Wisconsin Veterans Museum Logo

A Story of a World War II Fighter Pilot Fritz Emil Wolf

By RICHARD WOLF, Guest Columnist, THE BUGLE Winter 2011 Cover Story (a Quarterly Publication of the WVM).

With the Flying Tigers

Fritz Emil Wolf

Fritz Emil Wolf

Fritz E. Wolf was born in Shawano, Wisconsin on February 8, 1916. He attended Shawano High School where he excelled in leadership, character and athletics, graduating in 1933. His athletic prowess on the gridiron and basketball court earned him a basketball scholarship from Carroll College in Waukesha, Wisconsin. He never played a basketball game for the school. Instead he turned to football, becoming an all-conference fullback for three straight years. During that time Carroll only lost one game. In 1938 Fritz graduated from Carroll College with a degree in Business Administration. He had the opportunity to try out with the Green Bay Packers but missed the tryout do to an appendicitis attack. About this time Fritz realized that if he was ever going to satisfy his dream to learn to fly, now was the time. In 1939, he enlisted in the United States Navy. Upon completion of flight training in 1940, he received a commission as an Ensign and assignment as a dive-bomber pilot aboard the USS Saratoga. In the summer of 1941, Fritz resigned his commission to join the American Volunteer Group (AVG) Flying Tigers. Like a lot of other pilots, he was looking for a little more excitement.

My father sailed in the first contingent of AVG pilots from San Francisco on July 6, 1941 aboard the Jaegersfontein. His passport read agriculture student. The AVG arrived at Toungoo, Burma sometime in September of that year. The first month after his arrival was spent getting the P-40 aircraft ready for combat. The rest of the time was spent learning to fight the Japanese. This was accomplished through one-hour lectures given by Chennault and a lot of simulated dogfights. On December 20, 1941, he took part in the first AVG action near Kunming, China. During that battle, he shot down two Mitsubishi bombers and assisted in downing a third before his ammunition ran out. During the month of February in 1942, somewhere near Rangoon, Burma, Fritz took part in a dog fight with 14 Japanese fighters.

He was able to shoot down one before he had to break contact. This victory was confirmed, but combat records were lost. On April 8, 1942, near Loiwing, China, he took part in another AVG action during which time he shot down two Japanese fighters. On April 17, 1942, near Magwee, China, Fritz was caught on the airfield’s grounds during a Japanese bombing raid. This was the most terrifying time during his tour with the AVG. Charlie Bond, one of Fritz’s squadron mates, remarked in his diary that even Fritz Wolf was scared, “and Fritz is no baby.”

During his tour with the AVG, Fritz was subject to unhealthy conditions and illness. Anticipating his death, a coffin was built for him. Because of his illnesses he spent significant time on the ground. During that time he assumed operational duties. Like everything else he did, Wolf performed admirably. Chennault praised him for his administrative skills. Fritz Wolf was honorably discharged on July 4, 1942. By that time he had logged 220 hours of combat flying in the skies over Burma and China fighting the Japanese. The Chinese Government awarded him the White Cloud Banner 6th Grade for heroism, China Air Force Wings 2 and 4 star, and China War Memorial Decoration.

Return to the Navy

Fritz Wolf (second from left) posing with fellow cadets while training as a naval aviator in 1940 (Mss 2011.102)

Fritz Wolf (second from left) posing with fellow cadets while training as a naval aviator in 1940 (Mss 2011.102)

After coming back to the United States to recover (he had lost 40 pounds in China), Fritz returned to the Navy with the rank of Lieutenant, senior grade. He was assigned as a fighter pilot instructor at Jacksonville Naval Air Station in Florida. He was later transferred to Green Cove Springs, Florida to train with other replacement pilots that were preparing to be shipped over seas. Fritz was the team’s section leader. Fritz and his team were eventually assigned to the USS Hornet on January 8, 1945. Flying Grumman F6F Hellcats during his time in VF-11 (the Sun Downers), Fritz and the rest of the squadron struck Japanese targets in Hong Kong, Formosa, Hainan Island and French Indo-China. On one mission over Formosa, his plane lost fuel pressure and he was forced to make a sea landing. After three hours floating around in the ocean he was finally picked up by a destroyer. He later said that being plucked out of the water was worse than drowning.

When the Hornet reached Ulithi after conclusion of its South China Sea action in early February of 1945, Fritz was made CO of the newly formed VBF-3 squadron aboard the USS Yorktown. His squadron would participate in strikes supporting the invasion of Iwo Jima. He also led the first historic naval carrier-based bombing attack against targets on mainland Japan. During this mission he officially shot down his fifth plane making him an ace. He was also awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his heroic action. He was later transferred to Naval Auxiliary Air Station, Brown Field, Chula Vista, California, where he served as Executive Officer. During this time he made application to the regular Navy, but was turned down for health reasons. His life in aviation was not over, however. He stayed in the Naval Reserve, retiring in 1967 as a Commander. For his service to his country during World War II Fritz E. Wolf received the following awards and decorations: Two Distinguish Flying Crosses, Air Medal, Presidential Unit Citation Award, WWII Victory Medal, Three Stars Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal, One Star Philippine Liberation Medal, American Defense Service Medal and American Campaign Medal.

Post War Career

Pilot Fritz E. Wolf in uniform of Claire Chennault’s famed American Volunteer Group - The Flying Tigers.

Pilot Fritz E. Wolf in uniform of Claire Chennault’s famed American Volunteer Group – The Flying Tigers.

 

 

In April 1946, Fritz became the first paid employee of the new Wisconsin Aeronautics Commission. Fritz served in an operational capacity until September of 1967 when he was appointed Director of Aeronautics. When the Aeronautics Commission merged with the newly-formed Department of Transportation, Fritz was named Bureau Director. He retired from state service in May of 1981, after 35 years of distinguished service ensuring Wisconsin’s role as a leader in aviation. In 1989, Fritz E. Wolf was inducted into the Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame. Seventeen years later, the State of Wisconsin honored his contributions to the aviation industry by renaming the State Aviation Facility at the Dane County Regional Airport in Madison, the “Fritz E. Wolf Aviation Center.”

Wisconsin Veterans Museum conducted its 2,000th interview for its Oral History Program

wvm0027i030

U.S. submarine leaving a port in Guam. Charles R. Lemons Collection

 

On July 10, 2015 the Wisconsin Veterans Museum conducted the 2,000th interview for the Wisconsin Veterans Museum Oral History Program. Volunteer interviewer Ellen Bowers Healey interviewed Dennis F. Kinney, who served in both the U.S. Army and the U.S. Air Force and retired in 1968 after 20 years of service. Below are the interviewer’s summary of the interview and highlights of Mr. Kinney’s extensive and exciting service.

Dennis F. Kinney, United State Army and United State Air Force, was born May 12, 1931 and raised in Green Bay, Wisconsin. With his parents’ permission, Dennis joined the Army in 1948, at age 17 and prior to graduating from high school. With numerous short breaks in service, Dennis retired as a staff sergeant. During his breaks in service, Dennis worked briefly in California, Wisconsin, and Florida. Dennis’s winning personality, which shone through during the interview, took him to many diverse duty stations and brought him in contact with many notable people.

Serving for 20 years and 7 days in military transportation and the engineers, he saw duty in Guam, Germany, Okinawa, North Africa, Vietnam, Thailand and Paris. In the late 1940s, his first duty station was Guam, where he served with the local army and Philippine soldiers searching for Japanese World War II survivors hiding in jungles. Following Guam, Dennis had order to Korea; however, due to a long hospitalization, he did not serve there.

As a driver and general’s aide, Dennis met many celebrities and government officials, including actress Debbie Reynolds, President Dwight Eisenhower, and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. He met the latter two while serving as a military liaison to the 1960 Paris Summit. Dennis met American pilots in training as a driver in North Africa, and he met members of the French Foreign Legion, who he had previous contact with while serving in Okinawa, Japan.

Following retirement, Dennis settled in his hometown of Green Bay, where he continues to serve military veterans in many capacities. He is a member of 23 military organizations and successfully lobbied Wisconsin politicians for a VA hospital in Green Bay. And in keeping with his long service in military transportation, for many years Dennis served disabled veterans by driving them to medical appointments.

For more information about Mr. Kinney’s interview or any of the other interviews in our oral history collection, please contact our Oral Historian, Ellen Brooks, at 608.261.0537 or oralhistory [at] dva.wisconsin.gov.

Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day

“I am very happy about hering [sic] that you are back from the war, and others. Things have changed as you were gone. Things like football”. Matt Cain, 2nd grade, Elvehjem Elementary, February 22, 1973.

Major Donald L. Heiliger

Major Donald L. Heiliger

On May 15, 1967, Madison native Major Donald L. Heiliger was hit by anti-aircraft fire during a dangerous night mission and was forced to eject over North Vietnam. Major Heiliger was taken prisoner and sent to the infamous “Hanoi Hilton,” where he was imprisoned and tortured over the course of six-years. Upon learning of his release on February 18, 1973, Nancy Piper’s 2nd grade class at Elvehjem Elementary School in Madison, wrote personal letters to Major Heiliger welcoming him home. While many Vietnam Soldiers returned home to a less than enthusiastic reception, these letters, written 42-years ago, demonstrate the sensitivity and compassion of young children. Several of the letters bring Heiliger up-to-date on the Green Bay Packers and Milwaukee Bucks. One student writes, “Lucky you came back,” and another, “I hope you are feeling better.” As we reflect on this day of remembrance for the service and sacrifice of our Vietnam Veterans, let us remember all the men and women that have served our country and those that are currently serving today. In 2007, both the U.S. Congress and the U.S. Senate passed resolutions proclaiming March 30th as National Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day. On July 20, 2009, the State of Wisconsin signed into law Act 36 which declared March 29th, Vietnam Veterans Day.

In 2007, both the U.S. Congress and the U.S. Senate passed resolutions proclaiming March 30th as National Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day. On July 20, 2009, the State of Wisconsin signed into law Act 36 which declared March 29th, Vietnam Veterans Day.

 

 

John Greening: A Veteran in the Spotlight by Andrea Hoffman

Handmade variation on the Type B-1 Summer Flying cap worn by Senior Airman John A. Greening.

Handmade variation on the Type B-1 Summer Flying cap worn by Senior Airman John A. Greening.

This handmade variation on the Type B-1 Summer Flying cap was worn by the donor, Senior Airman John A. Greening, while he was based in Okinawa, Japan during the Korean War.  The painted portions record his service on the brim, including bombs representing the 28 missions he flew over Korea between December of 1952 and spring of 1953.

Greening–a native of Michigan who later moved to Madison, Wisconsin–had an early interest in aircraft that was fed in earnest as a young teen during the second World War.  When the Korean War broke and President Truman declared a State of Emergency, he decided he would rather avoid induction and instead voluntarily join the Air Force.  A lifelong asthmatic, Greening believed he would never survive in a foxhole.  He figured he would quickly be rejected by the Air Force, avoid the draft and return to work.  If by some chance he passed, he at least had an interest in aviation.  He was surprised when the Air Force accepted him, and even more so when he passed the subsequent physical.  There was a sense of relief he was not as medically bad off as he had been led to believe his whole life.  His new found health likewise awarded him a new sense of freedom.

Greening’s enthusiasm showed immediately.  After his technical training at both Lowry and Randolph Air Force Bases stateside, he was eager to be in the thick of it.  He passed at the chance his rank afforded him to be the combat crew’s Center Fire Control, instead requesting to be a waist gunner and thus part of the flight crew.  Since he believed he may not make it home again, he concluded it was better to at least do something he considered exciting with whatever time remained.

John Greening (center front)--seen in his yet-unpainted cap--poses with his crew in front of their B-29 in Okinawa.  Photograph dated December 31, 1952.

John Greening (center front)–seen in his yet-unpainted cap–poses with his crew in front of
their B-29 in Okinawa. Photograph dated December 31, 1952.

The crew he trained with was eventually assigned to the 20th Air Force headquartered in Guam.  He served with the 19th Bombardment Group, 93rd Bomb Squadron, and arrived at Kadena Air Force Base in Okinawa during December of 1952.  It was here they hired a local Japanese servant they referred to as their “cabin boy,” a former pilot himself who never had a chance to fly before World War II ended.  The Japanese gentleman left Greening with an exceptional memento when he hand embellished this cap for him, including painting “OKINAWA” across the back as a reminder of the several months he spent there.

Despite his prediction, Greening survived his missions and came home in 1953, although not without experiencing some harrowing situations first.  Greening made sure that this cap along with nearly 30 other objects, his photo albums, papers and oral history became part of the Wisconsin Veterans Museum’s permanent collection to preserve his notable story.  You can learn more about Greening’s archival and object collections by visiting the WVM website at http://bit.ly/1EGgza7.

Out of the Ordinary by Russ Horton

Three letters from three eras (left to right);  Andrew Brady with his letter from 2004, Kenneth Zerwekh with his letter from 1945, and Charles Stuvengen with his letter from 1918.

Three letters from three eras (left to right); Andrew Brady with his letter from 2004, Kenneth Zerwekh with his letter from 1945, and Charles Stuvengen with his letter from 1918.

There are still service members who, for a variety of reasons, write the occasional letter with pen and paper. Sometimes, they even choose to write letters because they have something out of the ordinary on which to write. Andrew Brady, a Poynette native who served with the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines in Iraq during the early years of Operation Iraqi Freedom, donated  to WVM over one hundred emails that he exchanged with his family during his overseas service. He also donated one physical letter that he wrote to his brother, Joseph. This letter is interesting for two reasons. One is that he clearly felt more free to write about his real experiences with his brother than with his parents, writing to him about being shot at often with the instruction, “Don’t tell Mom, I know how she would worry.” The other interesting aspect of the letter is that it is written on a piece of cardboard from an MRE box. Because he also wrote emails to Joseph, it is clear that he chose to physically write this letter because of the uniqueness of the medium.

Hardtack message from George C. Youmans.

Hardtack message to George C. Youmans.

Brady’s MRE box letter is one of many in the WVM collections that demonstrate the imagination of Wisconsin veterans in using materials at hand to write home to family and friends. One of the most unique examples of this came from a Janesville soldier who was serving in Company A, 1st Wisconsin Infantry Regiment during the Spanish-American War. The 1st Wisconsin spent the duration of the short conflict at Camp Cuba Libre, near Jacksonville, Florida. This unidentified soldier decided to send a souvenir home to his friend, George C. Youmans, so he wrote on, addressed, and stamped a piece of hardtack and sent it through the mail without any packaging. Amazingly, or perhaps not so amazingly given hardtack’s reputation, the piece survived its postal journey from Florida to Wisconsin intact. Stationed at Love Field in Dallas, Texas during World War I, Sergeant Charles Stuvengen of the 277th Aero Squadron, an Orfordville native, used a piece of canvas from one of his unit’s airplanes to write to his sister. Touching upon one of the dangers of flying planes in World War I, he wrote, “I suppose you’ll be wondering what kind of paper this is. This is what covers the framework of an airplane. I got it off a wrecked ship. Touch a match to it and you’ll see how fast it burns.” He added, “All the fellows in camp have been getting this stuff and writing letters on it.” Madison resident Kenneth Zerwekh, an officer in the 3546th Ordnance Medium Automotive Maintenance Company, wrote dozens of letters home to his wife, Evie, on traditional paper, postcards, and V-mail during his World War II service in Europe. On June 20, 1945, though, he chose a different medium to write to his wife. With the defense, “As this is the only paper available—and the property of Lt. Davidson—I hope you will excuse the reverse side especially,” he continued the letter on the back of a Vargas pin-up girl calendar page. Zerwekh used nine of the calendar pages to write letters to Evie, and although the collection includes her return correspondence, she made no mention of her husband’s unique stationery. The above examples demonstrate the desire of Wisconsin veterans throughout history to stay connected to the home front while also showing off some of the new things with which they were coming into contact. Along with the thousands of other letters, diaries, photographs, and other materials preserved at WVM, they help keep the stories of Wisconsin veterans alive.  Learn more about the WVM’s archival collections at http://bit.ly/1xsHf5E

Making History by Guest Author SSG Sonia Buchanan

Sonia Buchanan conducting a clothing exchange program.  (From the collection of Sonia Buchanan).

SSG Sonia Buchanan conducting a clothing exchange program. (From the collection of Sonia Buchanan).

My decision to join the military came a little later in life than most. The military has always played a major role in my life. My father served in the Navy for 27 years. In fact, out of nine children, seven of us joined a branch of service or married someone who was in the military. I was thirty-six years old and found myself going through a divorce after 17 years of marriage. Little did I know, my life as a stay-at-home, homeschooling mother of two was about to be turned upside down.

In 2008, I was working part time at a martial arts school and knew a couple individuals who were in the Wisconsin Army National Guard. They knew of my situation and persuaded me to look at joining. I realized that being a newly single mother of two and having a degree in Fine Arts was not enough to support my family. Knowing the journey that lay ahead, I decided to join. In 2008, I went off to basic training. In 2009, I received an active duty position with the Wisconsin Army National Guard and from day one I knew I made the right decision.

I was presented with a rare opportunity in the beginning of 2011. The first time in history USASOC (United States Army Special Operations Command) was going to hold an AANDS (Assessment and Selection) for females for a new addition to the Special Operations community, CST (Cultural Support Team). A CST is a two female team that allows specially selected and trained females to serve alongside SOF (Special Operations Forces) in a unique operating environment. The primary task of a CST is to engage a host nation’s female and adolescent population in support of USASOF (United States Army, Special Operations Forces) missions where their interaction with male service members may be deemed culturally inappropriate. There were 178 females from around the country who went through assessment and selection, and fifty were chosen. Five of the females were from Wisconsin; four from the Wisconsin Army National Guard, and the other from the Army Reserves. It definitely was the most physically and mentally grueling experience in my life.

After selection, we spent two and a half months at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina attending SWCS (Special Warfare Center and School) for training in basic human behavior, Islamic and Afghan culture, women’s roles in Afghanistan, Dari and Pashtu language, hand-to-hand combat, warrior tasks and drills, weapons training and tribalism.

Once we arrived in Afghanistan we flew to our respective locations to embed with the SOF unit to which we were assigned. I had the pleasure to work with all three SOF units, MARSOF (Marine Special Operations Force), ODA (Operation Detachment Alpha, Green Berets) and SEAL (Sea, Air, Land US Navy SF). I was first assigned to a MARSOF unit and our main objective in Farah was to be the conduit between the local government and the women in the surrounding villages.

SSG Sonia Buchanan at a mobile medical clinic in a nearby village.  (From the collection of Sonia Buchanan).

SSG Sonia Buchanan at a mobile medical clinic in a nearby village. (From the collection of Sonia Buchanan).

Being one of the first females to serve alongside an all-male special ops unit was such an honor and a privilege. However, we knew going into the deployment that we may run into some resistance with some of the team guys and we were prepared. Our first obstacle we encountered was building rapport with the team guys.  We were team players and were willing to pitch in whenever possible to assist with the mission. We were not there to change the way the guys lived day-to-day. We were well aware this was their environment and we needed to gain their trust, which didn’t take long at all. The entire team knew that cohesion and trust with one another is the most important thing for a successful mission.  We were brothers in arms almost instantly. These men respected us from the beginning knowing what we went through in order to be selected. We experienced the same training the guys went through, just in a shorter timeframe. These guys went to school for two years.  We went for two months. Even though I didn’t get the same amount of training time as the guys, I felt competent in my abilities.

During the mission, we’d meet weekly with a group of elected women from the local area to assess their needs, identify resources, and organize a plan. We assisted them in developing programs to create revenue for their villages. One of the programs we developed with the women was a sewing program.  We requested sewing materials through the local government on a special grant.  We assisted the women with the grant proposal and its submission to the liaison for their Province. The grant provided 38 sewing machines, fabric, thread, and needles, which were utilized by women in rural villages. They made Afghan attire to sell at local bazaars for profit.  Since growing poppies was now illegal, the women were so happy to fill the day doing something to help provide for their family.

After a month we were moved to join a new team that just arrived in the Helmand province. We joined them in a little village in the Sagin district to assist them in a VSP (Village Stability Platform). This team of Green Berets was the definition of professional. From day one, we felt like a family. The environment was very austere; the comforts of home did not exist in this land. There was no running water, electricity, toilets, sofas or beds. It was two months before we felt the water from our first shower. Our main meal everyday was beans and rice. There was a stench in the air that permeated through everything we had; you could not escape it.  It appeared to me that this civilization had not progressed in over 1,000 years. I thought to myself this desolate place would be home for awhile but we are here for a reason and that brought me contentment.

Our daily tasks included foot marches throughout the villages, visiting medical clinics, either on site or a mobile clinic, searches and seizures, humanitarian assistance, facilitated civil-military operations, and combat missions and presence patrols. Our days varied so much and there was always something new going on. Most of the intelligence that we received was either from the women or from the adolescents. The children often came up to us and offered information. We had to remain vigilant and never let our guard down.

SSG Sonia Buchanan attending SWCS graduation with state leadership, General Anderson, CSM Stopper and LTC Gerety (now COL Gerety).  (From the collection of Sonia Buchanan).

SSG Sonia Buchanan attending SWCS graduation with state leadership, General Anderson, CSM Stopper and LTC Gerety (now COL Gerety). (From the collection of Sonia Buchanan).

This incredible experience made me realize that no matter what culture or background you come from, we are alike in many ways.  Women can relate to each other based on natural instincts. We are mothers and wives, daughters and sisters. We love to share and discuss things with our girlfriends.  During the deployment, we offered to build a well closer to the village so that the women didn’t have to walk 2 miles every day to retrieve water.  They begged us not to, because they explained that was the only time they had to talk with each other and gossip. The women would tell us often where their husbands were going, where they had been, and who they were conversing with. At the end of the day, women know what’s going on in the home and we can all relate to being the primary care-takers for the family.

It was really hard to be away from my family during the deployment. I didn’t make the decision hastily. I discussed this with my two children and the decision for me to go was made by all of us, as my kids are my first priority. One of the toughest things during my deployment was the little communication I had with them. A random call with a satellite phone was about it. It was a constant internal struggle for me not being there for them. You miss out on all the little things happening in their day-to-day life that cannot be conveyed through an email or phone conversation. When you have a bad day all you want is to hold your kids and be comforted, as well as be there to comfort them. My faith and praying daily gave me peace.

The best part of my experience was the feeling after the mission. I feel we made a real difference in the lives of the locals. We had the opportunity to build rapport with the families, help create a safer environment, and educate them in basic needs areas of health, welfare, and agriculture to create a more sustainable future for the Afghanis.

Interested in reading more stories like this?  “Making History” appears in the upcoming issue of The Buglethe Wisconsin Veterans Museum’s quarterly newsletter and an exclusive benefit of WVM membership. Learn more about becoming a member at http://bit.ly/1z31yc7

WWI Sheet Music by Laura Farley

When the United States entered WWI, sheet music was very popular on the home front and a new form of pop music Good Bye Alexandercalled “jazz” was beginning to emerge.  Families, neighbors, and friends would gather around pianos to sing their favorite tunes popularized by larger-than-life vocal stars. The Wisconsin Veterans Museum has many examples of WWI sheet music, each with elaborate colorful covers.

Give me a KissMuch of the sheet music of the time reflected patriotic themes like, “America He’s For You!” with the lyrics:

 “There’s a baby in the cradle

And as soon as he is able

America he’s for you!”

Other songs reflect anxieties families felt with their soldiers away at war, like “Send Back Dear Daddy to Me” featuring a young girl staring longingly at a photograph of her father in uniform.

WWI was a period of social change, increasingly couples began marrying solely for love and women gained some independence. These social shifts are reflected in titles like “If He Can Fight Like He Can Love Good Night, Germany!” with risqué lyrics:

“Fare thee well my lovin’ man

All the girls said “Ain’t he nice and tall,”

Mary answered “Yes, and that’s not all.”

“If he can fight like he can love,

Oh, what a solider boy he’ll be.”

au voirMany American soldiers traveled overseas for the first time and flares or   foreign culture showed up in American sheet music. Some songs featured lyrics in French like “When Yankee Doodle Learns to Parlez Vous François”, with cover art featuring an American soldier escorting two French Cancan dancers.

The sheet music of WWI offers a unique look at the consciousness of the United States as it went through social changes and began to emerge as a major world power.

Interested in viewing the Museum’s collection of sheet music? Schedule your  appointment today!

A Soldier’s Sacrifice by Emily Irwin

Lucius Fairchild, ca. 1862.

Lucius Fairchild, ca. 1862.

On January 1, 1866, Governor Lucius C. Fairchild delivered his inaugural address and emphasized the Civil War’s impact on Wisconsin. A million of men have returned from the war, been disbanded in our midst, and resumed their former occupations… The transition from the citizen to the soldier was not half so rapid, nor half so wonderful, as has been transition from the soldier to the citizen.

Lucius Fairchild's vest.

Lucius Fairchild’s vest.

The governor’s speech also recognized the Wisconsin men who never returned from the Civil War. By Fairchild’s count, 10,752 Wisconsin soldiers, “about one in every eight,” had died in service to the United States (the actual number is 12,301). Tens of thousands more experienced disease or suffered serious injury, including Governor Fairchild, who served in the Union Army. Fairchild enlisted in a Wisconsin volunteer militia in 1858 and moved quickly up the ranks after the Civil War began. He served with the 2nd Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment, part of the famed Iron Brigade, and saw action at several major battles including the Second Battle of Bull Run, Antietam, and Fredericksburg. Colonel Fairchild and the 2nd Wisconsin also fought at Gettysburg.

Fairchild

Lucius Fairchild, ca1863

On July 1, 1863, Gettysburg’s first day, Fairchild was shot in the upper left arm, a wound that required immediate medical attention. The attending surgeon removed Fairchild’s vest by cutting it at the left shoulder. The injured arm could not be saved and was amputated near the shoulder. This vest, now in the collections of the Wisconsin Veterans Museum, tells the story of Lucius Fairchild’s sacrifice during the Civil War.

Fairchild left the military in 1863 and was appointed Secretary of State of Wisconsin before being elected governor, an office he held for three terms. He was also a charter member of the first local Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) post in Wisconsin and served as national commander of the GAR for one term. Governor Fairchild passed away in Madison, WI in 1896 at the age of 64.

This vest is currently on display as part of the Wisconsin Veterans Museum’s latest Civil War sesquicentennial exhibit, The Last Full Measure, on exhibit until April 19, 2015. Learn more at http://bit.ly/1Ad2df7

John Garrett: A Veteran in the Spotlight

Born on July 6, 1922 in Oak Park, Illinois, John W. Garrett was in a fraternity studying Metallurgical Engineering at the University of Illinois when he heard about the attack on Pearl Harbor.  Knowing they were at war, John decided to enlist in the spring of 1942.  As an engineer by education, John was sent to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri for basic training.  After basic training, Garrett was assigned to the 14th Armored Division at Camp Campbell, Kentucky.  In October of 1944, John and his unit were sent to southern France, where they moved up the Rhine Valley into the Vosges Mountains.

On New Year’s Eve night in 1944, John recounts defending against the last major German counter-offensive of the war, Operation Nordwind.

Operation Nordwind

Operation Nordwind

“On New Year’s Eve night, we had the first attack by the 6th SS Mountain Division against us. And we were the first unit they caught.  We had listening posts at night…we could hear movement.  And we knew we were going to get it, sooner or later.  What we did, we took equipment they had…concertina coil and criss-crossed all the deer trails and mountain roads to slow them up, because we knew they were coming.  We didn’t have any grenades or that, we were short on ammunition and everything, and we were half-way rationed and stuff.  So what we did, we got into this depot at Barenthal and we would make our own pull-type devices. We’d take a quarter-pound block of TNT and wrap a whole bunch of nails around them with tape. And then put a pull-type device to set them off. We had those all through the area where we knew the attack was coming.  We knew there was only one route they had to come and that was right at us, so we had everything set up for them.  So we had the attack.”

Americans in action during Operation Nordwind.

Americans in action during Operation Nordwind.

Garrett and his comrades saw almost continuous action towards the end of the war.  The strongest attack of Operation
Nordwind was halted by the 14th Armored Division in the fierce defensive Battle of Hatten-Rittershoffen, which raged from January 9th to the 21st in 1945.  John safely returned home in September of 1946 and worked as a steel salesman and contractor for many years until retiring in 1980 in Delavan, Wisconsin.

To hear more of John’s story and many others, visit http://bit.ly/1txxO9K

 

Together in War by Emily Irwin

Willard (left) and Wilbur (right) Diefenthaler.

Willard (left) and Wilbur (right) Diefenthaler.

Born twenty minutes apart in Kiel, Wisconsin, identical twins Willard and Wilbur Diefenthaler share a story of duty and sacrifice during World War II.  They were drafted together on December 7, 1942 and after induction at Fort Sheridan, Wilbur joined the 919th Field Artillery and Willard went to the 101st Airborne Division.

After three months, Willard requested a transfer and joined his brother at Camp Phillips in Kansas.  The brothers later joined the 106th Infantry Division, where Wilbur became an assistant supply sergeant and Willard worked with chemical warfare.  After training in Indiana, the 106th was sent overseas in October 1944 and experienced its first major conflict in December 1944 at the Battle of the Bulge.

On December 19, 1944, German soldiers captured Willard and Wilbur along with 1200 of their comrades.  Knowing his captors would take any valuables, Willard threw his wristwatch to the ground and stomped it into the mud and snow, effectively hiding it until the inspection was over.  This watch is now in the collection of the Wisconsin Veterans Museum, its glass still cracked from Willard’s boot.

Willard Diefenthaler's wristwatch.

Willard Diefenthaler’s wristwatch.

In rain and sleet, Willard and Wilbur were marched towards Germany.  While bedded down in a boxcar, they narrowly avoided bombing by an Allied plane, which destroyed part of the train track, the train’s engine, and coal car directly next to the POWs.  The next morning, after the prisoners were forced to rebuild the train tracks, they were transported to Bad Orb, Germany and marched to Stalag IX-B, considered one of the worst German POW camps.  The prisoners passed the time by singing, writing poetry, praying, and sleeping.  They regularly went without food and, when fed, were forced to share a loaf of bread with six or seven other men.  Many prisoners, including Wilbur, became too sick to move.  On January 25, 1945, Willard was sent to Stalag 9A.  It was the last time he would ever see his twin brother.

Willard was liberated on March 20, 1945.  Wilbur’s fate was unknown until a fellow soldier saw Willard and said “I swear to God I buried you at Mannheim.”  It was then that Willard realized his brother had not survived.  Wilbur died in a POW hospital on February 21, 1945 at the age of 22.  Years later, Wililard learned that his brother had died of pnemonia, despite the efforts of German doctors to save him.

After the war, Willard went to vocational school in Sheboygan and became a machinist.  He married and had four children.  Willard passed away on May 14, 2008 at the age of 85.  He donated artifacts from his service and recorded an oral history with the Wisconsin Veterans Museum, preserving both his and Wilbur’s stories for future generations.

This article appeared in the Winter 2014 issue of The Bugle, the Wisconsin Veterans Museum’s quarterly publication and an exclusive benefit of WVM membership.  Learn more about The Bugle at http://bit.ly/1yQca0c

Read Willard Diefenthaler’s oral history at http://bit.ly/16o8J6M

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

Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs