Hesperia resident Glen Speer learned hard work and service at a young age. Speer, 84, was born on the family farm on June 9, 1924. At least he always figured he was born at home, just like his younger brother who was born in the family farmhouse in Wayne County, Iowa when the older Speer was 6.


The Speer family raised cattle, hogs and sheep and grew corn and other crops.


"We farmed with big Belgian horses. When I was 16 years old my dad got me a team of horses and a wagon. We never got a tractor until 1948."


As a youngster, he shucked corn at 5 cents a bushel.


"I could average 80 bushels a day. I made $4 a day when most boys earned a dollar a day."


Speer's boyhood of rows of golden corn on acres of fertile farmland came to an end in 1943 when Uncle Sam sent him a letter.


"I was one of the first 18-year-olds drafted into the Army [during World War II]," he said.


Speer was sent to Camp Edwards, a military base on Cape Cod in Massachusetts.


During training other young soldiers had difficulty backing in immensely heavy 90mm guns loaded on high-speed Caterpillar tractors. But Speer's time guiding a farm wagon paid off.


"Sir, I can back that in there for you," he said.


After living up to his word, his commanding officer offered him a special position manning his own 90mm rig.


But Speer didn't immediately jump at the offer.


"I said, 'I'm scared of that gun.' That thing recoiled 29 inches."


However, on Dec. 23, 1943, Speer was on the famed Queen Mary ship for more military training in England.


"Someone was selling ice cream on a stick, but I was too seasick to eat."


But the training and pre-battle life in England was good.


"They fed us lots of good food. We all said they were fattening us up for the kill."


Unfortunately, that wasn't far from the truth. The U.S. soldiers were informed that they would be invading Normandy, France on June 6, 1944 in an effort to defeat Hitler's German forces. The soldiers' training was reinforced with a scale-model made of sand of Omaha Beach.


"And General Eisenhower walked in and talked to use."


But when the general, who later would become president of the United States, explained that the 90mm guns would be directly supporting the infantry, "Our hearts just sank."


More than a week later, Speer boarded a Land Ship Tank (LST) and crossed the English Channel.


"We went all through the night."


The LST grounded too far out, so Speer and his nine-ton 90mm tractor was loaded on to an RHF-3 "Rhino ferry," when went back and forth in the water until it was time to go to shore.


"Water came in on me, but I was alright."


Immediately, he realized the horrors of war. Because the infantry soldiers carried such heavy guns and equipment on their backs, many flipped over face down in the ocean.


"Lots of boys drowned before they got to shore."


Once on shore, Speer had to get into position.


"We couldn't go across the beach without running over people. It was bad, bad, bad."


Eventually he manuvered his tractor up a narrow ravine to bluffs above the beach.


After securing the area, Speer and the Allied soldiers made their way through France.


"We set up in Paris at a race track. We shot airplanes there."


While the summer of 1944 had its share of horrors the worse was still to come for Speer. In mid-December, the Germans launched the Ardennes Offensive. It was simply known as the Battle of the Bulge. Speer and his tractor, which he was calling "Hitler's Crawlin' Coffin," were sent to support U.S. troops.


"A lot of boys froze their feet," he said.


But Speers and some other soldiers did what they could to save their feet from frostbite and gangrene by urinating on them, which helped keep them clean. He also was suitably armed.


"I carried a Tommy Gun," he said. "I felt secure with my Tommy Gun and tractor."


In May of 1945, World War II was over, but some bands of German soldiers, known as "wolf packs," were creeping through the countryside unaware that their side had lost. Speers and his fellow soldiers were assigned to capture and interrogate them. Afterward, he helped guard and supply a military prison.


Next, Speer boarded a "40 and 8" French boxcar, which were stubby train boxcars that could hold either 40 men or eight horses. At Marseilles, France, he boarded a ship and headed for New York City.


"It took us 12 days to come home."


As the shipped neared America, Speers say the sight of sights: the Statue of Liberty.


"Now you've got a ship loaded with boys who have been through hell. I'll be there wasn't even five boys who didn't have their handkerchiefs out."


But the next memory still brings tears to his eyes.


"I wanted a chocolate sundae worse than anything," he recalled.


So when he got to the PX (Post eXchange), he quickly made his way to the ice cream freezer. But before he could get there he ran into a hot dog stand.


"I sat down and ate a hot dog and a chocolate sundae," he said with tears welling in his eyes.


When Speer got back to Iowa, he was hired to sale equipment for International Harvester. Then one of his Army buddies, who he still keeps in touch with today, visited him from California.


"He had a new 1950 Buick Special. And California was the garden spot of the world, you know."


So Speer moved to Orange County, where he worked at a Lincoln dealership.


In the 1980s he quit his job and bought Rick's Pit Stop auto parts store in Apple Valley, not far from where he would pitch a tent next to a Joshua tree in Hesperia. He and his wife Betty Jo the couple had five children bought a home in Hesperia. But a customer was so impressed with Speer's business that he bought the store.


"People thought I'd retired. But I didn't retire. I just didn't find work."


On March 1, 2001, Speer's beloved wife died. Not soon after, Speer answered an advertisement for a museum docent position with the Hesperia Recreation and Park District. He began serving the district at its Harrison Building, which houses local historical artifacts. A few years later, the International Banana Museum moved from Altadena into a portion of the building.


"Our whole purpose is to make people smile and not take life seriously."


But there's a secret behind the smiles of a man who endured two of the country's most famous battles, a chronic illness (spinal cerebelus degeneration) and other of life's challenges.


"I think if you're happy with yourself and love other people, that's the basics for life," Speers said.


He also believes that a pivotal step he took when he was 16 his decision to accept Jesus Christ as his lord and saviour has helped him weather life's storms.


"I think that had a lot to do with getting me through the [military] service," he said. "If I die, I'm not going to die in this muddy ditch,' I'd say. I'd stand up in a field and say, 'Lord, I don't want to die.' I was never hurt."