Wisconsin Veterans Museum Logo

A Fateful Day

By Andrea Hoffman, Collections Manager

Rhoda Ann Ziesler

Rhoda Ann Ziesler

The Wisconsin Veterans Museum is rich with stories of World War II veterans who eagerly and patriotically answered the call to service following the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. Fewer are the accounts of Wisconsin service members who had already enlisted prior to the decisive moment in history. Because of the scarcity of such collections, the museum is privileged to have recently received the highly comprehensive collection of Rhoda Ann Ziesler, a Manitowoc, Wisconsin native who served in the Army Nurse Corps beginning in 1940. Not only was Captain Ziesler one of the first–if not the very first–nurses from Wisconsin called to active duty, chance had stationed her on the island of Oahu on that fateful day, making her a firsthand witness to the harrowing event and its aftermath.

Ziesler had begun her nursing career at Manitowoc’s Holy Family Hospital. When she later signed up to assist the Red Cross, she was asked to indicate whether or not she’d between willing to serve her country, a question she answered in the affirmative. Ziesler then entered the Army Nurse Corps on December 16, 1940, almost one year to the day before the Pearl Harbor attack. During November of 1941 she was transferred from her training grounds at Camp Custer, Michigan to the 215th General Hospital located at Schofield Barracks in central Oahu, appointed head nurse of a 112 bed ward. During this time she served as the assistant to the chief nurse for the 600 bed hospital as well as acting supervisor of six other nurses.

While Schofield Barracks, a long-established mobile defense post for Pearl Harbor, was not a direct target that December morning, the adjacent Wheeler Army Airfield was a primary point of attack preceding the assault on the harbored fleet. Ziesler later recounted her experience while applying for the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, recalling, “On the morning of the attack, I and several other nurses were on duty and stepped outdoors to see what was happening. The Japanese planes were flying so low. We could see the rising sun [on the planes].”

Artifacts from the Rhoda Ann Ziesler Collection

Artifacts from the Rhoda Ann Ziesler Collection

Ziesler’s collection represents both ends of the spectrum of her service experience, from souvenirs reflecting a carefree tourist to those that document the realities of day- to- day existence while at war. Souvenirs given to the museum include a carved wooden blossom-shaped perfume holder still scented by its original ginger blossom contents, a full length native grass “hula” skirt, several Hawaiian-themed linens and a cloth sugar sack from the nearby Honolulu Plantation Company. Donated objects also include her uniform, watch and wallet, as well a flashlight retaining its original blue cellophane used during the strictly-enforced nighty blackouts on the island. She also returned with the hunting knife her father gave her before leaving, having alternatively hidden it in her girdle or beneath her pillow for her full tenure stating “they’re not taking me alive” in the event of an invasion.

 

Rhoda Ann Ziesler, December 9, 1941

Rhoda Ann Ziesler, December 9, 1941

Ziesler remained at Schofield Barracks through the rest of the war, her care given to numerous ailing service members likewise documented in other pieces she brought home, including a Japanese teacup recovered from the ruins of Okinawa given to her by a grateful Marine. The nurse also returned with another souvenir of sorts—a friendship with fellow Wisconsinite soldier Raymond Weller—that turned into a romantic relationship after their return home. In 1948 they were married and went on to have four children, one of whom, Dennis Weller, donated this collection.

Ziesler’s experience is a reminder of the important role ordinary people played in extraordinary times. The completeness of her collection—which further consists of her diary, various ephemera, letters, scrapbooks, and even a recording of a radio interview she did while still stationed in Hawaii—gives the Wisconsin Veterans Museum a unique and significant means to continue to share her story for years to come.

In Recognition of Aviation Month – The Story of Robert Balliet

By Jeff Javid, Wisconsin Veterans Museum Archives Assistant

Robert Balliet of Appleton, Wisconsin served with the 776th Squadron, 464th Bomb Group, Fifteenth Air Force, United States Army Air Force in the European theatre during World War II. An employee of Wisconsin Bell Telephone Company, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps in December 1942. Balliet received basic training in Florida, was sent to radio school in Illinois, and finished his training at gunnery school at Tyndall Field (Florida) before teaching radio and being assigned to a squadron in San Antonio (Texas). From a base in southern Italy the Fifteenth, and Balliet’s B-24, would fly missions against munitions plants, aircraft factories, transportation facilities, and oil refineries. They provided bombing support for Allied ground troops in southern Europe. Shot down on May 29, 1944, on his 18th mission, bombing the Wiener Neustadt aircraft factory near Vienna, a wounded Balliet parachuted into Yugoslavia. After a harrowing escape from the damaged plane, Balliet was captured by a Yugoslav who had been a hotel chef in Chicago and had ice fished on Lake Winnebago. Delivered to the Germans he endured solitary confinement, the Stalag, and a forced march conducted to elude the advancing Russians.

In this excerpt from his oral history interview, conducted in 2000, Balliet tells of the last days of the forced march and of liberation from his German captors:

Balliet: I came out of the walk pretty good. I had frostbite and all that kind of stuff. So then we went 680 miles according to northern Germany, we walked. And we got over by Lubeck, Germany, and all of a sudden we were in this little barn—very little, small—the city was just, it wasn’t even a city it was just a little—it wasn’t even a village–and we heard all this commotion. We had a tall guard that was Slim, we called him. Of course we had mean ones, very means ones. They’d sic the dogs after us and bite you and all that stuff because we couldn’t keep up with the march and stuff like that. They just wanted to be mean, that’s all. But Slim was a nice guard, and he could whistle. And so when we were at this barn that one night, the last night, I said, “Slim, ‘Indian Love Call’”. He loved to whistle “Indian Love Call,” and then he’d whistle that, and then finally we heard all this commotion. So I thought, “Well, I can’t open up the—there were just the barn doors. And so I opened up the door, and I could see the tanks going by from—the British tanks were going through, and oh, what a thrill. And so then Slim gave me over there, and he gave me his gun, and he held up [laughs] his hands. He gave up to me, and I had his gun so, but anyway we didn’t know what to do. What the heck are we going to do? Where are we? We don’t know where we are.

Interviewer: You’re loose and with no weapons.

Balliet: Yeah, that’s right.

Interviewer: You didn’t know where the hell you were.

Balliet: Oh, hell no. We had no idea. All we did was march; went here, and here and then through the woods. We never marched through a city; we never marched on a highway. We marched always through these heavy woods. In fact we marched late at night when it was snowing and snowing and snowing so damn bad we had nothing but a–we couldn’t even see the guy ahead of us. But anyway, then Slim gave me his gun, and we went out there, and these tanks threw food out to us: D bars and stuff like that. They had the Germans on the run, and they were really moving. Then we didn’t know where to go so we just packed up and went towards Epinal, France.

During the forced march Balliet lost close to fifty pounds due to malnourishment and the strenuous walking. He suffered side effects from frostbite for the remainder of his life. Balliet eventually made his way to Paris and then to Le Harve where he was put on a Liberty Ship and sent home.

After returning from war, Balliet resumed his career at “Ma Bell,” married in 1947 and was a member of multiple veterans and ex-POW organizations. Balliet passed away on November 13, 2012 at the age of 88.

To read the transcript of the entire interview with Robert Balliet from the Wisconsin Veterans Museum Oral History Collection, click here.

Like Angels in the Sky: A Combat Medic’s Story

Combat medic Charles Schellpeper

Combat medic Charles Schellpeper

As I stepped off the plane into the dark Kuwaiti desert a wave of hot moist air hit me. I was in the Middle East, all of those months of endless training had led me to this. For the next three weeks we sat in Kuwait and tried to “adjust” to our new environment. Going on mile long runs in full combat gear was not uncommon, neither was dehydration and heat exhaustion. We drank bottle after bottle of water and prayed we would be sent to Iraq soon because it was thought to be cooler there. Our barracks were huge 150-200 man tents and we slept on cots right next to one another row after row.

Sometime towards the end of September 2nd Battalion 8th Infantry Regiment finally received orders to pack up and make the move to Iraq. We arrived in Baghdad under the veil of darkness, but the air base was full of activity. It was incredible to see the true might of the U.S. military. As we sat on a helipad waiting for Chinook Helicopters to ferry us 45 minutes south to the city of Diwaniyah, a huge explosion and fireball went off in the distance followed by the sound of small arms fire and sirens. It was very clear to me then that I was in a far different place than I had ever been before.

Forward Operating Base (FOB) Echo didn’t look like much, but it was home to a multinational coalition of troops from Poland, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Mongolia, and the United States. Our Battalion quickly established overall command of the base and assumed responsibility for full spectrum combat operations. My platoon was tasked with protecting the Battalion Commander of 2-8 IN. Over the course of twelve months we conducted over 200 around the clock combat patrols, ensured the conduct of fair and free provincial elections, and trained Iraqi security forces to be a professional organization. Our schedule was demanding and the business we took part in was very serious.

November 1, 2008 was a day that started out similar to most, the platoon woke up, worked out, and received our mission brief. We were told that a couple days prior, a U.S. soldier had accidentally run over an Iraqi Army soldier with a Mine Resistant Ambush Proof Vehicle (MRAP) and killed him. Our platoon was given the task of driving to the Shi’ite holy city of Najaf in order to deliver the condolence payment to the Iraqi soldiers family. We loaded up into our MRAPs and M1114 Up Armored Humvees and departed on the three hour drive. One hour had gone by and thus far the drive had been hot and uncomfortable. I looked out the side window and thought about my best friend who was getting married that same day. I had been away from home for three months and war had lost much of its glamour to me. Then it happened.

A large explosion deafened my ears while dark black smoke and orange fire consumed the lead Humvee. The radio chatter immediately went from laughter and conversation to barking orders and .50 caliber Machine Gunners asking for target confirmations. My mind was swirling with questions and I was sick to my stomach. I was the only Medic in the convoy and I knew it was up to me to get those men out of the damaged Humvee as soon as possible. I heard my Platoon Sergeant telling me to jump out the moment our truck stopped. As the driver slammed on the brakes I swung the heavy armored door open and ran out into the road at a dead sprint toward the downed truck. I felt so naked and exposed. I thought about the small arms fire going on around me and the chance of there being a second Improvised Explosive Device (IED) set up in order to massacre the Soldiers who would surely rush to save their comrades’ lives.

After the IED: Humvee after being struck by an explosively formed penetrator (EFP).

After the IED: Humvee after being struck by an explosively formed penetrator (EFP).

As I reached the truck smoke filled my lungs and I could feel the heat on my face from the fire. Without hesitating, I opened the door. Nothing could have prepared me for the sight I was about to see. Five of the closest friends I’d ever had were sprawled about inside the truck covered in blood and moaning, but miraculously everyone appeared to be alive. I immediately began applying Combat Application Tourniquets to the shattered limbs of the wounded men as other soldiers arrived and with mechanical like efficiency began to do the same. We knew through training that to stay in the “kill zone,” the immediate area in which the IED goes off, is not the place to be so the decision was made to move the wounded to be loaded in the large MRAP vehicles. Myself and two other soldiers who I felt were medically competent went with the three most severely wounded members of the platoon. Executing his training to a T, my Platoon Sergeant had already called up a Medical Evacuation Helicopter which had responded saying it would meet us at a designated casualty collection point in twenty minutes.

Sitting in the back of that MRAP for the next twenty minutes felt like an eternity. Dressing wounds, initiating IVs, checking vital signs, and trying to calm the conscious patients were all things that happened on our way to the evacuation site. Finally, the MRAP lurched to a halt and in the distance you could hear the chopping rotary wings of the helicopters heading in our direction. They were like angels in the sky. I had never felt so relieved in my life. We waited for the two UH-60 Black Hawks to land, then immediately loaded the five wounded patients on to the birds. As the helicopters took off an enormous wave of relief and exhaustion swept over me. I started to shake. My eyes became moist. I thanked God for seeing me through the day and allowing me to keep my men alive.

Talking Spirits Cemetery Tour XVII Recap

The Wisconsin Veterans Museum would like to share the thank you cards from Ms. Alt’s 5th Grade class at Huegel Elementary (Madison) for the Talking Spirits Cemetery Tour XVII at Forest Hill Cemetery. We look forward to seeing more classes this October 4th-7th for Talking Spirits Cemetery Tour XVIII!

Thank you to all who attended, volunteered and participated!

On Sunday, October 11, 2015 the Wisconsin Veterans Museum hosted the Seventeenth Annual Talking Spirits Cemtery Tour at Forest Hill Cemetery (1 Speedway Road, Madison) from 12-4:00 PM. Cemetery Tour 2015 featured the stories of Sally Blair Fairchild and Francis Bull Fairchild, August Bartsch, Albert Lamson, and Alice Whiting Waterman. This year’s tour was the most successful yet. Roughly, 2,500 students from grades four through ten attended the event over a four day span, and 500 visitors attended our public day tours. The weather was beautiful and once again the Wisconsin Veterans Museum was able to share the stories of our Wisconsin Civil War heroes. The tour was made possible by support from the Wisconsin Humanities Council and the Wisconsin Veterans Museum Foundation.

Sally Blair Fairchild & Francis Bull Fairchild

Sally Blair Fairchild & Francis Bull Fairchild

 

 

Sally Blair Fairchild, the wife of Jarius Fairchild, the first Mayor of Madison, was the mother of Civil War soldiers Cassius and Lucius and sailor Charles Fairchild. Cassius Fairchild joined the 16th Wisconsin immediately after war broke out and quickly became Lieutenant Colonel. Lucius Fairchild, Wisconsin’s first three-term Governor, saw action at Falling Waters, Second Bull Run, Gettysburg, Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville among others. Francis Bull married Lucius Fairchild in 1864 after spending the war years volunteering in military hospitals around Washington D.C.

 

 

 

 

 

August Bartsch

August Bartsch

 

 

One of the first Madisonians to enlist when the Civil War broke out, Bartsch fought with the 26th Wisconsin at Gettysburg, Missionary Ridge, Kennesaw Mountain, Atlanta and Chancellorsville. Bartsch was just one of thousands of German immigrants who enlisted to fight during the war alongside other European immigrants.

 

 

 

 

Albert Lamson

Lamson was a soldier in the 104th New York Infantry when she was captured after the battle of Gettysburg and held prisoner at Libby Prison. After being transferred to camp Sorghum near Columbia, Lamson and a fellow soldier, E.E. Sill, made a daring escape in broad daylight and fled to the nearby woods. Lamson lived on turnips and bark as he traveled toward Union lines. After the war, Lamson and his wife lived on a farm south of present-day Nakoma and were pioneer strawberry growers.

 

 

 

 

Alice Whiting Waterman

Alice Whiting Waterman

 

 

A native of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Waterman moved to Madison in 1868, She took a very loving interest in the Confederate soldiers buried at Forest Hill Cemetery, beautifying this spot by planting shade trees and replacing wooden grave markers with stone. The soldiers buried at Confederate Rest were captured at the Battle of Island No. 10 on the Mississippi River and were brought to Madison to be held at Camp Randall. Waterman is buried in Confederate Rest among ‘her boys’, as she fondly call them.

 

 

 

 

We look forward to seeing the public on Saturday, October 8th from 5:30 to 7:30 for our first ever CANDLELIT TOURS, and on Sunday, October 9th from 12:00 PM to 4:00 PM for our Public Day tours!

Click on the images below to read some of the letters we received!

 

The Army Olympian: Carleton L. Brosius

By Russ Horton, Reference Archivist

Carleton L. Brosius (WVM Mss 17)

Carleton L. Brosius (WVM Mss 17)

Wisconsin has a long and proud Olympic tradition—one that is often associated with the Winter Games. Athletes from the Badger State like Bonnie Blair, Eric Heiden, Dan Jansen, Mark Johnson, and others gained fame in speed skating and ice hockey. But ninety-six years ago, four years before the first Winter Olympics, a Wisconsin native participated in the Games of the VII Olympiad in Antwerp, Belgium while serving as an active duty officer in the United States Army.

Carleton L. Brosius, a Milwaukee native, earned a sterling reputation as a physical trainer in the Army in the early twentieth century. His father, George, was a Civil War veteran and a celebrated gymnast who had taught thousands at the Turner Hall in Milwaukee, and the son followed in his footsteps both as a veteran and athlete. Carleton joined the Wisconsin National Guard in 1896. He served in the Spanish-American War and along the Mexican Border before accepting a commission in the Regular Army in 1917. He remained stateside during World War I, traveling between encampments to set up training regimens for soldiers. In 1918, Captain Brosius oversaw the physical training of nearly 40,000 men in nineteen Army training camps.

Carleton L. Brosius (WVM Mss 17)

Carleton L. Brosius (WVM Mss 17)

In 1920, on the heels of World War I, Europe began the process of recovering from four years of destructive fighting. The Olympic Games, originally granted to Budapest, Hungary, were moved to Antwerp, Belgium largely to reward the people of Belgium for their suffering during the war. Opening on April 20, 1920, the games ran until September 12 of the same year – nearly 5 months! The Games of the VII Olympiad were record setting in several ways. It was the first Olympics to fly the five-ringed Olympic Flag, the first where competitors took the Olympic Oath, and the first to release doves as a sign of peace.

The United States decided to use military personnel for some of its Olympic team, and Brosius was selected as captain of the tug of war team and an alternate on the fencing team. In July 1920, he accompanied hundreds of other soldiers and sailors to Europe aboard the USS Princess Matoika. Stopping in Germany to visit friends among the American occupation troops, Brosius reached Antwerp and participated in the tug of war competition on August 17 and 18—the American team did not place. An alternate in fencing, he was not called upon to compete.

Tug-o-War Carleton L. Brosius  (WVM Mss 17)

Tug-o-War Carleton L. Brosius (WVM Mss 17)

Following the Olympics, Brosius served as the physical trainer at St. John’s Military Academy in Delafield before taking over the operation of Brosius Gymnasium in Milwaukee from his father. In 1936, Brosius became the adjutant at the Wisconsin Veterans Home in King, where he lived after retiring following World War II. WVM holds his military papers and Olympic scrapbooks, which document the story of a man who used his love of physical fitness to serve his country in many different ways. Watch the WVM website and facebook page this summer for more from Carl Brosius’s Olympic experience.

 

 

 

 

Tug-o-War Carleton L. Brosius  (WVM Mss 17)

Tug-o-War Carleton L. Brosius (WVM Mss 17)

Mexican Expedition

By Russ Horton, Reference Archivist.

19554v

Image courtesy Library of Congress.

One hundred years ago today, President Woodrow Wilson ordered the mobilization of the Wisconsin National Guard for military service. However, he did not send them to Europe, where a World War raged. Instead, he sent them to Texas to protect our border. While their service during this time did not involve pitched battles or high casualties, these men answered the call to duty and did what was asked of them. What’s more, many would go on to fight in the trenches of World War I. For these reasons, we remember their service on its 100th anniversary.

 

When the United States officially recognized Venustiano Carranza as the president of Mexico in 1915, it angered Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa[1], who began striking out against Americans in a series of escalating events. On March 9, 1916, Villa and his men attacked Columbus, New Mexico and the nearby Army post Camp Furlong, killing several American civilians and soldiers. The next day, President Wilson released a statement that US military forces would pursue and capture Villa.

 

On March 15, General John J. Pershing received orders to lead federal troops into Mexico without the permission of the Mexican government. As they proceeded further into the country, political tensions rose and Carranza threatened military action of his own. War with Mexico seemed close and raids into the United States grew in number. In May, Wilson mobilized the Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas National Guards to augment the federal troops, and one month later called the remaining states’ National Guards into federal service.

 

Roughly 4,000 Wisconsin National Guard troops reported to Camp Douglas on June 22. Between June 27 and June 30, six units were mustered into federal service: Troop A of the 1st Wisconsin Cavalry; Battery A of the 1st Wisconsin Field Artillery, the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Wisconsin Infantry Regiments, and Field Hospital #1. Troop B of the 1st Wisconsin Cavalry mustered into service about a month later, on July 24.

 

The first Wisconsin units, Troop A and Battery A, left their home soil on July 1 and arrived at Camp Wilson, Texas four days later. Located just outside of San Antonio, near the grounds of Fort Sam Houston, Camp Wilson[2] was named after the sitting President and would be home to all of the Wisconsin units during their service. The remaining Wisconsin units arrived shortly thereafter and the men began a strenuous regimen of training and drilling in the heat of a Texas summer.

 

The Wisconsin troops left Camp Wilson on August 7, carrying out a two day hike to Leon Springs for target practice with live ammunition. On August 18, the night before they began their march back to Camp Wilson, a Category 4 hurricane, that had hit Corpus Christi before heading inland, struck their camp while the men slept. Almost every tent in the camp was blown down but no serious injuries were sustained. The units commenced their march in the pouring rain and arrived at Camp Wilson exhausted and completely drenched.

 

The following month, while on an 80 mile march to Austin, the Wisconsin troops took part in a simulated battle. On September 18, the roughly 4,000 Wisconsin National Guardsmen defended the city of New Braunfels against 10,000 Guardsmen from other states and held off the superior force for the better part of a day. Soldiers on both sides fired over 80,000 rounds of blank ammunition during the exercise. The mock battle and long march gave the men valuable experience in organization, fighting, and supplying men in the field.

 

Soon after, the United States began reducing its military presence on the border. Troop A and Battery A returned to Camp Douglas to be mustered out of federal service in October. Troop B remained behind, and while patrolling on October 27, caught 50 National Guardsmen trespassing in some private pecan groves near Salado Creek. The men were arrested and either fined or sentenced to labor for trespassing and for disobeying a direct order to stay off of private property.

 

November 1916 brought a presidential election in which Woodrow Wilson sought re-election against Supreme Court Justice Charles Evans Hughes. In a very close election, 2,600 Wisconsin soldiers cast ballots from the field, the largest turnout among the various states’ National Guards.

 

Following the election, the men stationed in the San Antonio area turned their attention to another American tradition—football. Sixteen teams created from federal units and National Guard units from Wisconsin, West Virginia, Texas, Mississippi, Illinois, Virginia and more played games in November and December as part of a massive tournament. While all of the Wisconsin teams did well, the 1st Wisconsin Infantry team made it all the way to the championship game. On Christmas Day, they defeated the 3rd Illinois Infantry 9-0 to claim the 12th Division trophy.

 

Two days later, the men of the 1st Wisconsin boarded a train to begin their trip home. Unlike Troop A and Battery A, who mustered out at Camp Douglas, the remaining Wisconsin troops stopped first at Fort Sheridan, Illinois to be mustered out of federal service before returning to their home state. The 3rd Wisconsin Infantry had completed their service in December; the 1st Wisconsin Infantry and Field Hospital #1 were mustered out in January 1916; the 2nd Wisconsin Infantry in February; and Troop B of the 1st Wisconsin Cavalry were the last of the Wisconsin soldiers to leave active duty, mustering out of service at Fort Sheridan on March 6, 1916.

 

While the Wisconsin troops did not have much of an opportunity to utilize their training during the Mexican Expedition, their service was far from in vain. Mere months after they returned to Wisconsin, the United States declared war on Germany, and many of those Wisconsin National Guardsmen were called into service as part of the newly formed 32nd Division. On the battlefields of France, the training and drills performed at hot, dusty Camp Wilson, Texas paid huge dividends as the 32nd Division proved itself to be one of the finest in the entire American Expeditionary Forces.

 

Camp Wilson_June Blog_2016

Image courtesy Library of Congress.

 

Military Spouses Day: Majil Steiner

By Andrea Hoffman, Collections Manager

Majil Steiner wearing the parachute gown.

Majil Steiner wearing the parachute gown.

On November 21, 1944, the B-29 “Snafuperbomber” with the 40th Bomb Group was attacked over Japan while approaching its target city of Omura. While badly damaged, the crewmembers managed to keep the B-29 airborne back across the China Sea. But when the aircraft’s usable fuel supply began to run low, the crew was forced to bail out over Japanese-occupied territory in eastern China, the order to jump coming from the aircraft commander as they approached a valley filled with rice paddies. 1st Lt. Floyd “Dick” Steiner, the aircraft’s navigator, was quickly rescued by local farmers and smuggled back to safety. Steiner kept his parachute and ripcord throughout the ordeal, and upon returning to his base in Chakulia, India a few days later, mailed it home to his wife, Majil, back in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Along with the parachute came his request that she reuse the material to make a new dress for herself.

As Majil later recounted, “When the box arrived I opened it, and with amazement pulled out the roomful of nylon parachute.” As an only recently-developed synthetic reserved for military usage during the war, nylon was still a novelty in the mid-1940s. The silk-like panels were carefully taken apart by her and her friends so that the cloth could be reused for her gown design. Unfortunately, the dress would also require a sturdy lining fabric, something essentially unavailable given wartime limitations. Majil was not deterred, however, and sought help finding it from a fabric company in St. Paul, Minnesota. The company wound up taking an interest in her husband’s story and the dress project and soon mailed her several yards of the required lining material.

 

V2015.09.1 Majil Steiner’s parachute gown.

V2015.09.1 Majil Steiner’s parachute gown.

With the further assistance of an experienced dressmaker, as well as a rug maker who taught Majil how to braid the shoulder straps out of the parachute’s cords, her evening dress was completed in 1945. She had a portrait taken of her in the dress, and mailed it off to her husband in India. He carried the photograph of her wearing the life-saving parachute material on him for the rest of his tour. The couple, now married 71 years, has since moved out west, but recently returned the dress to its home state of Wisconsin by donating it to our museum’s permanent collection.

Grim Reaper

By Andrea Hoffman, Collections Manager

Utility jacket worn by James Mosel in Vietnam.

Utility jacket worn by James Mosel in Vietnam.

Part of fulfilling our museum’s mission to commemorate Wisconsin veterans includes gathering as complete a story as possible in our donation process. Ideally, we supplement our object collections with archival components like letters and photographs and vice versa. When Vietnam veteran James Mosel of Chippewa Falls partook in an oral history interview last August, interviewer Rick Berry—also a long-time volunteer cataloger in object collections—well understood the importance of creating these links and encouraged Mosel to donate artifacts to the museum. Mosel obliged and gave both his utility jacket and KA-BAR knife shortly after, providing a tangible complement to his personal story.

Mosel enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in 1967, training at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego as a rifleman before heading to Camp Pendleton and Scout Sniper School where he graduated with an expert badge. He was sent to Vietnam in March of 1968, assigned to Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, Seventh Marines as a scout sniper. Several months later in August he received his second wound when he was shot in the right hip and had to spend four months recovering at a hospital in Japan. He was then reassigned to Delta Company, 1st Recon Battalion, designated the team leader of call sign “Grim Reaper”.

Mosel was involved in six major offensive operations during the 1968-1969 period he was in Vietnam. He recalled wearing this jungle utility jacket “in excess of 100 days in the jungle on the Laos/Vietnam boarder on long range recon patrols”.   The so-called ERDL camouflage pattern seen here—named after the Army’s Engineer Research and Development Laboratories (ERDL) which first designed it in 1948—appears in the original general purpose green color way known as the “lowlands” pattern. It was first employed in Vietnam by reconnaissance and special operations units in early 1967. Mosel’s jacket is also noticeably devoid of all insignia to help avoid identification by enemy forces.

After his tour ended, Mosel returned stateside and was assigned to Guard Company at the Marine Barracks in Washington, D.C. (“8th and I”), serving as a part of President Nixon’s security administration in charge of protecting the president and other dignitaries. He was then discharged September of 1971, having attained the rank of Sergeant E-5 and the recipient of numerous decorations, including two Purple Hearts, Vietnam Civic Action with palm, a Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with palm, Vietnam Service with four bronze stars, a Vietnam Campaign Medal, a Marine Combat Action medal, three Meritorious Unit Citations, two Presidential Unit Citations, a Good Conduct Medal, as well as a National Defense Service Medal.

Mosel later returned to Western Wisconsin and has since been involved in the start- up of several companies. He is currently the President/CEO of J. Alan Group in Chippewa Falls in addition to serving on the Board of Governors for the United States Marine Corps Association and Foundation. Mosel’s story is just one of over 1,800 captivating personal interviews available to the public through the Wisconsin Veterans Museum Research Center.

In Celebration of Women’s History Month

by Ellen Brooks, Oral Historian

Julia, 2016

Julia, 2016

On January 7, 2016 I had the pleasure of interviewing Julia Lannin (nee McCall) at her home in West Allis. Lannin served as a neurosurgical nurse in the Army during World War II. She was one of ten children born and raised in South Carolina. Lannin and her older sister, Olivia, attended nursing school and joined the Army together in 1943. Three of their brothers also served during the war, in various theaters. Assigned to the 5th Army, 33rd General Hospital the sisters were sent overseas in June of 1943, first to Casablanca and then to Bizerte, Tunisia (Africa) where they were stationed for approximately ten months.

General Hospital 33, Africa 1943

General Hospital 33, Africa 1943

In Africa she met Gordon Lannin, the man she would later marry, who was also serving in the Army. From Africa the hospital and staff were transferred to Italy, first to Naples and then to Rome after Rome fell to the Allied forces. The nurses continued to move around Italy, spending time in Viareggio, Pisa and back to Naples where Lannin was when the war ended. After a quick tourist trip to Switzerland, the sisters were sent back stateside and Lannin was discharged in April of 1946. She eventually moved to Wisconsin where she and her husband raised six children.

In the interview Lannin recounted multiple stories about her work as a nurse and memorable patients she worked with.

 

Lannin met some great characters, including a surly sailor who had a severely injured leg. He was her hospital’s first patient to be treated with penicillin.

 

Julia on leave in Italy

Julia on leave in Italy

Sisters, Julia and Olivia

Sisters, Julia and Olivia

Towards the end of the interview Lannin discussed how rare it was to talk about serving and about the war, even with her husband or her siblings. She mentioned that she has been receiving more recognition for her service in recent years. I hope that conducting and preserving this oral history interview, along with the other materials Lannin donated to our Permanent Collection including the photos seen here, is just one way that the Museum and the people of Wisconsin can show our appreciation for Lannin’s service.

 

 

 

 

We would love to add more stories of servicewomen to our Collection! If you or someone you know is interested please contact me about our Oral History Program: oralhistory@dva.wisconsin.gov or (608) 261-0537

Lincoln’s Railcar Plate

By: Andrea Hoffman (Collections Manager)

In November of 1864, the United States Military Railroad’s car shop in Alexandria, Virginia began construction of a new official railcar for President Abraham Lincoln. When it was completed a few months later, the new car, dubbed the “United States,” was considered the most opulent private railcar of its day. This brass builder’s plate from the Wisconsin Veterans Museum’s collection once served to identify the car’s origins as well as credit B.P. Lamason who oversaw its construction. Due to the tragic events that unfolded shortly thereafter, however, Lincoln did not live to see Lamason’s creation. Instead, his personal car assumed the solemn task of transporting his body back to Springfield, Illinois following his assassination, its one and only official trip.

DSC_1538

B.P. Lamason, master car builder and project superintendent, was also personally in charge of the car during its funeral procession to Springfield.

Following the two-week, nearly 1700 mile funeral procession and the soon-after disbandment of the nation’s military rail program, the “United States” was sold to the privately-run Union Pacific railroad. While the lavish car served well to transport executives during the building of the transcontinental railroad, it outlived its usefulness when the line reached completion a few years later. In the early 1870s, Lincoln’s car was sold to another railroad company and stripped down, a move that began its unfortunate spiral into disrepair.

Nearly derelict, the car was returned to Union Pacific in the 1890s. F.W. Oakley, a Civil War veteran from Beloit who served with Co. K of the 7th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment, worked for Union Pacific after the war and had followed the history of the car with interest. When he learned that Union Pacific planned to scrap the car after being exhibited at the 1898 Trans-Mississippi Centennial Transportation Exhibit in Omaha, he removed this plate and kept it as a personal memento.

RailCar

The “United States” photographed by Andrew J. Russell in Alexandria, January 1865. Image from the Library of Congress, LOT 11486-C, no. 3.

On March 18, 1911, the once-luxurious railcar met its final end in a prairie fire in a farm field outside Minneapolis, where it had only recently been refurbished and promoted to the public as the “most sacred relic in the United States.” Recognizing the plate’s historical significance—one of the few extant objects to remain from the original train car—Oakley donated it to the Memorial Hall collection at the State Capitol before his death in Madison in 1925.

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

Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs