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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

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

A Date Which Will Live in Infamy by Emily Irwin

Stanley Gruber.

Stanley Gruber.

Today marks the 73rd anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, where an estimated 200 Wisconsin men and women were stationed on December 7, 1941. One such Wisconsinite was Gunner’s Mate Stanley Gruber. A Butler, Wisconsin native, Gruber entered the Navy in 1939 and was stationed aboard the USS Maryland. In April 1940, the battleship left Long Beach, California, destined for Pearl Harbor.

Photograph taken from Japanese bomber during the attack.  Image courtesy of the U.S. Navy.

Photograph of the attack. Image courtesy of the U.S. Navy.

The Maryland was moored along Ford Island in Pearl Harbor on December 7, near seven other battleships in a line now known as “Battleship Row.” When the attack began, Gruber manned gun three on the Maryland and stayed at his post despite suffering perforated eardrums, an injury which permanently damaged his hearing. During his oral history interview, Gruber discussed the devastation he saw during the attack: “So I’m lookin’ and I see a ship, and I didn’t know which ship it is. It was the Nevada. And when I looked the second time it was just a big ball of fire.”

Around 9:30 AM, 90 minutes after the attack began, the Japanese planes departed. Gruber described the aftermath:

The Maryland beside the capsized Oklahoma.  Image courtesy of the U.S. Navy.

The Maryland beside the capsized Oklahoma. Image courtesy of the U.S. Navy.

But after the attack was over, we started helping people on the Oklahoma, she was rolled over, and those Oklahoma sailors were all coming aboard our ship and they were all in the nude, maybe just shorts, and they had grease and oil all over them and everything. And there were four hundred-fifty of them that we couldn’t get out of the Oklahoma.

2,403 Americans lost their lives in the attack and 1,178 were wounded. While exact numbers are unknown, at least 40 Wisconsinites were killed that day. Described by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as “a date which will live in infamy,” the events of December 7, 1941 united a nation and led to the United States’ entry into World War II.

Learn more about Wisconsin and Pearl Harbor at http://bit.ly/12n0YfB.

To read Stanley Gruber’s full transcription, click here.

Jeff Carnes: Veteran in the Spotlight

Jeff Carnes in Kuwait.

Jeff Carnes in Kuwait.

As a military linguist, Jeff Carnes provided a critical link between American troops, foreign forces, and the local population, establishing trust in treacherous times. Fluent in Arabic, Carnes connected intimately with the local people during his tour in Iraq in 2003. He recalls a conversation with an Iraqi civilian named Muhammad who had undergone horrific torture at the hands of Saddam Hussein’s regime. “That night in late March 2003,” Carnes writes, “Muhammad not only gave me a crash course in Iraqi Arabic. He taught me that the human soul can endure and flourish under even the most trying circumstances.”

Jeff Carnes was born in Jefferson, Wisconsin, in 1977. He enlisted in the Army after two years at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and attended basic training in the fall of 1997 at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. He was first deployed to Kosovo in 2000, attached to the 1st Armored Division. The unit was charged with leading Task Force Falcon, a part of a NATO-led international peacekeeping force. He returned to the United States in 2001 and continued his field training at Fort Campbell, located along the Tennessee-Kentucky border. Two years later, he was deployed to Iraq as a military linguist with the 502nd Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division. There he provided interpretation on missions; assisted officers with matters of purchasing, transportation and security; and facilitated interactions with locals.

Members of the 101st Airborne Division while stationed in Iraq.

Members of the 101st Airborne Division while stationed in Iraq.

As one of the Army’s many specialized vocations, the job of the military linguist is notable for its high stakes and required expertise. Linguists use their foreign language skills to supplement military intelligence in translation, on-the-ground communication, cryptology, and other diverse operations. Whereas strategic linguists typically work remotely, tactical linguists like Carnes accompany troops in the field.

In 2004, after redeployment to Fort Campbell following his tour in Iraq, Carnes traveled to Arizona to serve as an instructor in the Army Reserves at Fort Huachuca. Since leaving military service in 2006, Carnes re-enrolled in the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he went on to receive a bachelor’s degree in linguistics in 2008. He was awarded the Dean’s Prize as one of the top three graduates in the College of Letters and Science at UW-Madison. He has also been active in the veteran community, including volunteering at the Wisconsin Veterans Museum.

Carnes was a diligent documentarian of his time in the Army, toting home compelling relics and scores of photographs, particularly of his tour in Iraq. Many of these items are now in the WVM collection, helping to illustrate diverse day-to-day encounters and preserving his story for future generations.

Are you a Wisconsin veteran and interested in donating your collection? Learn more: http://bit.ly/1FqCksp

Holiday Greetings from the Field by Mary Kate Kwasnik

Card

Christmas card from the Marvin Fruth collection.

A wise man once crooned that this is the most wonderful time of the year. As the winter holidays roll in, cheer seems to surround us. Coffee shops break out their festive red cups , the radio croons out classic holiday songs and the city is suddenly frosted in tiny, little light bulbs. It’s everywhere. But what are the holidays like for our troops, especially those serving overseas? For those at war? There are classic stories about the 1914 Christmas Truce, when German and British troops ventured out from their trenches into no man’s land to share season’s greetings and cigarettes, or the annual Bob Hope Christmas shows during World War II and Vietnam, but what about the stories about the individual soldier? What was it really like?

We can imagine that holidays spent in the field are wildly different from those at home. Grandparents and cousins turn into sergeants and captains, while cozy, warm homes are replaced with mess halls and tents. Those special, annual holiday meals and dishes that you look forward to every year become just a story to tell your squad about Christmas back home. Upon searching the oral history collection for holiday stories, however, it seems that most veterans have fond memories of holidays in the service. Many have stories of hosting delicious feasts on base and inviting loved ones and locals to celebrate, while others have memories of returning home from the war just in time for Christmas.

In a 2003 oral history interview, C.J. Antonie, a Madison resident and aerial navigator who served in Africa and Italy in World War II, recalled a Christmas feast while stationed in Rome. Following the bombing of the city and the American invasion in 1944, many Romans were living in a state of hunger and poverty. Antonie remembered seeing families living in the rubble of their destroyed homes and encountering elderly Italian women waiting outside the U.S. mess hall with gallon cans to collect unwanted food from the American GIs. At Christmas, Antonie described inviting the young son of the family who did his laundry to the American holiday feast:

 

At Christmastime they said we could bring a guest. They had a little guy about your size, and I said, “Would you like to come for Christmas dinner?” “Oh,” they said, “sure.” So I went to pick him up and they must have had him in a tub and scrubbed him with a scrub brush because he just shone. So as we went through the line I told them this guy’s got a pretty good size family at home, give him a little extra. So, he had a plate that was heaped up like this (indicating). In the meantime he’s taking bread and putting it in his pockets. And he got a bag to put all this stuff in to take it home. He ate pretty good.

(C.J. Antonie, WVM Oral History Interview, 2003)

Roger Miller, a Silver Creek native, recalled holiday memories from inside the kitchen. As a newlywed and newly appointed Army cook at Fort Bragg during the Korean War, Miller was one of only two men in basic training who was not sent to Korea. Miller was able to bring his wife Sylvia to North Carolina where he began cook school and was soon making meals for over 200 soldiers. Miller described his memories of holidays in the mess hall in a 2003 oral history interview:

 

“Things that stand out in my mind from that time is, the spreads that you would put on for holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. Just out of this world. Cans of canned nuts, and all the materials to bake cakes, and cranberry sauce, and all that. On Thanksgiving it was then, they invited your wives to come out to share a meal. It was nice.”

(Roger Mill, WVM Oral History Interview, 2003)

Although most would prefer to be with their loved ones at home for the holidays, that often is not the case for our troops in service. Today, there are roughly one million troops in active duty in over 150 countries around the world. Organizations such as the American Red Cross and Trees for Troops have created programs in which civilians can send holiday cards, packages and Christmas trees to troops overseas. We can hope that when today’s soldiers tell us their stories from their time in service, they will also have warm memories of the holidays, those of festive days in an otherwise difficult time.

Learn more about the WVM Oral History program at http://bit.ly/1uzrCIr.

An Interview with Britain’s Foremost Military Historian and Defense Commentator by Michael Telzrow

Author and Historian Allan Mallinson.

Author and Historian Allan Mallinson.

Museum Director Michael Telzrow recently interviewed Allan Mallinson, one of Britain’s foremost military historians and defense commentators whose book, The Making of the British Army (2009) was described by Antony Beevor in The Times as the acutest study of the army in a generation. Serving for thirty-five years in the army worldwide, Allan Mallinson will be back in Madison to share his latest work, 1914: Fight the Good Fight, at the Wisconsin Veterans Museum on Friday, November 21, 2014 at Noon. This program is free and open to the public.

MICHAEL TELZROW: A lot has been written about British military history. Why did you feel you needed to write 1914:FIGHT THE GOOD FIGHT?

ALLAN MALLINSON: The centenary of the First World War – 2014-2018 – is designated a national commemoration in Britain. Unsurprising when six million men were mobilized from a total population (including, then, the whole of Ireland) of 45 million, of whom over 700,000 were killed. Virtually every family in Britain whose forebears lived here in 1914 counts a great-grandfather, grandfather or even father who fought.

And a great many books have been written about the war. Most of them, however, focus on the trenches of the Western Front, and, naturally given the huge expansion of the army, on the volunteers who flocked to the colours in 1914, and, later, the conscripts. Too little has been written about the old regular army which “held the fought” in the first three months’ fighting in 1914, a period not of trenches but a war of movement. My book addresses that deficiency.

MICHAEL TELZROW: How did your military service inform your writing, or not?

ALLAN MALLINSON: In the same way that you’d expect a surgeon’s experience to inform his writing about surgical procedure. The soldier’s advantage is that he tends to be able to read between the lines better, and to have an instinct for when there’s something missing.

MICHAEL TELZROW: World War I is largely forgotten here in the United States, maybe not in Britain. Why do you think World War II has eclipsed World War I in our collective memories?

ALLAN MALLINSON: See the answer to the first question: it hasn’t been largely forgotten in Britain – the wearing of poppies each November, culminating in the Remembrance ceremonies on 11 November, the day the First World War ended, is an annual and very poignant reminder. It’s the commemoration of all servicemen killed in action in the past century; but it began with 1914-18.

MICHAEL TELZROW: Why did the British command miscalculate the time it would take to defeat the Germans in WWI, or is this mistake that all Generals make at the beginning of a war?

ALLAN MALLINSON: The question forms a large part of my book. Just about every mistake – political and military – that could be made was made. But in short, we believed it would be a short war because we didn’t have the resources for a long one. And not having provided resources for a long war before it started, we paid a very much higher price in the course of it. The American experience was rather different – about which I shall be addressing at The Wisconsin Veterans Museum in Madison on Friday, November 21, 2014 at Noon. Join me for this free program!

For more information on this event, visit http://bit.ly/1xAtvr7

Private Soldiers with Joseph Streeter

Private Soldiers pic 2It wasn’t a surprise to most of us when the alert finally came. We didn’t know where we would go or what we would do, but we’d been expecting it for some time. Finally, on a warm June day, we were boarding chartered aircraft and heading to Camp Shelby, MS for training. Operation Iraqi Freedom had just become real for more than 600 men of the 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry.

Private Soldiers attempts to tell the story of the men who served in the 2-127th Infantry through images, interviews, and letters. It is not a book about famous Generals and politicians who led the war or the politics of why we were there. Instead, the intent is to tell the story of Wisconsin’s citizen Soldiers, what they did and how they lived far away from home.

While a book can tell a story there are many things that it cannot capture. The bravery of men, some barely old enough to vote, making split-second decisions that could mean life or death for themselves, their brothers, or innocent Iraqi civilians, the selflessness of two Soldiers who attempted to rescue a vehicle crew from a burning gun truck, or the professionalism of a medic who was able to treat an Iraqi woman seriously injured in a vehicle crash.

The images and descriptions show the war as we saw it. How we trained, the missions that we conducted, the places we called home, the ways we kept busy, and finally coming home. Private Soldiers devotes an entire chapter to remembering those who were killed or wounded in action. Through the interviews the Soldiers and local Iraqis tell their stories in their own words.

Private Soldiers pic

Nearly 10 years later I am truly grateful to have had the opportunity to serve with the Soldiers of this unit and it has been an honor to contribute to Private Soldiers.

Join Joseph Streeter this Veterans Day, Tuesday, November 11, 2014 at the Weber Center for the Performing Arts in La Crosse, WI to hear more of the story. Click here for more information on the event.

Interested in buying a copy of the book? Buy online today!

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.

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

Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs