Saturday, December 8, 2018

A World War II Letter Home

As Americans continue to remember the 75thanniversaries of the United States’ involvement in World War II, I thought it might be appropriate to share a letter from 1943.  LaVerne Green, who was in the U.S. Navy at that time, wrote the letter and sent it home to La Farge to his father, Lester Green.  The letter was written on October 22, 1943 and had an FPO military address in New York City.  For much of that year, LaVerne Green was stationed in Panama and did not return to the United States until November of 1943.  I am guessing that the letter sent home to his Dad was written in the Panama Canal Zone.
            LaVerne Green’s letter is remarkable in several respects.  First of all the written penmanship of the letter is superb.  Written in longhand script with a pencil, the letter reminded me of my own father’s excellent cursive writing, common from that generation. Cursive writing was a required skill taught in school back then and those who did it well, like LaVerne, leave an easily readable text for the reader to follow.
            Another aspect of LaVerne Green’s letter that is unique is that it is almost entirely about music.  The Green family was very musically inclined, talents that carried on to La Verne’s children and perhaps to later generations even to this day. From the contents of the letter, it is evident that Lester Green probably played in a band of some sort in 1943 and that LaVerne is musically active in the service as well.
            Much of that letter from late October in 1943 tells about LaVerne Green’s effort to copy some music for his father.  I will use La Verne’s words as he related them to his Dad in the letter:
            Just finished the music today.  I had to hurry a lot on two of the tunes.  Who & Marie.  They were set but I had to copy them and it is slow work.  I don’t have a writing pen and the ink I used on them is too thin. The ones written in pencil are quite neat but I spent more time on them.  Marie was a rush job.  I set it last night and took it to my friend to play this afternoon and there wasn’t a mistake in it.  Fast work. Tonight I copied it for you.  I will send them thru in the morning along with this letter.
            I do not know what songs that LaVerne is writing about.  I “Googled” the top songs of the 1940’s, but nothing with those titles came up.  Irving Berlin had written a tune titled, “Marie” several decades before then, so perhaps that is the tune that was being worked on and mentioned in the letter.  
            LaVerne Green continued with his letter to his Dad: 
My friend here plays violin beautifully and he likes the choruses very much.  He can really take off on them.  You will find them very hard for the most part.  Tea For Two is a beautiful job and the last measures are really swingy.
            Now here is a song that I could find!  “Tea For Two” was a song from the Broadway musical, “No, No, Nanette” originally written in 1925.  Doris Day sang the song in the 1940’s and made it a big hit, probably because as LaVerne wrote, it was “really swingy”.  He continues to tell his Dad about other hit songs that he is working on: 
Whispering is a bit easier.  Who is a terrific thing to play, especially the last 16 bars.  It’s catchy as can be.  Marie is a little bit on a hot tenor side.  I believe a tenor sax could take most of the choruses except 32 bars of that stuff is too long and the way it is written there are no breathing spots for a horn.  Marie runs pretty smooth if not tried too fast.  I think you will agree with me they are quite difficult.  For a small outfit the whole chorus would be fine.  8 bars or so doesn’t make much of a fill. I hope you find them all to your liking.
            “Whispering”, another song that LaVerne Green had written out for his Dad was a hit song first recorded by Frank Sinatra in the 1940s. Later, it was also recorded by Louis Armstrong and The Ink Spots.  LaVerne continues in the letter to tell his father about his work on writing out the music and possibly some future work that he may send home.  Apparently, LaVerne thinks his renditions may have some financial value when he wrote: 
If you see Alf Modahl, ask him what he thinks of the commercial value of this type of arrangement, will you?  Or anyone else you happen to see who knows something about it. Whatever you do, don’t give them away or let anyone copy them.  Keep them to yourself.  I think quite a lot of that work I put in them.            
            In the last paragraph of his letter, LaVerne wrote to his father about some correspondence with LaVerne’s brother, Willard, who is referred to as “Ping” in the letter.  Willard Green, who was thirteen years younger than LaVerne and a 1942 LHS graduate, had entered the Army earlier in 1943.
Got the photo of Ping today.  I like it very much and thanks a lot.  Had a letter from him dated Sept 20.  Just before he went to Sam Houston I guess.  He wasn’t so happy about the Army.  Hope he likes the new place.
            LaVerne wrote about Willard going to the Army base, Ft. Sam Houston located in San Antonio, Texas.  That was where Willard went after basic training and before being deployed to Europe where he was wounded severely in the Italian Campaign. After spending several months in an Army hospital in Iowa, Willard was discharged in late 1944.
            LaVerne ended up being based in Washington D.C. for the rest of the war.  Ironic, since he had worked for the federal government in the nation’s capital for two years prior to joining the Navy.  While there, he met a young lady from Pittsburgh working for the war department. LaVerne and Stella Green were married in 1942 and after the war they made their home in La Farge.  LaVerne was a mail carrier in La Farge, like his father and brother Willard.  LaVerne and Stella were also Cub Scout leaders in town for many years.  That’s when I first met LaVerne – when I was a member of the Cub Scout Pack – I remember how the couple was devoted to starting young boys on the skills of scouting.  LaVerne was also a master at tuning and restoring pianos – a skill that he practiced the rest of his life.
            I will close this column with LaVerne’s closing words to his father in that letter from 1943:
I’m fixing to send you my radio, player and a bunch of records, just to keep for me in case I get a place to put them.  All my love to you and mother.  Keep well – keep trying on those tunes too!  Your Son, LaVerne

(Joe Persons gave me the letter that LaVerne Green had written in 1943.  Joe wasn’t sure how he had received the letter, but it’s apt that Joe, a man of music would have had it.  If there are family members of LaVerne Green’s who would like the letter, I would love to get it to them.  It might make a memorable Christmas gift.  Otherwise, I will pass it on to the Vernon County Historical Museum for their WW II collection.)

Armistice Day In La Farge

When word was received that an armistice had been signed to stop “The Great War” on November 11, 1918, La Farge, like most communities in America, celebrated heartily.  After an earlier “false alarm” about the armistice that had been received on November 8th, this news was real and caused the little Kickapoo River town to go into full celebration mode.  (There was an interesting article in the recent November 11thWisconsin State Journal that told about that newspaper publishing a front page headline about the armistice on that November 8thin 1918.  So, La Farge wasn’t the only town fooled by the report on that day.)
            The lead story in the La Farge Enterprise newspaper of that week told about the celebration, “The fire bell, church bells and every noise making device was brought into action and the crowd paraded the streets for several hours.  School was dismissed and all business places closed and a general holiday unanimously declared.  By noon hundreds of people had arrived in the village from the country and the streets were packed from curb to curb.”
            Angie Marshall used to tell an interesting story about the businesses in La Farge all closing during that Armistice Day in 1918. Angie’s brother worked in the La Farge Bank at the time and when the decision was made to close, the bank employees quickly started to put all the money away and lock everything up. Angie’s brother went into the vault to put some money away.  While he was in there, another employee, not knowing of his location, swung the vault door shut and locked it.  The bank employees then went out on Main Street to join in the celebration.
            A couple of hours later, after the parade and program had finished, the employees went back into the bank, where they found their fellow employee locked in the vault.  Angie said that the bad part of the ordeal for her brother was not running out of air to breath in the locked vault, but instead was missing out on the village’s celebration – something he always regretted.
            The Enterprise article continued, “Early in the forenoon a committee arranged a celebration program which was given at 2 o’clock in Main Street.  The program began with a parade headed by the band, followed by automobiles containing the old soldiers.  Then followed the entire village, school and citizens, making a parade six blocks in length.  Afterward the crowd assembled on Main Street and listened to music by the band and stirring addresses by Rev. Dunlevy and Prof. Mills.” 
            Fortunately, we have several excellent photographs from that first Armistice Day in La Farge that show the parade and program.  (Those photos accompany this article.)  There are two photos that show the parade being formed on Main Street between Donaldson’s Hardware Store (now where Bergum’s Grocery is) and Neefe’s Garage (now C&S Motors).  One photo shows the La Farge Band waiting to lead the parade with two cars of veterans following.  (Three people are identified in this photo, as the names of Walden Lawton, Calvin Blakely and James Paul are penciled in.)  Another photo taken from the same spot shows the latter part of the parade with marchers on foot and a wagon decorated with red, white and blue banners and flags bringing up the rear.
            John Telfer may have described that wagon when he wrote a letter to the La Farge Epitaphnewspaper in 1973 about his memories of that Armistice Day. Remember that Telfer was an 11-year old boy at the time of the 1918 armistice and he wrote, “I went uptown in the afternoon and joined the happy crowds.  My Uncle Will Bean had pulled his big one-horse delivery wagon into the middle of Main Street; all traffic was diverted and singing shouting people filled the whole block.  A straw effigy with a spiked German helmet on his head was sitting in my uncle’s wagon. I swam in the excitement and sang and yelled, too.  The war is over!
            But one thing shocked me.  Around the straw figure’s neck hung a sign, “To Hell Mit the Kaiser!”  When I went home I asked Mother if it was quite decent to use such bad language in public.  She smiled and said she thought that was about where the Kaiser would end up.”
            Another of the Armistice Day photos shows the parade as it headed down Main Street going east.  It shows the rear of the parade meeting the front of the parade as those people head back towards the downtown area.  Also of note in this photo is that several of the houses along the street are still in La Farge one hundred years later.
            The fourth photograph of La Farge’s 1918 Armistice Day celebration shows the band seated in concert formation on the street as the program commenced.  The speeches by the Methodist minister and the school principal would follow during the program held on La Farge’s Main Street.
            There were other ways of celebrating the armistice that day in La Farge as the newspaper reported in the “Local News” section:
·     Some time ago Mrs. Angelina Hook, who is 86 years old, made the statement that when the news came that Germany had surrendered she would turn a hand spring.  We have been told that she made her word good Monday morning after learning of the signing of the armistice.
·     The boys from here who reported for army service at Viroqua Sunday returned home Tuesday, having been released.  (My grandfather, Pearl Campbell, was in a group from Salem Ridge who had gone to Viroqua to join the army during that time. The family story goes that the rest of those country boys stayed in Viroqua to celebrate the armistice, but Pearl drove the wagon back to Fairview to tell his recent bride, Isa, of the good news that he did not have to go off to fight in the war.)
·     School was dismissed Monday for the celebration, to which the students gave hearty support.  The results were many sore throats. (This piece was located in the “School News” in that week’s Enterprise.)
·     A deplorable feature of our otherwise glorious celebration of peace Monday was the importation of several kegs of “liquid fire” into the village.  To the majority of the citizens this part of the celebration was objectionable and the instigators of this should have taken a second thought before they launched such a feature. 
           The editor of the La Farge Enterprise in 1918 was a staunch prohibitionist and a leader of the Anti-Saloon Party in the state.  La Farge was “Dry” at that time, with no saloons operating when the war ended. When the kegs of beer were snuck into the village to aid in the celebrations’ merriment (I found another reference to the clandestine beer being imported from Yuba for that day’s celebration.), editor Perkins was obviously not happy. 

           Unfortunately the celebration in La Farge was short lived as the community was feeling of ravages of the influenza epidemic that was sweeping the country.   Within a few weeks, all community gatherings were cancelled, including church services and programs at La Farge’s Opera House.  Eventually the school would even have to close for extended periods of time. Deaths were numerous in the community with entire families being wiped out by the deadly influenza.  When some of the soldiers began returning from France later in the year, they found family members gone – killed by the deadly flu. It was truly a tragic irony for that time.

Armistice Bells Ring In La Farge!

Early Monday morning the glad tidings were received here that Germany had signed the armistice thus practically ending the war.  In a very short time the streets were crowded with people and men and women alike alternatively laughed and wept with joy. The fire bell, church bells and every noise making device were brought into action and the crowd paraded the streets for several hours.  School was dismissed and all business places closed and a general holiday unanimously declared.  By noon hundreds of people had arrived in the village from the country and the streets were packed from curb to curb.

            Thus reads the initial paragraph in the lead story on page one of the November 14, 1918 issue of the “La Farge Enterprise” newspaper. Under the bold headline of “Full Surrender of Germany”, the article continues on to describe the events that played out in this little Kickapoo River town a century ago.  
            I was particularly interested to read about the bells in La Farge being rung on that original Armistice Day morning because I believe most of those bells still remain in the village.  One hundred years after that momentous conclusion to “The Great War” (as it was known then), four bells that rang out on that day still remain in the village.
            The Enterprisearticle first mentions the fire bell when describing that historic morning.  The village bell, or fire bell, was located at several different sites around the village over the years.  When I was a boy growing up in La Farge in the 1950s, that bell was displayed prominently by the firehouse, which at that time was located where the post office is now. Eventually that bell was stored away by the village, but is still kept at the new EMS Building on La Farge’s East Side.  After finding the bell, Wayne Haugrud took a photo of it, which accompanies this article.
            On that morning of the original Armistice Day in 1918, the fire bell was located in front of the village firehouse located on Penn Street, a block north of Main Street.  Today, that location of the old firehouse and bell is across from the United Methodist Church.
            Another account of that original Armistice Day morning in La Farge was provided in 1973, when John H. Telfer wrote a letter to the La Farge Epitaph newspaper about his remembrances.  Telfer was eleven years old on that Armistice Day morning in 1918 and 55 years later, still had vivid memories of the day.  The Telfer family lived on south Mill Street; I think it was the last house on the street before it joins Pearl Street.  The house was next to the railroad track coming into La Farge from the south and the boy and his mother were walking up the railroad track that morning.  John Telfer’s account of that morning is fascinating.
            The morning of November 11, 1918, was dawning cold and clear.  I remember how crusted the snow was as my hardy mother, Delila Geneva Telfer, and I tramped up the track, then along the edge of the swamps that nearly surrounded the old Milwaukee Road “round house” which was really square.  I had some good muskrat sets in those reedy marshes and two or three held fur that never-to-be-forgotten morning.  (This location would be across Mill Street from the present Hometown Village Apartments.)
            Putting them into a gunny sack we went on up the track to that old “ox bow” slough just west of where the track ran through a cut in the sandstone and then emerged into the Seelyburg “Y”.  (This location is just to the west and down over the hill from the Chapel Hill Cemetery.)  Here I found several muskrats had got caught and were quickly pulled into deep water and drowned by my traps sliding out on a 4 or 5 foot length of securely staked telephone wire.  Our sack now held seven rats, a very good days catch for the 11 year old trapper running his line before going on to the S.D.A. country school. Mother some times came along to carry home my catch.  Otherwise I had to hide them for all day, a chancy matter with sharp covetous eyes often trailing me.
            From this account, we know that the young lad was headed to the Seventh Day Adventist School that was held in the SDA Church, at the time located next to the present Star Cemetery on the north side of the river at Seelyburg.
            The scene has always remained clear, I was knee deep in the water, Mother was shivering up on the track, the early sun had broken through onto the bright snow. Suddenly all the village church bells began to ring furiously.  We were startled and wondering for only a minute.  Then Mother cried, “It must be the armistice, the real armistice!” Old-timers may remember there had been one mistaken report that had set off the bells a day or two earlier.
            We both hurried home; there’d be no school today.
            It is interesting to note how the ringing church bells on that cold morning brought instant recognition to the boy and his mother that the war had ended.  Although, to be fair, the village had apparently had some practice for the armistice announcement since the village’s bells had been rung erroneously a couple of days earlier.  I imagine everyone in La Farge was anticipating the announcement of the war’s end after that initial bell pealing.
            I am assuming that the bell at the SDA Church in Seelyburg rang that morning along with the church bells of the Methodist and Free Methodist churches.  I’m also going to assume that the bell at the schoolhouse also rang out the armistice announcement on that November 11th.  The bells at the school and at the two La Farge Methodist congregations all remain in front of those fine institutions to this day.  Photos of each of those three bells also accompany this article.
            The bell on the SDA Church/school at Seelyburg is a different matter.  The church and school remained at the Seelyburg location until the 1920s.  At that time, the congregation built a new church on the northwest corner of Silver and School Streets in La Farge. They may have moved the bell on the SDA Church at Seelyburg to that new location two blocks south of the La Farge schoolhouse.  (When the Methodist congregation moved their church from Chapel Hill in Seelyburg down to La Farge in 1902, they brought the bell along and hung it in the new church. That was the bell that rang on Armistice Day in 1918 and now stands outside of the newest Methodist church.) Some fifty years later, the SDA Church closed and the building was sold to Lee & Donna Gudgeon, who converted the building into their home.  The steeple and bell were removed from the former church and the bell eventually ended up near Mt. Vernon in rural Dane County, where it was to be placed in an old country schoolhouse.