The biplanes overhead had all the markings from a past war but none of the scars.

A German Iron Cross could clearly be seen on a later single-wing model as three warplanes flew upside down in formation.

Eugene Klawitter stood beneath them in admiration of a bygone era in aviation. He's a former Air Force veteran himself - a mechanic during the Korean War with the heart of a flyboy. And just because he never flew a plane like these hasn't diminished his love of them.

There's a beauty to these pieces of art, antiques by today's standards, but a functional weapon then. They are planes with names like Sopwith Camel, a British fighter that once flew above the trenches fighting the enemy. Now, they are just for admiring.

Klawitter looked up at one of the planes and pointed to the propeller.

"The prop turns with it," he said, flicking the propeller with his finger. The large wooden warplanes above him are actually tricycles he built for children, which he now has suspended from the ceiling of his work area in his Poynette house.

Artifacts and symbols of World War II and previous campaigns grace a few rooms in Klawitter's home. He also has pictures of his own military service, and his time climbing Mount Fuji during the Korean War with a Japanese guide. He even has the walking stick to prove he made it past 12,000 feet.

But it's a recent project Klawitter has taken up in his retirement that's an interesting take on his continued study of World War II. He has spent the last seven years drafting famousbattleships with details so minute that a single project can take 400 hours.

"I like to draw big things," he said, sitting at his drafting table. "I (thought) I would draw World War II battleships, so I started out with the USS Wisconsin.

"Then I did the aircraft carrier the Hornet, where Jimmy Doolittle got those B-25s and bombed Tokyo (after the attack on Pearl Harbor). That was a big drawing, a four-footer."

Klawitter is involved in the local VFW and thought it would be interesting for area veterans to see some of the ships. He's donated works to the Wisconsin Veterans Museum in Madison, and the Veterans Office in downtown Portage.

"I thought the Wisconsin was the appropriate one to start with because if you go to the VFW or American Legion, someone has been (on it)."

The whistle is calling

When he was growing up in Montello, Klawitter could hear the whistles of Chicago and North Western engines from his home.

But it wasn't until his family moved to Portage that he found himself biking to the tracks to catch a glimpse of some steamers passing through.

"I leaned up against the telephone post and watched the trains go back and forth. They would park the steamer right in front of me."

Klawitter's current project has taken him away from the military, but back to the same era of World War II. This time he is focusing on the Big Boy, a behemoth train engine that was fueled by coal.

On his drafting table, Klawitter looks to be about halfway done with the Big Boy, a train that was built to take coal cars up hills in Wyoming, he said.

"They always gauge the locomotive by how many driver wheels that it has on it. This has 16," he said.

The 79-year-old Klawitter said his love of technical drawings might have started when he was in school and had a drafting class. By the time he graduated Portage High School, the Korean War was beginning, so Klawitter signed up for the Air Force with four of his friends.

Following basic training, Klawitter was shipped to Japan where he was stationed at Yokota Air Base. It was there he was a mechanic and found his love of planes.

The base housed the monstrous B-29 bombers that were made famous during World War II. The planes were on their last battles, but were still effective.

The plane also brings back an image for Klawitter, who witnessed a disaster with one of the B-29s crashing on takeoff from the base with its entire payload.

"If it had been about 100 yards further it would have landed on my roof. I praise the Lord," he said.

The B-29 is one of the first drawings Klawitter did.

The climb

On the walls in a memorabilia room inside his home, Klawitter has photos and stories about his time in the war.

But it's one picture of him on his climb of Mount Fuji in 1952 that captures his spirit.

The picture shows Klawitter and a Japanese guide with the summit of the mountain still ahead of them.

"As we went up the mountain, they had charcoal fire for stations with branding irons," he said.

The irons were meant to make a mark on your walking stick, proving how far you made it up. By the time they reached about 11,000 feet, Klawitter, his guide, and a friend stopped at this small cabin.

"It was 3 o'clock in the afternoon and we were pooped out," he said.

They could see the top, but that had to wait another day. While resting, Klawitter woke his friend.

"I said, ‘Bob, wake up. Wake up. Look at this.' Here comes a cloud in one door and it went right out the other. That was something."

Around his memorabilia room, Klawitter has everything from a Japanese World War II rifle to shell casings.

But it wasn't until later in life, when he worked for Foulke Rubber in Sun Prairie where he was a superintendent, that he took to drafting.

"There was a drawing board upstairs. I didn't know who drew anything before because I never saw any pictures or (drawings)," he said.

Klawitter started looking at blueprints and thought he could do that some day.

And when he retired, the time was right to follow his military history passion. The drawings he does are detailed and time consuming, but it's a hobby that's relaxing to Klawitter, even if each stroke of the pencil is calculated for scale.

The finished products, which he has copies made, are for anyone to look upon and learn more about famous ships like the German Bismarck and the British ship the HMS Hood, the pride of the Royal Navy that was sunk by the Bismarck during the war.

"The Hood and Bismarck fought it out and they both lost," Klawitter said, with the Bismarck being sunk not too long after the battle with the Hood.

The drawings are also part of Klawitter learning about military history himself - researching each ship or plane and finding out the stories that surrounded them - like when the USS Wisconsin was damaged and a new hull came from the USS Kentucky, which was a ship that was never completed and was used for spare parts.

When drawing a ship, Klawitter said he starts on the bow and uses pictures of the ship to guide him.

"I have enough experience now I can tell when somebody had a picture of the ship that wasn't complete or they fudged it a little," he said.

And he makes the drawings large so anyone viewing one has to take a closer look at the detail - right down to welds and hoses.

"So you can't just walk up and say, ‘Oh, nice.' You have to look at the whole thing," he said.

While he's been on the USS General John Pope, Klawitter said he hasn't been aboard other ships he's drawn.

And he's never met another person with his passion for drawing World War II warships.

"It's the challenge I like," he said. "Oh, it's relaxing. I turn on 1550 on the radio and they play a lot of music I like."

 

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