Wisconsin Veterans Museum Logo

Archive for December, 2016

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.

Remembering Pearl Harbor – The Story of Herbert “Herb” Buehl

     By Jenna Madsen, Wisconsin Veterans Museum Assistant Curator

 

Herbert “Herb” Buehl portrait, Image courtesy of Pearl Harbor Survivors  Homestead

Herbert Vincent Buehl, Fireman Third Class, Image courtesy of USSARIZONA.ORG

Herbert “Herb” Buehl from Monroe, Wisconsin was in the Navy aboard the USS Arizona when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Herb served as an electrician in power distribution on the Arizona. His post was at the bottom of the center of the ship where there were no port-holes and only artificial lighting. Herb had December 7th off, so he and a friend were preparing for Sunday church in their quarters on the ship. Neither Herb nor his friend made it to church that morning; the Japanese began the attack as they were getting ready. “A Chief came running down through the compartments and he said, ‘close all the battle ports and man your battle stations—the Japanese are attacking.’”

Herb was in disbelief, but did as he was told and headed to the number three gun. Herb tried getting in contact with the engine room, but nobody was answering when the Japanese torpedoed the ship, knocking the lights out. Then the Japanese dropped the bomb that went through the deck next to the number two gun. It went all the way through to the ammunition compartment at the bottom of the ship, blowing it up in a terrible explosion. Herb was blown from where he was standing on the ladder. “I mean I never even took a step, one second I was standing on the top, the next second I was standing on the bottom.” Herb recalls:

“Now, when this explosion took place it consumed all of the oxygen in the air, so that meant now we weren’t breathing. And when there isn’t any oxygen in the air you don’t breathe, you can’t even make yourself breathe

 

USS Arizona in flames, Image courtesy of the Navy

USS Arizona in flames, Wisconsin Veterans Museum Image

Herb had to crawl on his hands and knees to get the “dog” (the part holding the hatch shut) on the door open using only the strength he had left in order to get fresh air. Soon after Herb and the other men realized there was water flowing into their compartment, and as soon as they got topside they saw that the whole ship was on fire. Orders were given to abandon ship, and without thinking about how much oil had gone into the water, Herb jumped into the water. He was unable to find the raft because it was so black. He remembered the oil vividly. “When your body is covered in oil, your skin can’t breathe and you get tired.” Herb swam to what was called the Key where the Arizona was tied off, and fortunately for him there were two men who assisted him out of the oily water. Herb recounted to our oral historian later:

“I never saw ‘em, all I saw was destruction. I never saw any planes, I never saw anybody do any of the shooting or anything else.”

 

 

buehl-herbert-2

Herbert Vincent Buehl, Image courtesy of USSARIZONA.ORG

Following the attack Herb was brought to the officer living quarters on the island to get new clothes, and then was sent to the hangars to make machine gun belts for the planes coming in. That night when Herb went to eat, still unclean from the attack, he finally began to feel run down and was starting to feel the full effects of the day. The men now had nothing, and sleeping was nearly impossible. The next night Herb, feeling sick and unable to eat, went to the sick bay. He tried to get all of the oil off while there and he remembered it took him three tries. He also recalls he had to have a friend help him because he was so exhausted from lack of breath. When Herb recovered, he was reassigned to an ammunition ship for a year and a half. Following the war, Herb only kept in touch with a few people from his service. It is telling as there were only three men in his division out of forty who made it.

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

Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs