#295 – Hunkering down for a Blizzard!

UPDATE 8:15 P.M. DECEMBER 11: Most likely we have over 20″ of snow at our home, thus far no wind. Didn’t leave the house all day. More snow than expected.
UPDATE II 8:10 A.M. DECEMBER 12: We can now classify the storm as a modern day catastrophe. Not only was the Vikings-Giants game postponed till Monday, but at least part of the Metrodome roof apparently has collapsed under the snow.
The storm lasted only 24 hours, and it didn’t even approach blizzard standards, at least where we live, but it was an unusual time for us.
At the end of yesterday’s post are some memories of past times storms.

Our grill in disguise, late afternoon December 11, 2010

There’s something energizing about a blizzard, even if you’re totally disabled and immobile (translated: not going out for coffee) as I am at this moment.
We’re in the fairly early stages of what they’re calling a blizzard – plenty of fluffy snow thus far, but relatively little wind. Once the wind comes along, those harmless little pieces of fluff will be even more disabling.
So there’s little to do but revel in the warmth of a home (we’re fortunate) and reminisce…about blizzards I have known.
Recently I completed a history of my French-Canadian roots, and a bit player in that history was Father Joseph Goiffon, called the “peg leg Priest”.

Fr. Goiffon lost his leg in a mis-adventure when caught in an All-Saints Day (Halloween) blizzard in 1860 near where the Park and Red Rivers come together in northeast North Dakota. Fr. Goiffon only lost his leg; his horse froze to death. His nephew, Duane Thein, edited a most interesting 91-page book, still in print, about the near-tragedy in 2005 (see cover, above). Father Goiffon lived on to re-tell the story many times. He died in 1910.
I survived, somewhat more comfortably than Fr. Goiffon, the Halloween blizzard of 1991. I was living in Hibbing MN at the time, and it was said we got over 30 inches of snow which, after the wind, became the hard-pack flakes famous for igloos and fun for kids to build snow caves and forts.
For adults, such blizzards are usually the pits, even if in comfort (last night in a grocery store line I was chatting with the guy behind me who said the liquor store line had been even longer….) Yah, I’ll hear the high-pitched whine of the snowmobiles shortly, but mostly we’re house-bound.
In Hibbing, we were immobile for what I remember to be several days. There was nowhere to go, and no way to get there. Immobility for we in the mobile generation is difficult.

After the Halloween blizzard in Hibbing MN 1991

Growing up in North Dakota, I became accustomed to blizzards – two or three of them a winter, it seems.
Unlike today’s blizzard, which was pretty accurately forecast, in those days in the 1940s and on, wise sages had to read the skies and we had to act prudently to avoid being caught in a killer out in the country. You knew those mean storms were out there, but you didn’t know exactly when they’d hit or how bad they’d be.
But if you were indoors and had enough food and fuel, you were okay.
Afterwards, you could walk on the rock hard snow banks, and the kids would work harder than they’d ever work doing chores, digging snow caves and building snow forts and doing all the things kids can do when presented with a new opportunity.
I think of the Elgin ND Blizzard of February, 1965 – a bad one. But it is just another example. They happened every year.
I write in the early stages of this one, so I can’t project what it will be like a few hours from now.
It appears to be of relatively short duration, but if it gets windy, watch out.
So far, nobody’s out for fun. Those who are out are busy.
Today we’ll put up the Christmas tree….

Christmas Tree 7 p.m. December 11, 2010, first view

Happy Holidays.
UPDATE: Some responses to the above post:

From Mel Berning, Eureka CA, who recalls a storm he lived through in rural Berlin, North Dakota, right after WWII.
“There were lots of memorable blizzards in N. Dak. but only one remains in my
mind. Dad and Mom came to the Dakotas in 1906 and i remember dad telling about
blizzards so severe you couldn’t see anything but dark lightness in the height of
the storm even during the daylight hours. As a wise kid I discounted these wild
stories as a flight of fancy until one day in deep winter I experienced just
My brother Gus and I decided to get the chores over quickly and do them at 4:30
in the afternoon. It was in the winter of [19]46?? and Gus was home from the
service at the time and staying on the farm with us. To get on with it we went
into the summer porch and lit our kerosene lantern in preparation for the trip
to the barn, a distance of about100 feet. We stepped out of the porch door and
the wind blew the lantern out, I turned to my older brother and hollered lets
hold hands till we get to the barn, surprisingly he gladly complied and we
stumbled blindly on through the howling snow hand in hand. Fortunately I had been
to the barn so often that we collided with the side of the barn and felt our way
around to the door. I kept hoping one of us had matches to relight the lantern
because it was dark as ink. We slid open the barn door, stepped inside, and lo
the lantern was still lit. neither of us could see it in the blinding snow and
it surely was a relief to have light.
Another winter story if you would, We had a 2 week snow with constant blizzard
conditions. As can be expected, dad was out of tobacco and we were running low
on groceries when the storm suddenly stopped and a Chinook [wind] came up from the
south. The temperature rapidly climbed to 50+ and my neighbor and I started to
plow our way to the store in Berlin [about five miles away]. By 3:00 o’clock we were able to reach the
plowed highway and returned home. We both picked up our grocery list and headed
back to Berlin to buy the family groceries. After doing the shopping we decided
to go to the Oasis, the pool hall, have a beer and shoot a game of pool, We
barely got to break the racked balls when some one came in and said it was
snowing out side. We hung up our cues and headed for home. The blizzard was
back and the temperature was dropping rapidly, we got to with in 2-1/2 miles of
home when we hit a new drift on the road and it was home from there on foot.
When I got home dad and mom were very relieved and by that time the thermometer
was on the minus side of 10 below. Several people and some stock died in Dakota
that night.
From Myron DeMers, Fargo ND, who grew up in rural Grafton, ND:
When you mention blizzards and I see so many people outside using snow blowers right now in Fargo, I remembered asking dad years ago if they did a lot of shoveling “in the old days”. His answer surprised me. He said “yes and no” because with all the farmyard traffic, horses, sleighs etc the snow would pack down and most of the winter was spent riding on top of the snow rather then shoveling it. He said the only problem was Spring when it became a muddy mess but by then you were so happy to see Spring, the mud was “clean mud”. Merry Christmas, Myron
From Ellen Brehmer, Grand Forks ND, who grew up in rural Langdon, ND
I hear your supposed to get ‘a bit’ of snow & wind. We are breathing a great sigh of relief because this one will miss us. We’re just sinking into the depths of 20 to 30 below, and that’s not wind chill. We do have the wind so I’m sure the old snow will drift some. It’s always fortunate to be home when the storms hit.
One winter possibly late ’50’s we had to walk a mile across the field in the evening because the car got completely stuck and flooded trying to break through a snow drift on Schnieder’s corner. That’s 1 1/2 miles from home. We walked over the hard pack at an angle so it was probably only a mile – I’m here to tell you that my thighs were very very cold. I’m pretty sure that it was [siblings] Pat, Jerry, Marilyn and myself who walked behind Dad. We had been to some church thing or something. Nothing else got that cold, we all had scarves and mittens and boots, plus we were moving – the front thighs took the beating. So guess what gets cold first for me when I’m shoveling, yup the thighs.
From Mary Busch, Minneapolis, who grew up in ND and northern MN:
Your dad loaned my parents the car to drive to the Carrington Hospital [14 miles away] where I was born during a bad snow storm. (being a geographer-could we find info about that storm?) Late in her life mom revealed I was nearly born in the car. I always wondered about the very flat section of my head—-…
Growing up in Rugby North Dakota, we walked everywhere.
I valued my turquoise fluffy wool coat purchased in Herbergers in Grand Forks ND. The Little Flower School costume was skirts with white cotton socks with metal clasps tied to elastic garters holding them up… rubber boots over shoes and maybe pants… I remember the metal clasps near your skin burning and leaving red marks on cold days. It was a six block walk.
I craved excitement and would walk to the high school to watch Basketball games- Paul Prestis [Presthus?] became a star….It was so cold and about a mile there.
My parents STORED meat in a locked wooden box by the back door….a homemade freezer.
My dad had a complicated ritual involving army blankets to start the Plymouth in cold weather…We often visited relatives for vacations.
A geologist guest in the 1990s was raised in Siberia and commented that Rugby was exactly like Siberia in climate and geology so we had shared similar childhoods.
My dad would take us out ice fishing in very cold weather. We walked back into northern MN lakes, built a fire and drilled our holes. I kept my Rolliflex camera under my jacket so it did not freeze. I often brought guests home to Babbitt and recall an amazed despairing New York City gal, when I explained and demonstrated the toilet opportunities in subzero wilderness.

#283 – Dick Bernard: A simple and positive idea, Holiday Greetings to those who may not otherwise receive them.

A great friend clued me in on a project a friend of hers was doing: to deliver 1000 greeting cards to military service persons, their families or veterans. It has a deadline of December 10, 2010, and the details are here.

Early 1900s Christmas Card

I bought in on the project and it was simple process to complete 50 cards for the project. We had unused cards from previous Holiday seasons, and it was simple enough to find cards that were not overly focused on one religious tradition or another. I chose to identify myself as a US Army veteran because that is what I am. I was in the service in 1962-63, nearly 50 years ago, in an infantry company.
Back then, as Company Clerk, I was well aware of the fact that when mail call came, there were always colleague GIs who didn’t get any mail at all. Some never got any mail. There is something unfortunate about feeling left out when (it seems) everybody in the unit is getting mail but you. This feeling intensifies when you’re a long way from home and you’re missing a major holiday.
The folks with this project have very simple rules: no inserts, personal messages, mailing addresses – that sort of thing.
The rules make sense…and they make the project even simpler. I simply offered “all best wishes, in peace” and that was that.
Dig out those leftover cards, complete as many as you care to, and send them in within the next week. They cannot be sealed, and the fold has to be inside so that the cards can be easily inspected for content.
If this particular idea doesn’t intrigue you, replicate the idea in some other way this intense season of the year.
Whatever your tradition, or your personal feelings about this season, I’d recommend this as a worthwhile project.

Christmas postcard from December, 1913

My story about those long ago postcards, two of which appear above is here.

#276 – Dick Bernard: 11 bells; 3 volleys. Nov. 11, 2010 remembered.

[My sister] Florence was born [Nov. 3, 1918] the year World War I ended. [Nov. 11, 1918] the hired girl and I were out in the snow chasing chickens into the coop so they wouldnt freeze when there was a great long train whistle from the Grand Rapids [ND] railroad track [5 miles away]. In the house there was a long, long telephone ringing to signify the end of World War I.
Esther Busch Bernard memories, p. 122 of Pioneers, the Busch-Berning family history (2005).
November 11 I attended both the Armistice and Veterans Day events held one block apart, roughly halfway between the State Capitol and Cathedral of St. Paul.
That context is important.
I think I have participated in most if not all Armistice Day events since 2002.
This year I intentionally broadened my context, and distanced myself from all participants in both events. I wanted to catch more of the resonance or emotional distance between those who remember Armistice Day (reminding us of the end of WW I on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, continuing in many countries to this day); and Veteran’s Day (which permanently replaced Armistice Day in the U.S. in 1954.) I wandered between the groups, one city block apart, easily visible to each other.
On the way to the events, yesterday, I stopped at my barber, a Marine combat veteran in Vietnam whose brother, also a Marine, was killed in Vietnam. Tom and I are long-time good friends. He angled a little towards conversation about war and peace this day; I chose to angle away. We talked of other things.
On the wall was a flat screen television tuned to the sports network, ESPN. The coverage this day included live film from a U.S. military base in Germany. Part of the coverage included a field game, similar to what kids would play, only in this case it was Hand Grenade toss, to see which GI participant could come closest to nailing a humanoid figure in the eye of a bullseye with a hand grenade facsimile. Not much focus on peace, there.
Haircut over I went to the Veterans/Armistice day field of memories.
There seemed to be roughly equal numbers of outside visitors at each, though the Veterans group was much more formal and fancier, including people in uniform, lots of flags, and what appeared to be a high school band. Both groups were heavily laced with military veterans.
I noted, really for the first time in many years coming here, a large sculpture of a soldier with what I’d call pleading outstretched arms. He stood roughly half way between the groups, primarily facing the Veterans Day event at the Vietnam Memorial Wall.

He had been standing there since 1982, the plaque said.
11:00 was approaching and I returned to the Armistice Day gathering to witness the bell-ringing, 11 times, to signify 11-11-11. The speaker holding our bell said that the Cathedral of St. Paul down the street had agreed to ring their bells 11 times this year – a first. We waited. 11:00 came and went, no bells. The group rang its own bell.
I left, and went over to the Veterans gathering just in time to see their ceremony, three men brought forth a rifle, a pair of boots and a helmet to signify a fallen soldier. The MC ordered three rifle volleys from the armed color guard.
I found myself thinking back to that sculpture between the groups. The caption said “Why do you forget us?” as the sculpted soldier faced the Veterans gathering.
Behind him, I thought to myself, was an Armistice group that might change that quotation only slightly. “Why do you forget [“the war to end all wars”]?
I left the parking lot. 11:15 and still no bells from the Cathedral, looming over us a few short blocks away. The silence was deafening.
There is a story waiting to be told….
Regarding “the resonance or emotional distance”? Remember the distinction between 11 bells and 3 volleys of rifle fire. That catches it, in my seeing and hearing. At one site, the symbol of honor was a rifle, serving as a body of a soldier, with boots and helmet. At the other, a simple bell of peace.

Veterans Day Commemoration

Armistice Day Commemoration

Related, here.

#191 – Dick Bernard: A Pleasant Spring Day in the Country May 4, 2000

We had our breakfast in the hotel in Krakow the morning of May 4, 2000. We’d been together, the 40 of us**, since April 26, but this day was even more serious than most earlier days had been, and those days had been serious, too: Tabor, Terezin, Prague…. There was not much small talk this day.
We boarded the bus and travelled west out of Krakow towards the Polish town of Brzezinka, 40 miles away. Near Brzezinka we gathered in a parking lot, and entered a place called Auschwitz, filing under the archway with the infamous words “Arbeit Macht Frei“. For us, roughly half and half Christian and Jew, this was not the first visit to a place of the horrors of the Holocaust – there had been several stops before today – but for most of us it was probably the most powerful single event.
May 4 also happened to be my 60th birthday.
As Spring days go, May 4, 2000, was ideal. The trees had leafed out; it was bright sun. But there is something about spending a pleasant day in a place like Auschwitz….
Brzezinka (Oswiecm to the Germans) was actually home to two of the three places in the Auschwitz group. Auschwitz I, where we went under the arch, was basically for Polish prisoners of the Reich.
We spent some somber time there, then it was time for Auschwitz II, a place called Birkenau, where between 1.1 and 1.5 million Jews perished between 1943 and its liberation January 27, 1945.
It is about 1 1/2 miles between Auschwitz I and Birkenau, and we requested and received permission to walk between the two places, most of the route along the same railroad track which transported the Jews to their death. It was a time of pretty intense introspection, there was no frivolity on that walk. For almost all the Jews who entered Birkenau, there was no exit.

A quiet walk on a beautiful day May 4, 2000

I guess you could say that we “toured” Birkenau, but somehow that word doesn’t fit.
We saw the ruins of the ovens which, they said, could efficiently cremate 4415 bodies a day, but which often incinerated twice as many.
In the afternoon, in a pleasant glade between the ruins of the crematory ovens, there was a memorial service. The youngest of our group, and me, the birthday boy, were chosen to light candles to the memory of those who had died in the holocaust. Two of the photos, here, are at that place.
It was a beautiful afternoon, the birds were chirping in the trees surrounding us. Somehow it didn’t match the black and white images of the camp when its sole function was to kill Jews. May 4, 2000, is one of those days whose memory will never leave me.
A memorial service between the ovens....
We’re now 10 years from that day in 2000. Another ten years have passed.
May 4, 2000, was 16 months before 9-11-01 and all that has transpired since that time.
Our group stayed in touch for awhile, but it has been a long time since there was any real contact. Such is how things go, even when you’re together in intense experiences as we were.
Entering the first museum building at Auschwitz one’s eyes encounter George Santayana’s famous quotation: “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it“.
I would like to propose a corollary to all of us: it is not enough to simply remember the past, unless one learns from it for the future, and diligently applies the learnings.
Remembering is not enough.
At night, back at the hotel, I mentioned to the group that my Uncle Frank Bernard was among the first American casualties of WW II, on the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941. In that awful war, WWII, it is said that at least 50,000,000 ultimately perished because of the war. Six million were Jews*. Another nearly six million were Poles.
The records show that the official beginning of the German surrender to the allies began 65 years ago today, May 4, 1945. It would be early September before the Japanese surrendered. Another uncle, my mother’s brother, Navy officer George Busch, was aboard Destroyer DD460 which docked at Tokyo the evening of September 10, 1945.
Until we become more proficient at making Peace than we are at making War; at being friends than being enemies; all is ultimately lost….
I wish I could be hopeful.

Ben and the Memorial Candles within Birkenau

* One of the prayers at Auschwitz, May 4, 2000:
Reader: Silence. Only silence. Waiting for our reply. All of them, waiting. Three million and three hundred thousand Jews lived in Poland before the war.
Congregation: Three million died.
Reader: Two million eight hundred and fifty thousand Jews lived in Russia.
Congregation: More than a million died.
Reader: One and a half million Jews lived in the Balkans and Slavic countries.
Congregation: More than a million died.
Reader: Germany, Austria, France and Italy had six hundred and fifty thousand Jews.
Congregation: Half of them died.
Reader: Rhodes and Cyprus had happy, thriving congregations.
Congregation: The synagogues stand empty now.
Reader: Our brothers and sisters were murdered everywhere in the days of destruction.
Congregation: They died in cities and towns, in villages and fields.
Reader: They died in the night and the fog, they died between dawn and dusk.
Congregation: They died by fire and water, by poison and gun.
Reader: They died alone; but we will not forget them.
Congregation: They died alone; but we will not forget them.
Reader: We will remember them; in reverence, and in silence.
** – We were a delegation from Temple Israel and Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis MN. To my knowledge (I haven’t checked, lately), Temple and Basilica were the first, and probably remain the only, joint Christian and Jew plaque on the remembrance wall at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. That is a testimony to the friendship of Rabbi Joseph Edelheit and Fr. Michael O’Connell.
Postscript June 30, 2010: Note this link: A powerful photo album from Auschwitz with pictures taken when the death camp at Birkenau was in operation..
Here’s a more recent photo album, including photos taken by our fellow pilgrim on our visit to Auschwitz and other places of the Holocaust in April and May 2000. Note #3.

#185 – Dick Bernard: Easter (and other) Postcards from the olden days

Happy Easter.
Some years ago I convinced my Uncle to loan me his collection of old postcards, sent to the rural North Dakota farm where he and my mother and many others grew up. The cards were mostly from the early 1900s, and in the end I scanned over 150 of them, and wrote a commentary about them which is still accessible. (At the end of the commentary I suggest that the cards are still viewable, but they are no longer available from that source. Maybe another spring project…. See paragraph below.)
I comment on the Easter cards in the post. Succinctly, about 40% of the cards had a religious theme, while the other 60% had more seasonal or secular themes. This surprised me somewhat because this farm family and its root family was very religious. And these cards were mostly from the first decade of the 1900s.
Following are samples of the cards, secular, religious.
There are many others. (The on-line album listed at the article is no longer available. Here is a link to all of the postcards, including the Easter themes.)
Have a good Easter, or spring day, or whatever is your wish or belief on this April 4, 2010.

#88 – Dick Bernard: A Happy Birthday to Annelee, and a time to reflect on War

See comment at end of post
Annelee Woodstrom is 83 years young today, and what a remarkable 83 years it has been.  She’s one of my role models.  What a life.  What an example.
We saw her reading from her book “War Child, Growing Up in Adolf Hitler’s Germany” one week ago today.  We were among 75 people in a church conference room, all listening carefully.  You could “hear a pin drop”, literally.  Each time I hear her speak, her presentation is more compelling and powerful.

Annelee Woodstrom September 13, 2009

Annelee Woodstrom September 13, 2009

I met Annelee when I ordered a copy of her book in 2003.  I had read a column about the book in the Fargo (ND) Forum, and sent her a note.  We’ve been good friends ever since.
Annelee wrote the book when she was 77.  It is about to go into its third printing.  Last year, she wrote a followup, Empty Chairs, about 60 years in the United States, beginning as a war bride of an American GI from northwest MN.  Their marriage of 51 years ended with his death in 1998.  Empty Chairs has also been a success for Annelee.  She has a powerful story to tell. ( #mce_temp_url# for details about the books.  Both are well worth reading.)
Annelee was 7 years old when Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933.  She lived in a town of about 6,000 people within walking distance of what is now the CzechRepublic.  There were two Jewish families in her town.  Both were forced to leave, both survived.  At the end of the war, Annelee was 18 and a telegrapher in Regensburg, and near the end of the war she and a friend walked 90 miles home: better to die at home than through the bombs, they felt.  They like other Germans were starving.  Earlier she had been under the carpet bombing of the allies and survived.  The detonation caused severe hearing loss.
What had seemed to be a glorious war for Germany, re-building national pride and securing additional land and resources, had an inglorious end for the Germans. There’s a lesson in that for us.
In the official public accounts of the winners (as in schoolbook history) of WWII, the war usually begins with 1938; the U.S. engagement begins with Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941. WWII ends with the surrender of Germany in May, 1945; and with Japan in September of that year.  It was our heroic war, liberating good from evil.  When asked when the Germans saw the end was coming, Annelee readily says “1943”.  She was 16, then.
Annelee began her talk by recalling German history between the end of the “war to end all wars”, WWI, in 1918, and her birth in 1926.  This was a time of destitution for ordinary Germans, rarely seriously discussed.  The Nazis promised jobs and national pride and prosperity, and for a while produced on their pledge, especially for those who were loyal party members.  Her parents refused to become party members, and refused her requests to join the Hitler Youth, whose parades and splendid uniforms enthralled her as a young girl.
There is almost literally a black hole in information about the privation of ordinary Germans after WWI.  But it was this privation, and the resulting humiliation at the loss that probably were the major factors making ordinary Germans susceptible to Hitler and the Nazis propaganda.
Winners of wars write the always heroic official history; losers retain and pass down the memories and consequences of the loss.  There is always a “black hole” – a story not to be told.  Personal memory is powerful for the losers.  There is no surrender of memory.
Annelee to her great credit remembers, and chooses to share.
Happy Birthday, Annelee!
Annelee’s s story last Sunday reminded me of an earlier story I had read about Germany in the aftermath of WW I.
This story came in the form of a November 5, 1923, letter written by my great-uncle Herman Henry Busch of Dubuque Iowa to a nephew in Germany.  At the time, HH had lived in the United States for over 50 years and he was a prosperous land developer.  The original letter was in German, and I had it and several others translated for a family history I first wrote in 1993.
In relevant part, here’s what HH Busch said about the consequence of WWI five years after it had ended.  Bear in mind, he is writing from America, and at the time he writes has lived in the U.S. for over 50 years.
“The last letter [unavailable,  apparently written in pre-war or WWI times] I counseled [a cousin] to shake the [German] dust from his feet and come over [to the U.S.].  It was the time when the bishop from Lemberg was taken into captivity by the Russians.  He answered me that [Germany] had a good Kaiser and good times.  My warning was justified.
The American millionaires and the government had loaned the Allies so many millions that against the will of the common folk, President Wilson was pulled into the War.  England had nine million for newspaper propaganda (for war) in American newspapers about the brutal German and that the German-Americans had come to suffer under it, they were held for unpatriotic and were required to come before the court for little things as if they were pro-German[*].  The damned war was a revenge and a millionaire’s war and the common people had to bleed in this bloody gladiator battle.  Yes, until now the world still has no peace because of the revenge of France [**].
So now the Catholics of America have a nine day novena for peace, in our beautiful Marian church.  The novena ends on the feast of All-Saints Day. It would be desirable for the strong God of the warring armies to let justice reign here and give the whole world the peace so that, at Christmas, the world can experience peace and good will to all.  We Americans must now bear the war debt of fifty billion through taxes and it makes me happy that you [Germans] do not need help us pay the war debt.  The last occupation map that I saw had  [his home area between the Ruhr and Netherlands] Borken on the borderline, is Borken occupied?  Is Borken included in the occupied area or not?  Where do the garrison occupation lines run near you?  Was the harvest good?  Are many people in the area in misery?  What is your business?  Who lives in my old home now.  I forgot nothing of the beautiful hunting grounds of my youth.  If the hunt is still as good as then, it would be my utmost wish to make a hunt there in Soison.  Report also of your family. If Germany will become more divided through loss of the Rhinelands and the revolution of the socialists and communists [***] then there is still a  crisis to get through, and we very surely hope that the whole confusion is soon rectified and order comes.  If Germany had been able to overflow the American newspapers with propaganda during the war like England, then America would have been on Germany’s side instead of England’s and it would be in a completely different position now in the world.  One hears that the need in the cities is big and farmers fare the best….”  (page 271, Pioneers: The Busch and Berning Families of LaMoure County ND, 1991, 1993, 2005)
* – German-Americans, especially those who spoke German, were considered suspect in the U.S., much as the Japanese-Americans were considered suspect in WWII, and the Arab-Americans today.  The old patters continue unabated.   If we do the same things in the same ways we will always get the same results…but it is a very hard lesson to learn.
** – In another letter, HH recounts a story told by his grandparents about the early 1800s when Napoleon overran their homeland of Westfalia, and for a number of years they were governed by France.  No love was lost for France by this German.
*** – H. H. does not define “socialist” or “communist” in his letter, and no later record is known from later writings.  The Nazis did eliminate the communists as competition, and the more I learn about the Nazis, they were, rather than “socialist”, really a mother-lode for the capitalists of the day, both in their country and elsewhere.  They were really the very epitome of the “military-industrial complex” which President Eisenhower feared in his farewell address to the U.S. Congress in January, 1961, and which is now a troubling reality.  In his address, Eisenhower had actively considered adding reference to government to his phrase, but in the end did not.
In background, Annelee's family in 1943

In background, Annelee's family in 1943

Annelee’s father was ultimately drafted into the German Army in a construction engineering capacity.  Except for coming home around Christmas of 1943, he was never seen again.  They believe he died in a Russian prison perhaps after the war, but no one is absolutely sure.
H.H. Busch died in 1933, the year Hitler came to power, and the Great Depression was raging in the United States.  Except for the above letter, I have no further accounts by or about him.
UPDATE SEP 20, 2009 from Jim Fuller:
A key point in the piece is that the period between WWI and WWII is a “black hole” for most people, which means that they can have no real understanding of why the Nazis in Germany and Fascists in Italy rose so readily to power in their respective countries.
A painless way to gain considerable knowledge of that era, and have a great time in the process, is to read the novels of Alan Furst.  They are superb, and beautifully written stories of spies and emigre intrigue in Europe between the world wars, but they also are filled with factual detail that one rarely, if ever, finds in history books. Another excellent novel that provides great historical insight is Erich Maria Remarque’s “Black Obelisque.”  (Remarque was the author of “All quiet On the Western Front,” which in its early chapters also tells much about that between-wars period.

#29 – Dick Bernard: Memorial Day 2009: A snapshot of the last year of WWII as experienced by two ND farm families


Today is Memorial Day, with all the varied meanings attached to it, all of which are deemed by their interpreters to be the proper meaning, all of which commemorate the tragedy of war. 

An e-mail from Mel in California on Friday, May 23, led me back to a treasure trove of copies of old letters I’ve had for years.  Most of them were written on my grandparents kitchen table, which would have been within the grove of trees included in the photo on the cover page of this blog.  The others would have been written on another kitchen table on a farm about three-fourths of a mile to the right of Sam and his photographer, myself. 

These letters were all written in 1944-45, and provide a snapshot of the impact of one war on one tiny community in the United States.  The quotes were interspersed among mundane bits of news: harvesting, cold weather, going to town and church.  I could have included more than these, but they suffice.  Grammatical and punctuation errors are as they were.  No editor was looking over the shoulder of these writers.  They wrote from the heart to their son, brother, cousin….

My correspondent, Mel, my mother’s first cousin who grew up on the neighboring farm in North Dakota, wrote about “Francis [Long] (marine killed in Tarawa)”.  I knew of Francis; Tarawa particularly interested me, as my friend, Minneapolis businessman Lynn Elling, was a young Navy officer, early in his tour, when his LST arrived at the gosh-awful remains of the Tarawa campaign in late 1943.  His experiences there, and later, seared into his memory, led him to a life long and still continuing quest for peace. .

Mel had his facts slightly wrong: his Aunt, my Grandma Rosa, wrote her son, George, an Officer on the USS Woodworth in the Pacific Theatre, on August 20, 1944: “Fri we had a Memorial Mass for Francis Long killed July 2 on Saipan…”.

George kept letters he received in WWII, and a few years ago I incorporated all of the letters from home into a family history of two neighboring farm families, the Buschs and Bernings, rural Berlin, ND.

Deadly World War II comes alive simply from pull quotes from a few of the letters written to George from the kitchen tables.  Following are a few samples:

Grandma, September 22, 1944: “I must give Francis Long a spiritual bouquet yet in a Mass they feel so badly.”

September 22, 1944, Uncle Vince writes his brother: “Threshing is coming along fine…[one hired man], a ex-marine from Guadacanal.”

October 22, 1944, Aunt Edith: “[our sister Florence] wrote they were afraid they were loosing their hired man to the Army.  He got his 1-A….”

Also October 22, Grandma Rosa “[my neighbor and sister-in-law Tina and her daughter Agnes] are going out to Whyoming… to see [their daughter and sister] Rose as Pinkey [Rose’s husband George Molitor] has to go across now too she expects a baby in Nov. so its to bad he has to go at this time.  Mrs. Heim says Elmer is in Holland now was in England & Belgium driving a tank so is in the front too at times Delores is in Italy….”

October 30, Grandma writes “[Vincent] got a card from the draft board saying he was in class II-C till Feb… How I wish it were all over.”  (II-C was likely a military deferment for essential work at home.  Vincent was needed on the farm.)

November 5, Grandma: “The Bernings are well Aug[ust] is still at camp LaJeune NoCar…  Ruby is in cadet nurse training in [Rockford] IL.  Rufina is in training at Iowa City.

January 1, 1945, Grandma writes “[three] are leaving for the service soon…[another Long] is in Class A 1 now too….”

There is “radio silence” on the letters until June, 1945.  Doubtless letters continued, but don’t remain for posterity. 

June 11, 1945, Aunt Tina, Rose’s mother, writes “[daughter] Ruby has gone on to Montana to cheer up Rose a bit as her hubby is missing now for a month or so.  I hope…that he turns up liveing.”  (George Molitor KIA over Italy April 4, 1945, leaving Rose with two daughters, aged two and six months.)

July 25, 1945, Grandma: “…had a letter from [Marine Captain] August [Berning] is on Okinawa he had a bad battle there got shot through his jacket…The boys were to a show last night in LaMoure “30 seconds over Tokyo”….”

August 8, 1945, Grandma: “Lorin H____ is at home now again they say he is nervous and has some shrapnel in his body but I bet he is glad to be home and will soon mend.”

August 26, 1945, Grandma:  Hurrah! The old war is over I can’t say what that means to me….

The surrender documents were signed by the Germans on May 7; and by the Empire of Japan on September 2, 1945.

War continues.  “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.”

#11 – Dick Bernard: Swine Flu, Fear, Hype and Hysteria

During 1918, my mother almost died in the WW I flu epidemic. I know because she wrote about it in her memories, thusly:
I think one of the most traumatic experiences I had happened when I was about nine years old and got the World War I flu. Many people were very sick and some died. I had a very rough siege with that flu and remember when Dr. Salvage came out in some very cold winter weather, in the middle of the night, to keep me from bleeding to death. I don’t remember what he did but I had a very high fever and was bleeding from the nose and I spit out chunks of blood. I think they thought I was gone for sure. I recovered though and it took a long while for me to regain my strength. I can remember having some wild dreams and nightmares and must have been out of my head at least part of the time. .”
Esther Bernard, Jan. 1981, page 116 of Pioneers: The Busch and Berning families of LaMoure County North Dakota.
I was seven years old when I got hepatitis and had a very rough time with that. There was no simple way to handle yellow jaundice and it had to work out of the system. I think they give blood transfusions now. I had an upset stomach for several years after that which is probably why I had such a rough time with the 1918 flu
I thought of Mom’s recollection this morning with the breaking news about the Mexican Swine Flu fears. It became big news yesterday; today’s paper had much front page coverage, including a map of the United States which showed 8 cases in Ohio, 7 in California, 2 each in Texas, , Kansas and Ohio. “It’s not a time to panic,” the White House said”, while suggestions were about that we were at a time of possible epidemic, or global pandemic. 1918 came up, as did 1957 and 1968. I wasn’t around in 1918, but I don’t remember anything about 1957 or 1968 so the grim reaper must’ve passed us by. (By the winter of 1918 Mom’s family included her parents and six children. As best as I can tell, she is the only one who got sick with the flu. The 1918 pandemic apparently mainly impacted on young adults – people 20-40. My grandparents would have been in that general age range; neither got sick.)
I don’t know all the details about 1918 and the flu epidemic. I know my grandparents had telephone then; that Dr. Salvage was in a town 10 miles away, that roads were good enough for a car to get through to most farms IF they weren’t blocked with snow, or impassable due to mud.
I don’t know what Dr. Salvage had in his medical bag when he visited Mom; I don’t know if something in that bag helped her turn the corner, or if Mom just got lucky and slowly got better. It does appear, though, from the history she and her siblings recited that at her farm the grim reaper had picked her, and only her, for attention during that awful time period. And I know, too, that in that long ago time the odds of medicine making any difference at all were much lower than today: if you got sick, you either got better or you didn’t. Other than the phone and the newspapers and word of mouth, there were no other media to really fan up the fear, such as there is today.
So, today, lots of newsprint and air time is expended to emphasize the possibility of a dire threat from a flu that has so far affected 21 people in the entire United States. (As I write, the MSN home page has updated the number to 40). People are assessing who they know who’s been to Mexico recently. I took a couple across the driveway to the airport a month or so ago, as they were enroute to a two week vacation in Mexico. A good friend recently came back from a vacation in Mexico. Should I steer clear of them till the threat passes? Will I start to see people wearing masks in grocery stores? Should I buy a mask, or get in line for Tamiflu?
What I do know is that fear sells, and sells well; and fear can rapidly turn into hysteria. And there are many who benefit from the hype, selling fear and hysteria. Of course, fear and hysteria solve nothing, but are certain realities.
Is it useful to exercise prudence in these times? Absolutely. But making it into front page news at this stage?