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The Price of a Name by Kevin Hampton

“The last terrible battle has reduced this brigade to a mere skeleton; there being scarcely enough members to form half a regiment, the 2nd Wisconsin, which but a few weeks since, numbered over nine hundred men, can now muster but fifty-nine. This brigade has done some of the hardest and best fighting in the service. It has been justly termed the Iron Brigade of the West.”

-          Cincinnati Daily Commercial, September 22, 1862

Comprised of the 2nd, 6th, and 7th Wisconsin Infantry, as well as the 19th Indiana, General John Gibbon’s ‘Black Hat Brigade’ of Western men, earned the more famous moniker, “The Iron Brigade of the West”, over the course of three weeks during the early fall of 1862. From the brigade’s first true baptism of fire on the evening of August 28th at the Battle of Gainesville (known more familiarly today as Brawner’s Farm), the rearguard action on August 30th at the Second Battle of Bull Run, it’s determined assault on the evening of September 14th at the Battle of South Mountain, and culminating in the dawn battle through the bloody cornfield on the morning of September 17th at the Battle of Antietam, the brigade paid for the distinguished nom de guerre at a heavy price.

Pvt. Asahel Gage, Co. D

Pvt. Asahel Gage, Co. D

Having spent most of its service up to that point in camps outside of Washington and Fredericksburg, the brigade had truly only experienced any significant loss in its ranks due to illness and disease – a result of the doldrums of garrison duty. By the time the Cincinnati Daily Commercial Reporter penned the quote above, (considered to be the first publicized reference to the brigade’s historic nickname) the experiences of the men in the ranks had changed dramatically. No longer were the concerns of the men on if they’d ever get a chance to prove their worth in battle instead of simply performing guard duty. Similarly, no longer were the ranks of the brigade as full as they had been only three and a half weeks before.

Private Asahel Gage’s collection held in the archives of the Wisconsin Veterans Museum gives us a wonderful representation of the mindset and experiences of the rank-and-file of the “Iron Brigade” during the significant weeks of the brigade’s history.

Having enlisted days after the firing on Fort Sumter in April 1861, 25 year old farmer Asahel Gage joined with others from the Janesville area to form what would become Company D of the 2nd Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment. Uniformed in State militia gray frock coats, Gage and his comrades took part in the 1st Battle of Bull Run in July 1861. Writing to his brother on September 18th of that year, Gage mentions some of the monotony of garrison camp life that he and his comrades were starting to get used to, “We have bin making fortification There is nothing of importance a goin on”. As the year 1862 arrives, Gage begins to track his daily experiences in a small pocket diary. Most of his entries describe the weather, their drill routines, how many miles marched, and items of small importance that were happening around camp. To the modern reader, these may seem unimportant entries, however it is

Letter from Pvt. Gage to his brother.

Letter notifying Pvt. Gage’s family of his death.

 

important to realize that these entries can give us a unique window into the lives of an everyday soldier during the Civil War. Every day was not a battle. Every day was not a significant event in history. But to the young men in wool uniforms and with only a canvas tent between them and the elements every single day, the weather was a significant portion of their experience. Similarly, the amount of time that their day was occupied by the officer’s barking orders at them on the drill field was also perhaps the singularly most memorable part of their day-in and day-out experiences.

By the early fall of 1862, Asahel’s diary begins mentioning items such as how many miles marched, the intensity of skirmishes witnessed or heard while on the march, and the idea that they would soon be participants in a coming battle seems to loom on their horizon. Little did Gage know, however, the historical significance of the actions he and his comrades would have in the coming battles. Little did he and his comrades know the cost of what price they would have to pay to earn the name of the “Iron Brigade.”

Unfortunately for Gage, he would never know the famous moniker that he and his comrades sacrificed for. Killed instantly by a shell striking him in the head and breast during the Battle of South Mountain in the evening of September 14, 1862, Asahel became one of the many casualties that lent themselves to the heroic sacrifices in blood and lives that followed the Iron Brigade in every battle they engaged in from those days through the rest of the war. Before the men were ordered into battle that fateful Sunday evening, Asahel wrote one last diary entry that reflects on the innocence of a soldier that only history can tell its significance:

Sunday September 14, 1862:

Cool in the morning

Marched at 6 oclock

Marched through the city of

Frederick – a pleasant city

Heavy cannonading in the afternoon

Treasures in the Basement by Kevin Hampton

When Linda Olson found a box of military items in her parents’ basement in November 2011, little did she know that she had uncovered a piece of lost history. Linda’s father, Louis Olson, a native of Chetek, WI, served in the United States Army in the European Theater during World War II and during the occupation of Germany shortly after the war. While in service, he collected several souvenirs and brought them back to the States. As time passed, so too did the memory of those souvenirs, until Linda came across them last year. Amongst the various items from Nazi Germany was a very unique looking piece, an iron key mounted on a plaque that seemed to be from another era. The plaque, written in German, reads, “Key to Fort Cerfontaine of the Fortress Maubeuge” and is adorned with the wax seal of the Imperial German Empire.

Brought home from Europe after World War II by Louis Olson and later donated by his daughter Linda Olson, this plaque displays the World War I-era key to Fortress Cerfontaine, of the Fort Maubeuge in France.

Brought home from Europe after World War II by Louis Olson, and later donated by his daughter Linda Olson, this plaque displays the World War I-era key to Fortress Cerfontaine, of the Fort Maubeuge in France.

Just at a glance, it is clear that this key has a very unique story that is not tied to Nazi Germany, but rather comes from the opening days of World War I, along the Western Front.

As war broke out in Europe in August of 1914, the French fortress town of Maubeuge stood directly in the path of the German sweep across Belgium and into France known as the Schlieffen Plan. On August 25, 1914, the forts surrounding the town, including Fort Cerfontaine, were besieged by the German VII Corps, while the rest of the German forces advanced toward Paris. The fortress was bombarded, day and night, by the heaviest artillery that had ever been used in warfare up to that point. By the thirteenth day of the siege, September 7, with the walls of the Fort in heaps of rubble and only the gatehouse still discernable amongst the ruins, the French general commanding the garrison presented the German commander with a token of his surrender- the key to that gatehouse.

The stubbornness of the defense of Fort Cerfontaine (and the other forts around the fortress city of Maubeuge) delayed the German sweep across France long enough to allow the British and French allied armies to exploit a gap in the German lines at the First Battle of the Aisne, forcing the Germans to retreat and abandon their goal of capturing the French capital. Paris was saved by that gap in the German lines, the very same gap that the German VII Corps would have occupied but could not due to its siege of Fort Cerfontaine of the Fortress Maubeuge.

It is not clear how Louis Olson came across this key over thirty years after the fall of the fort, but thanks to Linda’s discovery and donation, the significance of this artifact is a story that will be preserved for years to come.  Learn more about Wisconsin in World War I at http://bit.ly/1uAc2O8.

“Walking Point with London” By Kylee Sekosy

Just as servicemen and women often befriend one another, war dogs and their handlers often share a deep bond from their experiences in combat. James Hooker, a Wisconsin veteran of the United States Marine Corps, spent three full tours of service in Vietnam. A young man “tired of school” and “brainwashed by John Wayne movies,” Hooker enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1966, hoping to join in the war. While at Camp Lejeune completing additional training, Hooker volunteered for training as a scout dog handler at Fort Benning, Georgia. After sixteen weeks of training, ten handlers and their dogs, including Hooker and his scout, London, volunteered to go to Vietnam.

London, a German shepherd, worked with Hooker as the “point-man.” In a tactical formation, the “point man” holds the most vulnerable position. Hooker would walk with London and, using silent signals, the dog alerted his handler to enemy movement, booby traps, mines, base camps, and underground tunnel complexes and supplies.

In an oral history interview Hooker described an instance in which London came through in the face of doubt and serious danger. Click the image below to hear Hooker’s telling of the intense experience:

 

My dog alerting on an enemy bunker complex about a thousand yards away from the bunker complex, gave us plenty of warning, and that was only because the wind was blowing just right, and the dog picked up the scent of all the enemy up on the ridge line and…the officer that was with us kept saying that that dog isn’t good, that dog isn’t good, and when we got up near the ridge and he found out that the whole ridge line was covered with Vietcong, North Vietnamese bunkers, he wanted to hug my dog. I wouldn’t let him do it. The only one that got to hug my dog was me.

(James Hooker, WVM Oral History Interview, 2003)

Instances like this are why scout dogs and their handlers are credited with saving 10,000 lives during the Vietnam War. However, when US troops left Vietnam in 1975, the heroic war dogs stayed behind. Deemed “equipment” the scout, tracking, and guard dogs were left in the possession of the South Vietnamese Army. 4,000 dogs served in Vietnam and only 200 returned home to the United States. Many of those left behind were euthanized.

In order to prevent such an event from happening again, veterans have advocated for the legal adoption of war dogs. Dr. William Putney, a World War II Marine veteran, war dog platoon leader and veterinarian, along with Congressman Roscoe Bartlett of Maryland successfully passed legislature dubbed “Robby’s Law” in 2000, allowing war dogs like London to be adopted after service.

When asked what he did for good luck while in Vietnam, Hooker replied, “Actually, the only thing I did was take my dog by his jowls and just scratch under his ears. That was my good luck thing.”

Written by Kylee Sekosky, Oral History Intern Summer 2014.  Learn more about the WVM Oral History program at http://bit.ly/1rxiCb7

World War WHERE? by Russ Horton

Letter on Fort Clayton Letterhead.  Louis Wayne Tyler Collection, WVM Mss 934

Letter home from Fort Clayton. Louis Wayne Tyler Collection, WVM Mss 934

When Janesville native Louis Wayne Tyler was drafted into the U.S. Army during World War II, he probably imagined eventually being deployed to the European or Pacific Theaters. He might have considered the possibility of going to North Africa or the China-Burma-India Theater. He may have even heard stories of other Wisconsin men and women serving in places like the Aleutian Islands and the Persian Gulf. But in all likelihood, he never would have guessed his two major duty stations: Panama and Brazil.

Newspaper clipping describing life in Panama.  Louis Wayne Tyler Collection, WVM Mss 934

Newspaper clipping describing life in Panama. Louis Wayne Tyler Collection, WVM Mss 934

Tyler, who went by his middle name Wayne, had a master’s degree in English from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and was teaching at the University of Maryland when he entered the Army. His collection at the Wisconsin Veterans Museum includes dozens of highly articulate letters written to his mother that contain the impressions of a young Wisconsin man on the food, scenery, and local culture in these two unusual World War II outposts. The United States placed great importance on protecting the Panama Canal during World War II, sending thousands of troops to the Central American country to defend it. Tyler, who trained at Camp Wolters, Texas, arrived in country in late January 1942 and served there for over three years, first at Fort Clayton near the city of Balboa with Headquarters Company, 150th Infantry Regiment and later at Fort Kobbe near the canal with the 83rd Coastal Artillery.

His letters from Panama described the exotic local flora—“The poinsettias are in bloom and are very beautiful. There are gladioli in bloom and fine red lilies. There is a kind of wild gardenia, very small and white, but without any scent.”—and fauna—“Iguanas are the most repulsive looking animals imaginable, all scales, with a long powerful tail. Imagine a medieval dragon reduced to from two to three feet in length and you have an iguana.” Tyler also quickly connected with J.C. Ward, a former colleague at Maryland who was teaching at the local university in Balboa, and Ward helped explain local culture and customs that Tyler related in the letters to his mother. Tyler left Panama to attend courses at the Adjutant General’s School at Camp Lee, Virginia in the summer of 1945. Soon after, he received an assignment to the Joint Brazil United States Military Commission in Rio de Janeiro in August and he remained there through December. The Commission sought to strengthen the bonds between the two nations and improve the defense capabilities of Brazil. Living in a small apartment two blocks from Copacabana beach, Tyler wrote to his mother describing the fantastic food (steaks, avocados, and strawberries & cream), the rich culture, and the incredible architecture and style of the city.

Christmas card from Panama.  Louis Wayne Tyler Collection, WVM Mss 934

Christmas card from Panama. Louis Wayne Tyler Collection, WVM Mss 934

He also observed a national election and commented on methods of campaigning: “Sometime during the night the parties paint signs everywhere and change each other’s signs. If someone writes VOTE DUTRA on a wall, someone else adds NAO in front of it.” Days later, he wrote his mother that he received orders to remain in his apartment for several days. He learned that it was due to a military coup that removed President Getulio Vargas from power and paved the way for the election of Eurico Gaspar Dutra. Tyler returned to the United States at the end of 1945 and was honorably discharged on March 7, 1946. He used the GI Bill to receive his doctorate in English from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and after a brief stint at the University of Akron he joined the faculty at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. He taught English there for twenty years and upon his retirement was granted emeritus status. He passed away on September 9, 1995. The story of his service in a war that was truly global lives on at the Wisconsin Veterans Museum.

Interested in more of these stories?  “World War WHERE?” is featured in the Fall 2014 edition of The Bugle, the quarterly newsletter from the Wisconsin Veterans Museum and an exclusive benefit of WVM membership. Learn more at http://bit.ly/1sS8d9U.

A War By Invention by Kevin Hampton

Commonly referred to at the time as the “War to End All Wars,” World War I was in fact not a “last” but a “first.” Innovations in technology, tactics, and equipment ushered in a new era of warfare that defined how wars were fought for the next one hundred years.

While most people associate World War I with the start of trench warfare, it was by no means a new strategy or idea. Employed at great lengths during the American Civil War, trench warfare was a siege tactic that had been around for centuries. So what then was “new” about World War I and how did it shape warfare in the 20th Century?

Trench photo

An American soldier poses with a German machine gun. (WVM Mss 15)

In terms of military tools and equipment, World War I saw the first use of aircraft carriers, flamethrowers, chemical weapons, tanks, and airplanes. Battlefield medicine also evolved with the introduction of guide dogs, x-ray machines to treat battlefield casualties, and established blood banks. Though there are many more “firsts” that were introduced during World War I, with the centennial commemorations of the outbreak of the war in July of this year, now is a great time to reflect on some of the more recognizable innovations.


Machine Guns

Employed for the first time en masse, machine guns ruled the battlefield and in many ways were one of the primary causes of the stalemate of trench warfare. By the end of 1914, with each side realizing the devastating combination of massed infantry assaults against fortified machine gun emplacements, the Allied and Central Powers both dug in for a long war. Despite knowing the lethality of this new battlefield technology, the European powers still stuck to their strategies of massed infantry assaults, leading to some of the most costly battles in military history.

Airplanes

In 1903, the Wright brothers made the first controlled, manned flight, staying aloft for 59 seconds. Ten years later, this new technology was being adapted for warfare. Daring pilots were almost more at risk learning to fly than they were in the dogfights in the skies of Europe. In the case of the famed Sopwith Camel, 413 pilots are documented as having been killed in action while 385 died in training accidents. As the war progressed, aerial dogfights took the war from a stalemate on the ground, to a highly maneuverable battle above the trenches.

Mask

Masks like this one protected WWI tank drivers from metal shards and fragments while they peered through narrow, unprotected view slits in their tanks. (K1971.505)

Tanks

Developed to break the stalemate of trench warfare, the “tank” was an incredibly influential innovation of World War I. Initially these slow, metal behemoths were mobile pillboxes that could advance and provide direct heavy fire support for an infantry assault. By the end of the war, the Allies had produced over six thousand tanks, while Germany had produced only about twenty. The lessons learned about the effectiveness of mobile warfare with this new piece of equipment were not lost on the Germans who would use it to introduce a new style of warfare twenty years later.


Ironically, these innovations developed to break the stalemate, and end “The War to End All Wars” were, in fact, the catalysts for a whole new modern era of warfare.

Many World War I battlefield innovations have defined new tactics that are still used today. Machine guns remain a staple on battlefields. Tanks have become the workhorse of ground troops. Airplanes, manned and unmanned, are now the primary strike force of any military operation.

So as we observe the 100th anniversary of World War I, let’s remember the modern innovations brought about by the Great War, as well as the brave Wisconsin men and women who played witness to an era of battlefield inventions.  Learn more about Wisconsin in World War I at http://bit.ly/1qVppuT

The Polar Bear Expedition by Andrea Hoffman

Gauntlets and Cap

Courduroy-lined fur gauntlets and cap brought back from Russia by Captain Ramsay.

While France and Germany served as the battleground for the vast majority of Wisconsin troops during World War I, some soldiers–including Captain Ralph E. Ramsay of Beloit, Wisconsin–found themselves stationed far away from the Western Front.   During the summer of 1918, President Woodrow Wilson acquiesced under pressure from Great Britain and France to assist them in North Russia. Wilson agreed to send a limited amount of troops to the region to help guard stockpiled war supplies from the Bolsheviks. The 339th Infantry Regiment, under which Captain Ramsay served in Co. F, was rerouted to Archangelsk (Archangel) in northern Russia that August.

Helmet

Bullet-pierced helmet worn by Ramsay when he was shot during battle in Vistafka, Russia.

Under British command, the approximately 5,000-strong operation took on many names, including the Northern Russian Expedition, the American North Russia Expeditionary Force (ANREF) and the Polar Bear Expedition. The gear they returned with reflects the harsh environment they were subjected to, such as the muskrat fur gauntlets and cap brought home by Ramsay. The realities that met them in Archangelsk, including supplies that had already been absconded with by Bolshevik forces, difficulty in maintaining an offensive posture over great distances and a quickly advancing winter forced the Allies to instead focus on merely maintaining their position.

Polar Bear Insignia

Already by June 3, 1919 a request was submitted to make a white polar bear on a blue field the official insignia for the ANREF.

The Bolshevik army took advantage of their precarious situation, going on the offensive over the winter of 1918. The Americans suffered over 200 casualties during the resulting Allied retreat. Ramsay was one of those wounded in March of 1919. He later recounted to the Wisconsin State Journal in 1940:

“According to the records of the War Department I was wounded on March 9, 1919 at Vistafka, Russia. It is true that none of the holes in my uniform did any personal damage, but the hole through my steel helmet was matched with a corresponding scalp wound which fortunately was of no consequence and I was not disabled.”

Even though the Allied Armistice was signed in November, ANREF soldiers remained more or less stranded in Russia. Despite increasing protests both there and at home, soldiers were forced to stay until June of 1919. Still, regardless of the perceived failure of the mission, those men who survived their winter in Archangelsk proudly declared themselves “Polar Bears”. The polar bear was shortly thereafter adopted as the official insignia for the ANREF, and was worn by Ramsay on his coat for the remainder of his service.  See more of the Ralph E. Ramsay collection at http://bit.ly/1tXsmsn

The Archivist Chronicles: A Union Addition by Andrew Baraniak

Authentic Vicksburg edition

Front and back of an original July 4, 1863 edition of The Daily Citizen held in the WVM collections.  (WVM Mss 1529)

The use of wallpaper as a substitute for newsprint was a common occurrence for some printers in Louisiana and Mississippi during the Civil War. Most paper mills were in the North, and printers in those regions looked to wallpaper as an alternative to dwindling paper supplies as the war dragged on. The most famous of these wallpaper editions to come from the war was The Daily Citizen of Vicksburg, Mississippi. The editor of the paper, J. M. Swords, began printing on wallpaper after his newsprint supplies ran out as a result of the siege that began on May 18, 1863. When Confederate forces surrendered on July 4, Union soldiers occupying the town found the type still set from the last edition ran two days earlier. An unknown soldier with typesetting skills added the following note to the end of the edition.

NOTE   

July 4, 1863

Two days bring about great changes, The banner of the Union floats over Vicksburg. Gen. Grant has “caught the rabbit:” he has dined in Vicksburg, and he did bring his dinner with him. The “Citizen” lives to see it. For the last time it appears on “Wall-paper.” No more will it eulogize the luxury of mule-meat and fricassed kitten — urge Southern warriors to such diet never-more. This is the last wall-paper edition, and is, excepting this note, from the types as we found them. It will be valuable hereafter as a curiosity.  

One of several reproductions that are part of the holdings of the WVM. (WVM Mss 1528)

Front and back of one of several reproductions that are part of the holdings of the WVM. (WVM Mss 1528)

After adding the note, the press was started and issues were run. An unknown number were printed before someone noticed the misspelling of CTIIZEN in the title. The press was stopped and the correction was made, but other mistakes were allowed to stand. The WVM Research Center has one copy of the original edition printed by Union soldiers. It was identified as an original from a guideline put out by the Library of Congress, which evaluates misprints, misspellings, and the pattern of the wallpaper to determine authenticity. A handwritten note on the paper indicates it likely came from the Veterans Home at King, and was likely picked up by a Wisconsin soldier who was present during the siege.

The statement that they “…be valuable hereafter as a curiosity” became reality, as numerous veterans after the war sought copies as souvenirs. They became so popular that numerous reproductions were done, with early ones likely handed out at G.A.R. reunions and other gatherings. The WVM Research Center has several copies of these reproductions in its holdings, with most of them likely added to the collection when the museum was the G.A.R. Memorial Hall. Despite being reproductions, these copies do show how popular the Vicksburg wallpaper newspaper edition had become after the war.  Search the WVM Research Center collections at http://bit.ly/1rD3iqX.

Above and Beyond the Call of Duty by Emily Irwin

Endl Class Picture

Gerald Endl’s 8th grade graduation class from Saint Joseph Catholic School. Endl is in the back row, second from the left.

On July 11, 1944, Gerald L. Endl made the ultimate sacrifice while in service to his country. “For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty,” Endl was awarded the Medal of Honor, America’s highest military honor. Today, 70 years later, we recognize Staff Sergeant Endl and his sacrifice.

Born and raised in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, Endl moved to Janesville before joining the Army in 1941.  He was first sent to Camp Livingston in Louisiana for basic training before being deployed to the Pacific Theater with the 32nd Infantry Division in 1942.

Gerald Endl

Gerald Endl

Stationed near Anamo, New Guinea, Endl was at the front of his platoon on July 11, 1944 when they encountered enemy troops. With his platoon leader and eleven other men in his unit wounded, Endl assumed command and attempted to advance to an open clearing. Pinned down by enemy gunfire, Endl realized that seven men in his unit would be trapped if the platoon was pushed back. The following quotation is taken from Endl’s official Medal of Honor citation:

“In the face of extremely heavy fire he went forward alone and for a period of approximately 10 minutes engaged the enemy in a heroic close-range fight, holding them off while his men crawled forward under cover to evacuate the wounded and to withdraw. Courageously refusing to abandon 4 more wounded men who were lying along the trail, 1 by 1 he brought them back to safety. As he was carrying the last man in his arms he was struck by a heavy burst of automatic fire and was killed.”

On March 13, 1945, Staff Sergeant Endl was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. He was 28 at the time of his death and is buried at Saint Joseph Catholic Cemetery in Fort Atkinson. Fellow soldier Captain S.M. Darnelly of the 32nd Division wrote:

“Gerald was an outstanding leader of men. I have never met a finer soldier. His devotion to duty and to his men earned the greatest admiration of all. We, his comrades, could have no better  example of the highest traditions of American soldiering. Many wounded comrades owe their lives to [his] unselfish courage…”

Saint Joseph

4th and 5th grade students from Saint Joseph Catholic School.

70 years later, Gerald Endl’s story has been brought to a new generation. On April 15, 2014, a group of 4th and 5th grade students from Fort Atkinson’s Saint Joseph Catholic School, the same school Endl attended, visited the Wisconsin Veterans Museum and viewed Endl’s Medal of Honor on exhibit.

Endl’s widow, Anna Marie, preserved many of her husband’s photographs and documents relating to his service and his death. These papers, now in the Wisconsin Veterans Museum Archives, tell the story of Staff Sergeant Endl’s courage and sacrifice above and beyond the call of duty.  Learn more about Wisconsin Medal of Honor recipients at http://bit.ly/TYAigr.

Theresa M. Dischler: A WAAC’s Story

Even before the attack on Pearl Harbor, plans were underway to form a military-affiliated organization for women.  Its goal was to train women for noncombatant military positions, thereby freeing men for combat.  Final approval passed Congress in May 1942 and established the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) “for the purpose of further making available to the national defense the knowledge, skill, and special training of the women of this Nation.”

Theresa M. Dischler, WAAC, WWII

Theresa M. Dischler

Theresa M. Dischler, a native of Plain, Wisconsin, joined the WAAC in September 1942 and was the first woman from Plain to enlist in the organization.  She arrived at Fort Des Moines, Iowa in October for basic training.  Though never expected to see combat, WAACs nonetheless underwent a condensed version of military training.  In her oral history, Dischler said:

“Our basic training consisted mostly in marching and drills and that type of thing.  There were no guns involved but we did have gas mask training.  KP, naturally, and I think everything else that the boys had.”

Dischler advanced quickly in the new organization and achieved the rank of Sergeant in March 1943.  As part of the 24th Company, 3rd Regiment, Dischler (known as “Sergeant Squeaky” to her fellow WAACs) served in Iowa, Florida, and Washington, D.C., working as a photography specialist as well as a Supply Sergeant.  In her free time, Dischler played her accordion and joined a WAAC baseball team.

While Dischler was successful in her position, she opted not to reenlist when the WAAC lost its auxiliary status and was placed fully under the Army’s jurisdiction in July 1943 as the Women’s Army Corps (WAC).  Instead, she preferred to follow the same adventuresome spirit that led her to join the WAAC in the first place and try new things, although she continued to work toward the war effort as a civilian, transporting army vehicles across the country.

Dischler can be seen here in a group photograph of her WAAC baseball team taken at Bolling Field in Washington D.C.

Theresa M. Dischler, WAAC baseball, WWII, Bolling Field, Washington, D.C.

Theresa Dischler and her WAAC baseball team at Bolling Field in Washington, D.C.

Dischler, identified as “Squeaky,” is in the back row, second from the left.

Women’s baseball grew in popularity during WWII due to the formation of the All American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL).  Founded in 1943 by chewing gum tycoon Philip K. Wrigley, the AAGPBL was created to ensure baseball’s continued popularity while male baseball players were in the military.  It was also used as to encourage WAAC enlistment.  On July 1, 1943, a joint WAAC/AAGPBL rally was held at Wrigley Field to boost WAAC recruitment.  The first game was a WAAC matchup between Camp Grant and Fort Sheridan, followed by an AAGPBL game between the South Bend Blue Sox/Rockford Peaches and the Kenosha Comets/Racine Belles.  A program including “calisthenics, precision drills, a dress parade led by the 28 piece Fort Sheridan band, and recruiting talks…” was held between the two games.  The rally, attended by 7000 fans, included the first night game ever played at Wrigley Field.

Learn more about Wisconsin in World War II by visiting the Wisconsin Veterans Museum Research Center or read more online at  http://bit.ly/1nZshiV

 

 

D-Day + 70: Honoring Wisconsin’s Heroes by Kevin Hampton

“Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force!  You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you.”

-   General Dwight D. Eisenhower, in a letter to the Allied forces prior to D-Day

General Eisenhower addresses paratroopers prior to boarding their transports for the Normandy invasion. Library of Congress.

General Eisenhower addresses paratroopers prior to boarding their transports for the Normandy invasion. Library of Congress.

Seventy years ago today, the pivotal campaign of WWII took place along the coast of Normandy, France.

Known almost universally as “D-Day,” Operation Overlord was the largest seaborne invasion in history. Using the oral history collection from our archives, we are able to preserve the stories and accounts of Wisconsin’s heroes that took part in that historic event. The story of Milwaukee native Martin Gutekunst, gives insight into the mindset of those young heroes so many years ago.

Gutekunst, who was only 27 at the time, served as a radioman with the 2nd Beach Battalion on Utah Beach. In preparation for the invasion, he remembered receiving the now famous letter from General Eisenhower the night before the invasion. “They had to cancel the first invasion date and, well, there, of course, just before boarding the ship, we were in the staging area and we got the famous message from Eisenhower. And that seemed to calm everybody. Very good morale. So then we boarded the LST for our journey to France…”

Troops approaching the beaches in landing craft. National Archives.

Troops approaching the beaches in landing craft. National Archives.

By the next morning, hundreds of thousands of allied sailors and soldiers were in position, waiting off the coast of Normandy. Despite the massive preparation for the invasion and the extensive training the units received, coordinating the landing of thousands of men in each wave on the beaches was a complicated task and undoubtedly not everything played out the way it was planned. In the landing craft of the 2nd Beach Battalion, Gutekunst remembered the approach to the beach.

Troops approaching the beaches in landing craft. National Archives.“We circled around and then peeled off at the right time. There was a little conference between the men on the boat and the officers…. And we were discussing about going in, because everything seemed wrong according to the pictures we had looked at the day before. And history has proven that was right. We were at the wrong spot.”

Once they made it to the beaches, the Beach Battalions were tasked with clearing the German obstacles. The troops had landed at low tide so that the obstacles were clearly visible, however that meant the troops had farther to go up the beach exposing themselves to additional enemy fire.  “We had a long walk from where we got off the LCVP until we got to the area where we started to having to blow up the obstacles. You know, they were wicked looking things. I remember so well how many there were and how much we cleared away when we got through.”

Helmet worn by Martin Gutekunst on June 6, 1944 on Utah Beach. Martin Gutekunst Collection, Wisconsin Veterans Museum.

One of the things that Gutekunst remembered the most was the noise of battle. “On D-Day, there was tremendous noise…. It was so noisy that the radio wouldn’t work. Couldn’t use the radio. So the officer told me to help string wire from one obstacle to another for the explosions.”

When asked what he was feeling or thinking while being under fire for the first time, he said, “To be honest with you, I never knew what to expect, so I just took everything as just part of my job. And I never gave it much thought as to what was going on. Besides, I was sort of numb by the whole thing.”

After the beachheads were secure, Gutekunst’s battalion remained on the beaches, clearing obstacles for a month before being sent back to England and the United States for more training. In 1945, Martin shipped off to the Pacific to take part in the landings at Okinawa and to prepare for the proposed invasion of Japan.

As we reflect on the sacrifices of those heroes 70 years ago today, and all WWII veterans, it is important to remember the duty we have to preserve these stories and share them for generations to come. To learn more about Wisconsin’s veterans and their stories, search our collections online at http://bit.ly/1lbdgNq, or visit our Research Center located on the 3rd floor of 30 W. Mifflin Street in Madison.

The Wisconsin Veterans Museum is an educational activity of the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs.

Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs