Soldiers Grove, an American's kind of town

This is a town of about 700, rolling landscapes of unglaciated hills, situated along the "mighty" Kickapoo River and Baker Creek. It is also the site of a magnificent Veterans Memorial and a park honoring Medal of Honor recipient Beauford T. "Andy" Anderson, who nearly single-handedly took down 25 enemy soldiers on Kakazu Ridge, Okinawa, and saved his company's flank through good old fashioned GI ingenuity and the help of a fellow comrade, Hans Kaufmann, who fed him their improvised "ammo." Celebrating Andy's achievements one year caused one local poet's wife to weep and him to swallow hard. America at it's very best in Soldiers Grove.

March 8, 2006

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After leaving Prairie du Chien in Wisconsin's southwest corner, we took Hwy 131 N on the way home to Wausau. Hwy 131 is a neat road, extending from the Wisconsin River just upstream about a mile from Wauzeka on Hwy 60 northward to Tomah in Monroe County to the north. Hwy 131 tries to follow the Kickapoo River, which is hard because the river travels about 130 miles to go 60 "as the crow flies." It is called "the crookedest river." Its name is from the Algonquian language meaning, “he who goes here, then there.” The river is said to go in every compass direction. It is the Wisconsin River's longest tributary.

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Kickapoo River Museum, Gays Mill, Wisconsin, a few miles south of Soldiers Grove.

We actually got on Hwy 131 at Gays Mill, a neat little ville hosting the Kickapoo River Museum and a small dam. About seven miles north, we came into the town of Soldiers Grove, population somewhere around 650-700. Keep those numbers in mind as we press ahead.

Entering the town from this direction brings you into the old section, very close to the "mighty" Kickapoo and Baker Creek. We say old town because in 1978, the town fathers, sick of the incessant flooding, moved the business section about a mile away to higher ground. A dam was later added to protect what is now a wonderful park area.

We had not intended to stop, but we noted something that looked important in the park, so drove over to it. It was a memorial park, but not just any memorial park.

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This was an impressive memorial park. We stopped, got out, and walked through it. We walked from one end to the other, back and forth, and took these three photos.

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The memorial is dedicated to "all Soldiers Grove area veterans who served in the Armed Forces of the United States." It was the culmination of a great deal of work by and leadership from Roger Turnmire.

This editor, a retired USAF officer and Vietnam Veteran, was, in all candor, dazed by the size of this memorial in this small town tucked away in the hills of southwestern Wisconsin along the banks of the Kickapoo River, population about 700. You have to stand before it to get the full sense for it, but let's zoom in on some of the panels to better bring the point home.

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Here are seven panels with the names of area men who served in WWII. There are two more panels on the other side for WWII, totaling nine. There are two columns per panel, and about 30 names per column. That totals about 540 men, damn near the population of the town today.

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Four panels for the Korean War, fought just five years after the end of WWII, roughly another 240 or so. Vietnam had 3.5 panels, just over another 100.

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Chief Black Kawk, permission Chicago Historical Society, presented by the Abraham Lincoln Historical Digitization Project, Northern Illinois University, which also provides a good summary of the war and a superb suite of photographs.

The town was founded in 1832, when US Army General Henry Atkinson's military forces set up an encampment here in July 1832 after having fought the Sauk and Fox Indians led by Chief Black Hawk in what is known as the Black Hawk War of 1832. It was fought mostly in what is now Wisconsin, and turned out to be the last major Indian stand against the white man in Wisconsin. We'll not go into this war, but will recommend you read a summary of it. It's an ugly page in US Indian affairs.

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Basically, after being moved to Iowa, Chief Black Hawk led his people across the Mississippi River up through the Rock River, after which they traveled through much of southwestern Wisconsin. A major battle was fought as the Indians crossed the Wisconsin River, known as the Battle of Wisconsin Heights. They took a beating there, and then were defeated --- massacred --- at the point where the Bad Axe River flows into the Mississippi. We added a red dot to locate Soldiers Grove and an arrow to highlight it. Map presented by u-s-history.com, which presents another good textual summary of the war.

The village in those days was known as Pine Grove, in the then Michigan Territory. Its name was changed in 1867 to honor the soldiers who had camped here. Much of the local land was deeded to veterans of US wars, the initial founding fathers having largely served in the War of 1812. There are two panels on the Veterans Memorial dedicated to the men who served in the Civil War.

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We want to introduce you to Paul Zimmer. He is the author of numerous books of poetry, a son of Canton, Ohio, but he now lives in Soldiers Grove, and has a home in a town in France named Puivert. He had been the Louis D. Rubin, Jr. Writer in Residence at Hollins University. We believe he is now retired. He directed the university presses at Georgia, Iowa, and Pittsburgh, and was instrumental in the foundation of the Pitt Poetry Series. His latest book is Crossing to Sunlight: Selected Poems, a substantial retrospective of his most famous work.

The Gettysburg Review, produced by Gettysburg University, published an article written by Zimmer in its Spring 2001 edition, entitled, "Strangers in Friendly Places." We commend it to you. It is very descriptive of the town and the area. We wanted to highlight this passage:

"In Soldiers Grove a military ambience is still promoted by some of the citizens. It is not forgotten that much of the land was originally owned by veterans of the War of 1812, who were given property instead of money for their service. This rural area has always been a fruitful source for recruiting in wartime. Farm boys are credulous and serviceable. There is evidence of this in the two war memorials in the city park and in the tank parked in the yard of the American Legion Building across the road from Solar Town, its cannon pointing at the local motel.

"Several years ago members of the Legion promoted a celebration called Medal of Honor Day. Beauford T. Anderson, a Second World War Medal honoree hails from Soldiers Grove, and there is a Medal of Honor Memorial Wall in the park. A committee was formed, and all living Medal winners were invited to a celebration. Every convertible in the area was commandeered for the parade, and each recipient had a chariot to ride in. The high-school bands paraded, honking patriotic marches, followed by some Second World War GIs in one rank, bearing a flag and grinding along arthritically like the First World War vets in Memorial Day parades when I was a kid. The Korean War vets were in only slightly better trim, while the Gulf War participants marched perfectly in step, wearing snappy boots with yellow laces. At the end-at a distance from the others-strolling together casually in T-shirts and jeans, came the Vietnam vets. The black man we see jogging on the roads was amongst them, bearing an American flag. They were smiling and waving to people, fully aware of the symbol they were presenting. The crowd grew silent as they passed, not quite knowing how to react after the passage of so much honor and glory. Suzanne was weeping again, and I was swallowing hard."

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President Harry S. Truman presents the Medal of Honor to Technical Sgt. Beauford T. Anderson of the 96th Infantry Division on Memorial Day 1946. Presented by medalofhonor.com

Meet TSgt Beauford Theodore "Andy" Anderson, recipient of the Medal of Honor for service in WWII. Andy was a Wisconsin boy, born in Eagle River in 1922, joined the Army at Soldiers Grove in 1942, member of the 96th Infantry Division, the "Deadeye Division." Following his training, he fought through the landings at Leyte, Philippines in 1944, and received the Bronze Star, crossing fifty yards of terrain under enemy observation and intense fire to rescue two wounded men from the scene of action, removing them to an area of comparative safety where he administered first aid until the medics arrived. He had a tradition of caring for his buddies.

On April 13, 1945, Anderson's unit was attacked before dawn on Kakazu Ridge, Okinawa, by a Japanese force. He emptied his carbine on the advancing Japanese, then threw a dud enemy mortar round at them. He then had what is known as a "brain fart." Out of ammo for his carbine, he realized he could arm American mortar rounds by pulling the pins and banging their bases on rocks. He would then throw the now live rounds at the enemy, using a football throwing technique. A fellow comrade, Hans Kaufmann, handed the rounds to Anderson as fast as the two could handle them. The enemy withdrew.

Once daylight arrived, Anderson left to report to his company commander at the Observation Post, and received a gunshot wound through the flesh of his arm on the way, for which he received the Purple Heart. When it was all over, he was credited with "single-handedly removing a serious threat to the company's flank." Twenty five enemy died when they met Beauford T. Anderson.

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Following the war, he retired to California, served as the Seaside mayor for two terms, a city councilman for two terms, an Army reserve warrant officer and then second lieutenant, when war wounds forced him to retire. He died on November 7, 1996. His wife, Phyllis (shown here on their wedding day in 1946, presented by medalofhonor.com), died some weeks later, on December 23, 1996. They had been married for 50 years.

Anderson's accomplishments stand on their own. But he typified the American soldier of the time. Most were not career, many were drafted, and each came from different sectors of our society. They were told and trained to defeat and destroy the Japanese military machine. And that's what these citizen soldiers did, at great personal sacrifice.

Anderson's 96th Division was in the center of the attacking line during the early weeks of driving south on Okinawa. The 96th suffered the worst casualties of any division that fought on Okinawa. Five members of the 96th received the Medal of Honor for combat in the Pacific. Anderson was one of only two recipients to survive the war.

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A fellow 96th soldier who fought with Anderson, Bob Wolf, described him as the "most fearless man I ever met." As is almost universally typical of our heroes, Anderson's response to that remark was this:

"I'm not sure what fearless means. I don't know if it comes from having a job to do and doing it, or if maybe it's just not knowing any better. Maybe it's just your training kicking in and doing your job and not running away."

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Beauford T. Anderson, Memorial Park, Soldiers Grove, WI

Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin, erected a memorial park in his honor, and to honor the POW/MIA and killed-in-action veterans of the town. It was dedicated in 1993. The town also celebrates Beauford Anderson Days in August. The Army Reserve named a new dormitory at the Army Reserve Readiness Training Center at Ft. McCoy, Wisconsin, in his honor. Anderson had been a big advocate of training, as you perhaps noted in his earlier remark about being fearless.

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At the family's request, the Army moved his remains and those of his wife to Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors befitting a recipient of the Medal of Honor. The family had learned that Anderson was not afforded such honors when buried in California. He was modest and most of the community did not even know he had received this nation's highest recognition for valor.

Should you visit the Veterans Memorial in Soldiers Grove, you will see three stone benches, one with a back, two without.

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This is a photo of the one in center-front of the memorial. It is inscribed, "by Marie Herbst and Family." There is another one just like it on the walkway to the left of this bench.

Marie says she's just a farm girl from little Soldiers Grove, but of course she is much more than that. After graduating from high school, Marie Hanson joined the Women's Army Corps (WAC) in 1943 and became a surgical technician. She was trained at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, at about the same time new WAC uniforms entered a testing phase at that installation.

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OCS class, Third WAC Training Center, Fort Oglethorpe, GA, 20 May 1944. Presented by Olive Drab.

Following her training in Georgia, she was assigned to Vaughn General Hospital in Hines, Illinois, near Chicago. Then she met Army Captain Edward W. Herbst, a Michigan lad. "Eddie" had worked in the office of General MacArthur in Australia as a young enlisted man, worked his way to the Philippines with the general and worked his way up to the rank of captain. He came to Vaughn General Hospital with a gunshot wound to the ankle, jaundice and asthma. Marie met him and they married.

While driving by the Soldiers Grove Veterans Memorial one day, Marie noticed that people were standing there viewing the various panels of names. She thought how much better it would be for some to have a place to sit, so she decided to donate for installation of benches in memory and in honor of her husband. She insisted the benches be of the same stone as the main marker, and that was done.

In talking to Marie by phone, we had a little giggle. Your editor, himself a veteran, noted that while Eddie was in the hospital, Marie had him right where she wanted, in a weakened state. She laughed, and commented that the lad was down to 118 lbs. and was one wonderful guy.

This little exchange led your editor on a little side trip that proved to be a lot of fun.

We decided to research Vaughn Hospital. In so doing, we came across WWII First Sergeant Thaddeus E. "Ted" Tomazewski (later changed to Tomas), born in Chicago. "Ted" was captured by the Japanese in May 1942 on Corregidor. He and a small group of fellow POWs managed to liberate themselves on August 18, 1945, and he ended up in Vaughn General Hospital as a patient. Well, what happens but Phyllis Loraine Batts, a former aircraft riveter turned Army medical aide, worked at Vaughn. Ted and she met, and, well, the rest is history.

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The Tomas Family

It doesn't stop with Eddie and Ted. Delos Lowell, originally from Sharon in Walworth County, Wisconsin, joined the Army in 1944. He was wounded while fighting in the Ardennes Forest in France and paralyzed from the waist down. He was sent to De Witt General Hospital in Annaheim, California. Lowell became depressed, until a doctor there asked him if he were a ham operator from southern Wisconsin, to which Delos responded, "Yes." This helped Delos' morale. He was then shipped to Vaughn General Hospital, where he met and, you guessed it, married a nurse, Carol Louise Ernsting. Again, the rest is history!

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The Delos Lowell family

It would be fun to explore how many other weddings were hatched at good ol' Vaughn General!

One final note about Vaughn General. Kay Kayser's College of Musical Knowledge broadcast from the hospital for the Armed Forces Radio Service. Hmmmm, homesick, wounded GIs back in the US from war, wonderful female nurses and medical technicians, Kay Kyser and his orchestra broadcasting music requested by the patients! Isn't that marvelous?

We'd better stop here. This is too much fun. Thanks for the lead, Marie, and thanks for your service and sacrifice. Thanks to all.

Let's close out with another passage from Paul Zimmer:

"I walk the gravel road from our house near Soldiers Grove to my writing shack just around the bend and up the hill. The valley is full of morning fog, glowing like a ghostly lake; I watch the mist break and slip up the hillside, snagging through the trees. A grouse drums on the next ridge, and bobolinks swing around me, bubbling and pinging to draw my attention away from their nests in the grass. In the meadow at the bottom of the ridge, at the edge of the woods, three deer watch me as they chew their cuds. They wait until I am almost to the shack before bounding away into the trees, their white tails wagging through the underbrush."