified city in Europe. I got broke in pretty well.”
On April 15, 1944, during a mission over Bucharest, Rumania, “I don’t know what happened to our ship, maybe too much flak, I’ll never know. The plane caught fire. There’s no way to correct something like that in the air. We went from 20,000 feet to around 1,000 before we got orders to bail out. Its just like you were nailed to your seat. The pressure on your body is tremendous.”
The plane somehow leveled off and the men began jumping. Kodet never saw the pilot again, but does remember the pilot had four sons. Another crewman, the nose-gunner, was dead on the ground. Eddie noted that the body was buried in Europe and the widow would not accept that her husband was dead. The eight survivors were immediately captured. Kodet quietly states, “They were waiting for us.” The crew was put in with almost 1,200 other prisoners at Bucharest.
In August 1944, the Russians and Germans were, “fighting with everything they had in the city of Bucharest. The Russians chased the Germans out and the Rumanians opened the prison gates. We were on our own for about a week. The Germans retaliated with everything, trying to do all they could against the Rumanians and the American prisoners. They used dive bombers on the prison camp.”
Kodet tells that, “an American Colonel and a Rumanian pilot took off in a German fighter.” One U.S. soldier at the base in Italy later said that they could tell it was an enemy plane by its sound. Somehow, the plane did safely land and an evacuation was arranged for the prisoners back in Bucharest.
Eddie recalls, “It was somewhat safe to land near the city, but not entirely. We were a pretty sorry looking bunch, I remember. I was still wearing the clothes I went down in, kind of patched up. We had to be deloused.”
Eddie Kodet came home. His son, Eddie Junior, was born two weeks later on October 16, 1945.
The Kodets began operating Eddie’s parents’ farm/ranch near Belvidere. Marjorie gave birth to their daughter, Janet, in 1946.
In 1947, Eddie joined another band. It played in Kadoka, Midland, Murdo, Presho, Draper, Philip, Wall, Interior, Long Valley, and other places. Eddie continued the band and picked up members when possible. It lasted until 1968, then ended because, Eddie said, “that was when rock music ...” He grinned and slowly shook his head. Eddie did lead the Belvidere Band until July 4, 1998. Eddie’s eyes are still bright, but “my fingers are just like clubs. I don’t play any more.”
Eddie Kodet has many stories. One specific story began back in 1944. The Rumanian princess at the time often visited the war prisoners. After the war, she had somehow escaped to America. Princess Catherina Caradja was on a lecture circuit for rallies and radio programs promoting democracy. She could speak quite a number of languages, and she could discuss almost anything, including farming and ranching. Caradja had gotten a roster of the American prisoners she had visited in Bucharest. She made a great effort to visit “her boys”, which included two different visits to the Kodet household near Belvidere. When she began approaching old age, she went back to Rumania.
Eddie and Marjorie have farmed and ranched most of their lives. He stated simply, “You do the best you can with your stock and your crop. Time passes pretty fast. And, there’s lots of things to do yet.” The buildings and yard have always been immaculately attended.
Eddie and Marjorie sit closely next to each other. He states, “We’ve had sixty two years of marriage. Up until this summer we lived out on the farm, and now we live here.” They currently live at the Philip Nursing Home.