Monday, May 28, 2012

This Day In History

Jim Thorpe (126 years ago)
Ian Fleming (104 years ago)
Gladys Knight (68 years ago)

Noah Webster (169 years ago)

Military exercises, World War II
History has always been fascinating to me. It started, I think, when I was in the fourth grade. Years later I would learn that before a certain age children have no concept of time, so they have difficulty grasping stories about history. It makes sense that part of being a young child is wrapped up in "living in the now." Around fourth or fifth grade young minds begin to understand that the past is something back there and the future out ahead of us. 

It was in Miss Morse's fourth grade class at Stafford School that I developed an interest in the Civil War. The chief cause of this fascination was a very large, colorful book (published, I believe, by American Heritage) at the back of the room with maps of every battle. The maps had details of the terrain and showed where the various army battalions were stationed or moving. I remember very little from that year of schooling other than that book at the back of the room, which I visited frequently.

Books of all types are endlessly fascinating, especially biographies and autobiographies. When we read peoples' stories we discover how much we have in common, or how very different our experiences have been.

Chopping onions, Bud Wagner, left.
70 years ago today sugar rationing began in the United States. The war effort was having a major impact on many industries. Sacrifices were being made across the board because something large was at stake. Our young men were now overseas.

In 1999 my father-in-law Wilmer A. "Bud" Wagner published his war memoirs, with notations. Hard to believe it has been 70 years since he was stationed in Ireland, preparing for the North Africa Campaign. Though never a soldier myself I know that the phrase "hurry up and wait" is a common one. The soldiers were assembled, trained and now waiting for marching orders. Many of these men would never see their families again.

Here's an excerpt from Bud's book And There Shall Be Wars. It's an ordinary man's daily observations for three-and-one-half years of service. Wagner was the second man in Northern Minnesota to be drafted into the war. He carried a small pocket camera and kept a diary from beginning to end, from Camp Claiborne to Ireland to North Africa and the Italy Campaigns. His keen day by day observations have been amplified with a lifetime of research and reflection to provide readers with important insights through the eyes of a young soldier from rural Minnesota.

The format of the book is diary entries followed by commentary, designated here by italics.

Wednesday, May 27,1942 
On again this forenoon. Raining on and off. Hurley and I went to Limavady. Got a ride in with an army truck. Went to several places, until 7:30, then we took Nancy and Dorothy to a show, Toppers Return. A fantastic story, but enjoyed the picture. Left the girls at 11:30 and walked to camp. Two letters today.

Dorothy had been staying with Nancy a few days on vacation. They came from Belfast. Both were well-educated, with high standards, and real nice to talk to. Hurley kept in contact with Nancy the whole time we were in Ireland. 

 Irish girls like these two would never think of inviting boyfriends to their apartment after a move. Dorothy and I weren't excited about each other, but I was a good fill-in once in a while, and she gave me a good reason to go to town, instead of just to walk around. 

Thursday, May 28, 1942 
Slept until 9:30. Read a little. Hurley and I were on together this p.m. We hurried through tonight. We each got a pass. I borrowed Don's bike, and we went to Limavady again. We went for a walk with Nancy and Dorothy, across the river and in a park. Dorothy took pictures. She can get film. We just talked a lot, and I had a Time magazine that we discussed. We walked back again. To camp at midnight.

Friday, May 29, 1942 
Didn't get to sleep until 1:30. Hurley overslept. I really had to move on the double to get breakfast out on time. We had fried potatoes, French toast, braised beef for dinner. Off this p.m. Had to load all our things, the kitchen truck and leave the kitchen and our hut real clean. Hurley wanted me to go with him to Limavady again, but lucky for me, no passes were given out. I'm just getting tired out.

* * * * *
This matter-of-fact style of daily notation becomes quite dramatic once the war kicks into high gear. Here's a portion of a letter from retired General John W. Vessey, former head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Vessey received orders of his promotion to captain while in Bud's jeep, his first bump toward the top.

"Dear Bud, ... Thanks not only for the copy of the book, but also for putting those wartime notes into a permanent record. It is an important addition to all the "stuff" historians record. I couldn't put the book down once I got into it. It brought back a lot of memories reading about times, places, and people from 55+ years ago."

And There Shall Be Wars is available at Savage Press. Wagner will soon be 93. His service to his country will be remembered.  

Photos by Wilmer Wagner. Click images to enlarge.

1 comment:

Ann Klefstad said...

Thanks for this, Ed. I'll look for the book.