On a recent walk through Yankton’s Memorial Park, I stopped at the Veterans Memorial obelisk in the center of the park and took a picture of the plaque featuring names of area residents killed in World War II. Many of the names are familiar to me.
• Ned R. Van Osdel was a second cousin from Gayville I did not know. I believe he died in California before being shipped out. He is buried in the Mission Hill cemetery. His is one of the graves I mark with a flag on Memorial Day.
• Thomas Kurtz Inch West: We had a colored 8x10 framed picture of him in uniform on our piano on the farm. He was shot down over Europe. He was our Mom, Frannie’s, high school classmate and, I believe, an early boyfriend.
Volin High School’s Bluejays played their basketball games in the small Volin Town Hall where the walls were out-of-bounds and the free-throw rings met in the center. In the late 1950s, a beautiful arched roof, wood-beamed auditorium, with bleacher seats along the sides, was completed and it was dedicated to the memory of Thomas Kurtz Inch West. Our brother, “Dan Good Car,” graduated from Gayville High School in 1970 and recalls the ceremonies were held in that West auditorium.
• Lloyd W. Wibben: It has been more than 81 years since I lobbed a spoonful of potatoes into the face of Wibben who, I complained as an infant, refused to shrug his shoulders in time to polka music played by the WNAX Bohemian Band on WNAX. He was a hired man on our farm and, like the others, took his meals cooked by our Mom on a big wood-fired stove and we all sat at the big round oak table in the center of the kitchen where we ate as family.
Wibben was drafted for duty in World War II. He made it all the way through the European theatre but was killed while guarding some German prisoners. One of the prisoners had hidden a machine gun under his large coat and while Wibben’s attention was turned away, pulled out the gun and shot Wibben to death. We were told he was literally cut in half by the bullets.
• N. Robert Nielsen: Younger brother of Hod Nielsen and Roy Nielsen. Hod was sports editor of the Press and Dakotan when he was asked to be the speaker at our Yankton Elks Lodge Flag Day ceremony which that year was held in the Riverside Park ampitheatre many years ago. Hod had piloted an unarmed P-38 twin fuselage air reconnaissance plane during World War II. He flew over Europe to take photots of prospective bombing targets in Europe later used by officers in describing bombing targets for bomber crews.
Once he was introduced at the Elks event, Hod said he was totally embarrassed, that he had been a member of the Yankton Elks Lodge for years but had not before attended a Flag Day ceremony which recalls the history of the American flag, from Betsy Ross to present day. Nielsen said he had spent a week researching the history of the flag and now it had all been laid out for him in the Elks ceremony.
Rather, Hod calmly spoke to the audience, without notes, of what the American flag meant to him as a private citizen and as a returning veteran from the war. Then, in reverent silence in which even the giant cottonwood trees, which have been most aptly described by local historian and author Bob Karolevitz as “sentinels of the prairie,” stopped their swaying motion, Hod told of the loss of his youngest brother, Bob Nielsen, who was shot down in flames over Italy during World War II by the Germans on his 21st birthday.
• Eugene R. Drier: When our Dad’s younger brother, Lt. Lewis Van Osdel, came back from World War II from duty as an artillery spotter with the 147th Field Artillery National Guard unit (they were cited for exceptional service in World War I by Gen. Pershing, commander of American forces) from New Guinea, where they kept the invading Japanese army from invading Australia, I can recall that he asked to borrow our car to go to Yankton to see if he could find information about some of his classmates, one of whom was Drier.
Gene Drier’s father, Harry Drier, owned a creamery business on the west side of Broadway, between Third and Fourth streets, where The Upper Deck is located. Harry Drier bought milk from area producers, including milk “solicited” from our cows. (Cows do not “give” milk; it must be coerced from them, and the automatic fly swatter is usually moist with extraneous material).
When we “went to town,” we always stopped at Driers to get our milk check and then we invested in several cups of ice cream. Driers was, for many years, the Dairy Queen of the day, a hot spot that served a two-dip portion of hard-packed ice cream in paper cups and small flat wooden “spoons” which cost five cents. We knew the world was going to hell when Harry Drier raised the price to seven cents due to inflation due again to Congress over-spending during the war. That same serving in any restaurant will cost you four or five bucks now.
Uncle Lewis was going to speak to Harry Drier’s daughter, Elizabeth, another high school classmate, to learn about her brother’s fate. Liz Drier married a doctor, later one of my favorite people, Dr. Clark F. Johnson. The Johnsons had sons, Gene, Steve “Chop,” Clark “Sparky” and Paul “Duke.” I have been told Gene Johnson has the recipe for Drier’s ice cream.
In a recent conversation with Marlene Johnson, widow of Steve “Chop” Johnson, she told me that her late husband’s uncle was also a friend of Robert F. Karolevitz. Gene Drier had seen action in the South Pacific and, near the end of the war, was boarding a ship to come home when he was shot dead by a Japanese sniper. Gene Drier is buried in a veterans’ cemetery in Minneapolis.
There was a time when folks were interested in placing a plaque in the park recognizing the efforts of the 147th Field Artillery in New Guinea during WWII. But a member of the family who donated the land to the city for the park did not like the idea and the plan died for lack of a second.
But, as Veterans Day rolls around, some old guys still remember those lost in the war as “forever young”: “Lest We Forget.”