When my dad, Galen (Fritz), my Aunt Garnett, and my Uncle Art were in their eighties they wrote stories about growing up in the 1920s, ’30s, and World War II. The three of them, and their youngest sister Jeanne, were all born on a farm in Richland Township of Story County, Iowa between 1916 and 1927. They are all deceased. Their stories will make you appreciate the luxury life we live today.
Galen (Fritz) Stratton
Garnett Stratton Morris
Stories by Galen (Fritz)
Old Age by Fritz Stratton
Time is humming
And old age is coming
Doc gave me new eyes and new knees
So we kind of go steady and I’m on the ready
But I hope there’s no more, if you please
Life can be magic
And sometimes tragic
You never know what you should fear
So I’ll just keep mowing
If the John Deere keeps going
Pretty soon we’ll start a New Year
Then it’s back to snow blowing
Sometimes it’s tough going
When it’s icy you fall on your rear
Lord, give me more magic
Put a hold on the tragic
And help me get out of bed every morn
I’ll fire up the mower, also the blower
Until I hear Gabriel’s horn
What Did We Do For Fun by Fritz Stratton
I grew up on a horse and he was a big part of my life for about 10 years. Our neighbor across the section was a horse buyer and he saw Dad one day and told him he had a 3-year old stallion that he thought might make a good saddle horse. He came out of the Dakotas and had never had a strap on him, so we would have to start from scratch. Dad brought him home and the first thing they did as castrate him. He didn’t look like much to me as is hair was rough and patchy (probably from fighting with other horses) and he had lice, so we started treating him for lice and handling him to kind of get some idea how tough this job was going to be.
I was still a scrawny kid at the time so I wasn’t much good at helping to break horses. My Dad and my Grandpa spent a lot of their time in the winter breaking colts and broncos into work horses so this is right up their alley and the next thing you know they have a bridle and saddle on him and they are riding him around the yard. I’m not sure whether Art rode him much at this time or not, but I had orders to stay off his back until they could get him broke better. I hadn’t seen him try to buck anybody off but I knew they weren’t having much luck making him do what they wanted him to.
One day when everyone was gone I decided I’d see if I could get a bridle on him and go for a little ride. I got the bridle on, got him out of the barn and got aboard bareback and went out on the road and headed south. He didn’t want to go south but I finally coaxed him about 40 rods down the road and turned him around and headed for home. He took the bit in his mouth and he is going home flat out! He made the turn in the gate and right up to the barn door and set his feet and stopped. I didn’t stop……….but the top barn door was open and I went right over his head and landed inside the barn with a bloody nose. I could see then that if I wanted to ride that horse, the first thing I had to do was learn how to sit tight. I don’t recall telling my Dad about this little deal!
They kept working with him and it looked like they were making some headway. I saw my Grandpa catch him in the lot one day and it looked pretty easy so I had to give it a try. I saw Old Joe eating grass in the front yard so I got an ear of corn and offered it to him. He took it, whirled around and rolled me across the yard. He kicked me just below the right hip and I still have the scar to prove it. It was probably a year or so before they got Old Joe so I could ride him then they put me to herding cows along a mile dirt road east of our house. Old Joe was high- spirited, well muscled, sure-footed, weighed about 1050 pounds, and was tougher than “whang”! Usually he would be rambunctious when you took him out of the barn and the quickest way to settle him down was to let him run a quarter of a mile flat out then he handled good for the rest of the day. After I herded cows with him for a couple of years, he developed into a really good cow horse— probably the nearest thing to a cutting horse Richland Township had seen for a while.
I rode to school quite a lot and there would be as many as 5 horses tied to the fence when the weather was good. This prompted a running race every now and then. The dirt road went straight west from the schoolyard for a mile and there were no houses, so we had it made. We also raced on the road east of our house. On Saturday afternoon we would sometimes ride to Nevada and leave our horses at my Great Uncle Frank Lough’s livery stable just off Main Street FOR FREE and go to a ten cent matinee. Pretty big deal when you are ten years old!
I think about this time Grandpa decided we had a saddle horse and now we would try to make Old Joe into a workhorse we could use as a replacement for light work such as cultivating. It didn’t take long for him to decide that it wasn’t worth the hassle because Joe would fight the other horse when they went to turn around and then try to run away or balk or just be ornery.
The next project would be to try to make a driving horse out of him on a 4-wheel buggy and work him as a single. Grandpa got that going pretty good and turned the outfit over to me and told me to haul water on the threshing run with it. The first day out I was filling my jugs at the windmill and the fuel truck drove into the yard. It was all painted up in bright colors and Joe hadn’t seen anything like that before and he went wild and broke the strap I had him tied to the windmill with and took off in a circle. He hit the water tank, upset the buggy, broke the shafts and tore up the harness so its back to the saddle again! The next thing I know, Grandpa has it fixed up, has Joe hitched up and is heading for Nevada, meets another truck and ends up with the buggy on its side on top of his leg in the ditch. He was bruised and sore but recovered in a couple of days. I think we all decided that Joe was a real good saddle horse, but nothing else. Period.
Jeanne started school when she was 4 years old and we rode a horse some of the time. (Jeanne started when she was 4 because she was the only kid in the township that age. So she would be the only kid in the class next year. There were 4 kids that were 5 years old so they decided to start her in school a year early) I was 11 years old and could handle a horse pretty well by that time. I’d put her in the saddle wand we would carry our lunch and we never had a mishap of any kind. I would have to include this in the “fun” category. I was proud of her and proud that I could handle it.
We had a big pond just west of our barn where we swam in the summer and ice skated in the winter and sometimes had 8 or ten kids at time. (Farm fields had not been tiled yet. Many ponds were filled with water year round. Ducks and geese were plentiful). We had bob sled parties and sometimes took two teams and two sleds to Nevada when we were in high school. These usually ended up at someone’s house for oyster stew and a card game. Lois and I belonged to a 500 card club for a few years and then there was Pitch, Poker, and several other games, Chinese and American checkers were also popular at the time. We had a roller rink in Nevada and they used to pack them in, particularly in the winter. I used to skate quite a bit and I could hardly wait to get to the rink when our family went to town for groceries on Saturday night. The radio was a big factor in our entertainment and was battery powered. The reception depended on how good an antenna wire you had on it. We put a wire from the house to the windmill and the reception was excellent. We could pull in stations from Texas, the East Coast and about anything this side of the Rocky Mountains because there weren’t many stations to cause any interference. We used to gather around the radio and listen to Lum & Abner, Amos & Andy, Jack Benny, One Man’s Family, and later the big bands. We could hear Tommy Dorsey, Wayne King, Sammy Kay, Eddy Howard and many others. I think this was the best music of my lifetime and I expected it come back but I don’t think it will. We had the Hit Parade on Saturday night and we couldn’t miss that or we wouldn’t know “who” was Number One!
This assessment probably sounds boring to the younger generations and if we weren’t having fun, we didn’t know it. It’s as simple at that.
GROWING UP IN THE 20’s AND 30’s
I was born in 1920. A time when we had no electricity and did all the farm work with horses on a 240 acre operation. We tried to keep 8 head of horses ready for work during the busy season. We used 2-horse, 3 horse, and 4 and 5 horse teams for heavy work like plowing and disking. These horses required a lot of TLC as there were sore shoulder, sore necks, and hooves needing trimmed among other things. They were fed corn, oats and hay and had to be groomed with a curry comb and brush before harnessing. Then you took them to the water tank, watered them and linked them up for the size hitch you wanted for a particular job. This was time consuming and made the farm tractor look attractive when it finally came along.
Dad got his first tractor about 1928. It was an IHC 10-20 with a 2-bottom 14” plow. We used it for several years and it was dependable, but we needed more belt power for the 30 inch Woods Bros. threshing machine so Dad traded for an IHC 15-30. Both of these tractor had steel wheels. The first tractor we had with rubber tires was a 1938 Massey Challenger, which cranked about 40 horsepower on the belt and was great for threshing. I ended up with this tractor in 1948 when I started farming and wore it out about 3 times before I could afford a new model 44 Massey in 1950.
We depended on a windmill for pumping water and did have a single cylinder engine as a stand-by in case the wind wouldn’t blow enough to turn the mill. The water was carried to the house in buckets and there was no bathroom, of course.
The first car I remember was a model T Ford, then a 1929 Chevy with the in-line 6 cylinder engine, then a 1932 Chevy, then a 1934 Chevy. I believe these were all used cars when Dad bought them. I think they got their first new car when they bought the 1937 4-door Chevy. This was a really durable car and Mother drove it for several years.
On the farm in Richland Township the buildings were all built new while we lived there. This included a new double corn crib with overhead bins, a new hog house with 8 pens, a new barn and a new house in 1936. We did not have electricity when the new house was built, but it came a year or so afterward. There was no running water but it was a nice house with a full basement. We left the farm in Richland Township because the owner’s son-in-law wanted to start farming. We moved to the farm in Milford Township where there was no electricity. This change was hard to get use to again but, fortunately, the line came through within a year or two. We had a nice two-story house but no running water or bathroom inside. We had a big basement barn with a hay mow you could drive into with a load of hay and originally was built so you could fork it up to the track and go either right or left. They had installed a big door in the east end of the barn and we used a conventional fork or slings. We handled all our hay and straw loose and had room for all our hay and at least 20 loads of straw for bedding. I think when the barn was built there was room for about sixteen head of horses, ten milk cows and three calf pens on the ground level and it was nice and warm in the winter. It was a good farm and we like it but the ownership change hands and the nephew wanted to start farming so we rented the farm west of Nevada on the Old Lincoln Highway and stayed put until we retired in 1982. I think Gary and Gale would say that this was God’s country and it seems to me that God’s country is wherever you grow up. For me it would be Richland Township. The 38 years we spent on the Dowell farm flew by and I can’t help but think about all the advancements in farm equipment and technology in going from a team of horses to tractors with cabs, heat, air- conditioning, stereo, and seats that were probable more comfortable than anything we had in the house. We finally got running water and a bathroom in 1952 when Dowell’s built a ranch style house on the farm. That house was about 1200 square feet with a full basement and cost $14,500. Hard to believe!
Some Of My Observations Growing Up In The Stratton Family
Anna, my Grandmother Stratton, passed away when I was 4 years old. I remember being at her house the night her death took place and the funeral that followed. My mother used to drop me off at grandmother’s house when she came to town to get groceries and I remember her mostly as a baby-sitter. She was a loving, mild mannered, delicate sort of woman and I think my grandfather and my father worshipped her as long as they lived.
John Mecum Stratton, my grandfather, came to live with us sometime after grandmother passed away and alternated between Cyril’s and our home helping out as needed on the farm. He stood 6’ 1”, 204 lbs., stayed strong well into his 70s and lived by the early to bed , early to rise theory. He had a wide range of work abilities and made most things that he did look easy. He was an artist with an axe and had those great long arms and didn’t look like he was in a hurry … the next thing you knew, he had that tree on the ground. He was good-natured and had lots of smiles, but if you crossed him, you probably wouldn’t do it a second time! He remained sharp mentally until he passed away at age 82. Yes, he was my hero and friend and I thought any boy who didn’t have a grandfather living in the same house with him really got a bad deal! Gary John was named after him, Harlan’s son John was named after him, and Art got the middle name of Mecum from him so somebody besides me must have been impressed. If you’ve ever heard Randy Travis sing that song about his Grandpa (He Walked On Water), that’s just the way I felt about him.
Glen and Rose—My Father and Mother
Glen and Rose started their married life on a farm southeast of Nevada on what was call “the Wells place” and after a year or two got a chance to rent a better farm in Richland Township where we four kids were born. We went through some hard time in the Depression but we raised most of our food and Mother made a lot of our clothes, so I guess we never thought we were poor as our home life remained good. My mother was multi-talented and hard working. She could do about everything a woman could do and most things a man could do. I have always been sorry that my father couldn’t live long enough to see his grandchildren grow up. He would have really lived it up. Glen was kind of a people-person and I was surprised to hear from other people about what a good host he was as far as family gatherings, square danced, and that sort of thing. I never met a person that gave me any indication that they didn’t like him. He owned a threshing machine and we would have an ice cream social after we finished the harvest. The first thing you know they were rolling up the rugs and Glen was calling the square dance and there was nobody there who was having as much fun as he was! In the winter we would have oyster suppers around the neighborhood and roll up the rugs and do it again. In 1939 Glen rented a 240 acre farm in Milford Township and he loved that farm as it was well drained, weed free (more or less), and easy to farm compared to the farm in Richland Township where the drainage was poor. He was a good farmer and was recovering from the Depression financially and on his way up when cancer took him at 54 years of age. He was a good teacher, a devoted father and I learned a lot from him. One of the quotes he gave me was “It isn’t what you have, it’s what you can do with what you have that counts”. I’ve thought about that a time or two.
Fernald Was Our Hometown In The ’30s
Fernald was 2 miles northeast of our house and it was kind of like a convenience store to us. We had 2 grocery stores, a Post Office, 2 grain elevators, a livestock shipper, an auto repair shop, a blacksmith shop, a school gymnasium, and a church. We sold all of our grain to the grain elevators, most of the hogs to the Fernald buyer, had our horses shod and most of the blacksmith work done there, and some auto repair at Bill Nelds shop. The people in business there were like family to us. Most of the groceries we bought were small items and I would pick up most of them on horseback. We had a cave west of our house filled with enough food to keep alive for a year and a half and what we bought was mostly staples, so it was no big deal. They didn’t stock any tuxedos, but they had work clothes that real people wore. Garnett went to school there a year or two but I don’t know whether Art went there or not. I believe Fernald had 12 grades at the time. They showed movies in the gym for a year or two when times were tough. I think the tickets were 10 cents. That little town has just about dried up and blown away and it’s sad to see it go.
In closing I might add that life has been good to me and I am happy to have lived in this era. Lois joins me in Best Wishes to all the Stratton’s and their families.
Dad mentioned selling the hogs to the buyer in Fernald. To do that, dad, Art, and Glen, drove the hogs the two miles to Fernald. They took the dirt road east of the house and then turned north to Fernald. If you’ve never driven hogs you cannot possibly understand how much work it is to drive hogs two miles. It is a phenomenal amount of work.
Art told me a story of Glen asking him to drive a team and wagon to Fernald to get the horses shod. He did it without any problems. Art said that was quite the big deal to trust an 8 year old to drive a team by himself. Art also told about having a job scooping grain at the elevator. That job paid $1 per day. Big money for the times.
Stories by Garnett
The Life of Garnett Marie Stratton-Morris
I was born on May 28, 1916 to Glenn and Rose Stratton in a farmhouse in Richland Township, Story County, Iowa. We lived two miles from the village of Fernald and four miles from the town of Nevada, which was the county seat. I was the first grandchild in the Stratton family and the first girl. My grandparents were John Mecum and Anna Marie (Lough) Stratton. They had two sons: my dad, Glenn, and Uncle Cyril. My grandmother was so elated to have a granddaughter that she drove 9 miles in a horse drawn buggy to see me the day I was born. In the years to follow I remember her sitting in a rocking chair with me combing her beautiful, long gray hair. I would sit on her lap and she would sing songs to me about “The Little Grey Kitten”. I remember too of going to their house on the Lounsberry farm southeast of Nevada and how much fun Art and I had running down the hill. When they left the farm, they moved to the northeast corner of 11th St. and J Ave in Nevada. Grandpa worked as a custodian at the Nevada High School. He was good friends with the Coach there and was given a football to give to his grandsons, Art and Galen (Fritz). That was their first football. Grandpa and Grandma moved to the southwest corner of 11th St. and M Ave and lived there until Grandma’s death in 1924. Grandma always had cookies on the sideboard in the cookie jar. (A sideboard is what they called a buffet.) They lived next door to Faye and Verda Purvis and when Grandma died, Art, Fritz, and I stayed at their house while the family made arrangements for the funeral. My grandfather came to stay with us. He was there in the wintertime and at Uncle Cyril’s in the summer. My brother, Arthur Mecum, was born February 9, 1918, Galen Frederick was born May 11, 1920, and Jeanne Phyllis was born January 12, 1927.
My mother, Rose (Jensen) Stratton came from a family of seven children, she being the fifth in line of birth. My grandparents were both born in Denmark. Grandpa came to the U.S. through Canada. He came to Story County where there were other Danes and worked and learned the language. He earned enough money to bring Grandma to this country and they were married in the Lutheran Church in Nevada. They started farming in Richland Township on what was called the McCall farm a little north and west of Fernald. Later they purchased a farm in Grant Townsip a mile north of Shipley where they lived until their deaths. This was where my mother was born. This is the farm where Marvin and Joyce Jensen live now. My maternal Grandpa was Lars Jensen and my maternal Grandma was Metta Marie (Nelson) Jensen. Uncle Lloyd Jensen purchased this farm from the rest of the Jensen heirs at the time of Grandpa’s death. In September 1921 I entered Fernald School. They did not have kindergarten there so I was in First Grade. My teacher was Gertrude Morris. She had been my Aunt Myrtle’s teacher years before so I felt I knew her. I attended Fernald for the first three years of school. Art attended the first year of his school life there also. Art had Miss Ersland in First Grand and I had Mabel Hague. She died of a ruptured appendix. This was before the days of penicillin. Since we were not in the school district, our parents had to pay tuition and transportation for us to attend there so it became a little costly. We left Fernald and attended Richland #9. While still at Fernald some of the friends I made were: Genevieve Brooks, Margaret Apple, Charles Hilburn, Robert Procter, and James Chitty. There was another girl named Nedra Stevenson whose father was the depot agent in Fernald. (Yes, believe it or not, the trains did stop there. The Rock Island line.) Nedra and her parents lived upstairs in the depot. I was quite excited when she asked me to come and stay all night with her. I never heard from her after they left Fernald. I wasn’t at the age yet to write letters.
In entering Richland #9 it was quite a change to have eight grades in one room. There was never more than 3 or 4 in one grade. Our second cousins, Frank and Wilna Lough, lived two miles south of us and we would meet at the corner east of Harry New’s and come the rest of the way together. Art and I rode horseback and Frank and Wilna had a horse and buggy. Their horse Tiger and ours was a Western named Old Charley. He was tricky and would break loose at school and run home if he got a chance and then we’d have to walk home. There were times when I preferred walking and sometimes we did. If the weather was bad Dad would take us in the car, but in those days we had nothing but dirt roads and in the spring they were bottomless. I remember the day I was confirmed, which in those days was Palm Sunday. We had to drive a team and wagon to Nevada. I think Dad’s uncle still had the livery barn and we were able to leave the horses there while we went to church.
At Richland #9 my teachers were: Bertha Ball, Gertrude Ball, Marian Dobson, and Frances Boten. I graduated from Eighth Grade and attended Nevada High. I graduated from there in May of 1933. The majority of us were not able to go on to college as we were in the midst of “The Great Depression”. There were perhaps eight or ten who went on to college out of a class of fifty-two. I did housework for $2.50 to $4 a week! Finally I landed a job at Donnelley’s as a typist, which was seasonal. Then I got a call from Charlie Smith asking me if I would run an electric “ditto” machine. It would mean I would get to work almost all year long. It was piecework and we could make $25 to $30 a week. Straight pay was $11 to $13 a week. Alvina Dueland and I put in some long hot hours. No air-conditioning — not even fans unless we brought our own. I worked there until World War II came along. I then went to work at the Des Moines Ordnance Plant where they made shells. I worked in the Purchasing Department until my father died. I then came back to Nevada and went to work at the Nevada National Bank as bookkeeper and cashier. Jeanne, who had also been working at the Ordnance Plant came back to Nevada and went to work at the AAA Office (Agriculture office).
My father died of cancer at the age of 54. My brother, Art, was stationed in England with the 121st Station Hospital — not able to return until the War in Europe was over. My brother, Galen “Fritz”, was left to help my mother farm and carry on until Art could return.
In the late ‘30s I began dating David “Dick” Morris. He was working for Harry New. We became engaged in April of 1941 as he left to join the Marine Corps. In December of that year Pearl Harbor was attacked and all furloughs were cancelled so it was three years before I saw him again. He was sent immediately to the South Pacific and was in Samoa many months building roads and air strips. From there he was sent into the invasion of Tarawa and the Marshalls and Gilbert Islands. When he returned to the States in March of 1944 I didn’t know he had returned and he walked into the Nevada National Bank where I was working and really surprised me! We were married April 9, 1944 on Easter Sunday. He returned to Camp Pendleton the last of April and I joined him in August. I spent 7 1/2 glorious months with him there and while we lived in war houses and cramped quarters, I don’t think I have ever been happier. I met his Aunt Belle, Aunt Edith and Uncle Doc and their spouses and we had a great time. I met several of his Marine Corps buddies. Among them was “Doc” Miller who eventually married my sister, Jeanne. We also spent lots of time with Stan and Anna Morton in Altadena, California. Our friendship continued for many years after the War. They lived in Colorado on a wheat ranch and then retired to Ft. Morgan. Later they moved to Yakima Valley in Washington and we spent one vacation with them there. After Stan’s death I corresponded with Anna but haven’t heard from her in several years. She would be well into her 90’a if still living.
In April of 1945 Dick was again sent to the Pacific. He was in Hawaii at Hilo building pipelines and waiting for the invasion of Japan. However, after the “bombs” he was sent to Japan for the Occupation. He was at Nagasaki and also at Hiroshima. From there he was sent to North China where the Communists were taking over. It was almost as dangerous there as in the South Pacific. In November of 1945 our first son was born, Glen Ray Morris. Dick didn’t get to see him until he was 15 months old. I had returned to Nevada to stay with my mother and sister, Jeanne, until his return.
We lived west of Nevada on the Irish place on old Highway 30 — formerly known as the Lincoln Highway. It was during this time that Fr. and Marie Simon lived with us one winter. This was the year that Jeanne and Lloyd Miller were Married, December 28, 1946.
After Dick returned to civilian life it was a big adjustment for him in deciding what to do. He first worked on the pipeline in Oklahoma, but it rained all the time and that was not profitable. We came back to Nevada and he worked on a farm for Harold Hansen, but that was not what he wanted to spend the rest of his life doing, so he went to work for Iowa Power & Light as a lineman, but that too was not his calling. He finally decided to take advantage of his “GI Bill of Rights” and go to mechanics school. He went to Chicago to Commercial Trade Institute and took automotive and diesel mechanics. Housing was scarce in Chicago so Ray and I stayed with mom. I went back to work at Donnelley’s. Part of the time after we left the farm we lived in an apartment in one of the buildings on the Irish farm. It had a bathroom and oil furnace—really uptown! After graduating from mechanic school in 1949, Dick went to work for the Eldon Miller Trucking Co. in Iowa City, Iowa as a truck driver. Ray and I joined him there in October and we lived there until the spring of 1950. We came to Des Moines as Dick was the Maintenance Supervisor for the Eldon Miller Trucking Terminal. Ray and I stayed in Nevada with Mom who had left the (Irish) farm and lived in an apartment over what was then Berka’s Drug Store. We finally found a house in Des Moines at East 32nd and Aurora. Ray started to school at Adams Elementary School. Our second son, Rex Arthur, was born on February 9, 1951 at Mary Greeley hospital in Ames. Dr. W.B. Armstrong was the doctor as he had also delivered Ray. In September of 1951 we moved to West Des Moines in an apartment at 8th and Vine. We lived there a year until rent control was removed and rent shot up sky high so we were fortunate to be able to share a house with Inez Hoffman at 1314 Peasant View Drive. She was so good to us and let us have the run of the house and she kept her own bedroom. We lived there for several years until she sold the house and bought a hotel in Creston. Ray attended Park Ave. School while we lived there. We then moved to an apartment at 2926 Brattleboro. This was 1956. Rex started to kindergarten there and Ray went to 5th grade at Elmwood School which no longer stands there. We lived there until 1959 when we bought our home at 3121 Crocker St. That was our home until 1994 when I sold it and bought the condo at 4230 Ingersoll Ave.
To go back a few years—it was 1956 that our third son was born prematurely and lived only a few minutes. He was named Alan S. Morris (S. for Stratton). Ray and Rex both attended Elmwood, Callanan, and Roosevelt Schools. I know Ray was glad to not have to be changing schools every year or so. Dick had gone to work for International Harvester Truck Sales and Service when Miller’s closed their terminal in Des Moines. He worked there until his retirement in 1979. In 1991 his health failed (mentally) and in 1993 I had to give into a nursing home for him. I was thankful I had gone to work for the Internal revenue in the early 1950s and worked there until 1978. My work for the IRS is another story! In 1997 we laid Dick to rest on February 6th. He died February 2nd, just 18 days before his 80th birthday.
There are so many wonderful memories of my childhood and growing up that I reflect back on. And though we didn’t have many of the modern conveniences of today, they were good times. I remember the Saturday night baths in the wintertime and the old galvanized tub by the kitchen range and the long underwear, which I detested, and mom gathering us around the kitchen table on Saturday night and reading to us the story of the Bible by “Aunt Charlotte”.
We got our first radio in 1935 or 1936. It was battery operated, as there was no electricity. We listened to “One Man’s Family”, “Ma Perkins”, “Stella Dallas”, “Lum and Abner”, “The WHO Barn Dance Frolic” on Saturday night, “The Little Theatre Off Times Square”, and “The Lucky Strike Hit Parade” to name a few. After they built our new house we had electricity and I bought our first electric console model radio. I was then working at Donnelley’s.
Going back again to the ‘20s: I remember my Dad’s long raccoon fur coat that he wore when he helped the neighbors haul shelled corn to the elevators in Fernald or Nevada. In those days it was all hauled with a team and wagon and often in bitter cold weather. Often at night while Mom washed supper dishes we kids; Art, Fritz, and I would curl up in Dad’s fur coat and often go to sleep having to be awakened to go up to bed. Often when dad would come home from town he would have Baby Ruth candy bars in the pocket of his fur coat so we would often check the pockets to find out. I remember in summer we had home made ice cream every Sunday. Dad would freeze the ice cream while Mom fried chicken and got the rest of the dinner ready, most of it grown in our garden.
Harry and Fanny New were our neighbors and we remained friends as long as they lived. Wille and Gertie Hart were also great friends and neighbors and many a winter night we’d gather for a good old oyster stew meal at one of the homes. Those were great times! During threshing time the women of the neighborhood all came to help cook. Vera and Emory Black were also neighbors and I always enjoyed Vera, she was fun. Their boys, Loy and Floyd grew up with Jeanne.
I remember the summer I worked for Mrs. J.D. Black and Pauline was home from college. She and I would ride horseback and then lay out in the front yard and watch the falling stars. This was in August when there are the greatest amount of stars. One thing I remember was Saturday night in the summertime Dad would quit work early and we would all get ready and try to get a parking spot on Main Street to see who all was in town. When I was a teenager I would meet my girlfriends and we would often go to the public dances at the Odd Fellows Hall or The Knights of Pythias Hall. This was ballroom dancing and we really had some great orchestras there. In the fall of the year there were lots of the fellows from Iowa State there and we would have a great time. Lydia Mosebach and I were usually together. After I learned to drive we would “scoop the loop”. In those days there was some alcohol but no drugs, etc. to worry about. During the Depression Days when I was in my late teens and early 20’s there was not much money for entertainment. A group of around twenty young adults in our neighborhood had a club. We called it the TNT Club — Tuesday Night Twisters. We would gather at one of the homes, roll up the rugs, and dance. The Myers boys, Lloyd and Lester, were banjo and guitar players and once in a while they had a piano player, Cassie Harrell, who would join them. The adults in the neighborhood joined us then and we would have some great square dances and two-steps. When Art was farming in Milford Township, he had a few barn dances in the summer time before the hay and straw went into the haymow. A bunch of Jr. Farm Bureau friends joined us then. Art and I both belonged to Jr. Farm Bureau and met lots of young people our age and had many good times, picnics, trips, and conventions. The conventions were held at Iowa State College.
One of my best friends was Margaret Andrews. She and I spent lots of pleasant times together. I remember we came to Des Moines to see a stage play at the Shrine Auditorium, “Bringing up Father”. We also came to see Marian Anderson—the wonderful Negro opera singer. Margaret joined the WACS and was in England during the war. She and several Story County people met in London, including my brother Art. She married and eventually came home to have her son, Ricky Lloyd who is now a plastic surgeon in Ames. Margaret died when she was quite young of a brain tumor. I really miss her. She and Ricky came to visit us when Ray was a baby and brought him a photograph book. Ray has the book now.
Another of my dearest friends, Helen Thornton has been gone many years too. I met her in Colo when I was staying with Aunt Myrtle. Helen was the youngest of 12 children. She came to Nevada to go to high school when we were Juniors. She stayed with her sister, Verlie Handsaker. Helen’s nephew, Howard Handsaker, was in Art’s class in high school. Helen spent many weekends at our house and I spent a great many weekends at her house. When any of the Thorntons got together, it was a riot. Lots of laughs. Helen married Cal Fausch the year after we graduate and he died the week after my Dad in 1943. She joined her sister in California in 1944 and later married John. She and Cal had a daughter, Gloria Fausch. John died of a heart attack after they had been married a number of years. Later she married Chuck and I think she was the happiest I’ve ever seen her. She and Chuck were both killed in a fiery auto crash in California. I was devastated. Dick and I had planned to visit them that summer in our first trip back to California since living there in 1945.
A Letter By Art
About England and WWII
Mr. Christopher Pluck
164 Paufield Lane
Braintree Essex England
July 12, 1992
I am in receipt of your letter of 22 Nov 1988 and I first must send my apology for having put off answering it until now.
When I read the return address on the letter, Braintree, my heart seemed to skip a beat and then a wave of memories swept over me for the next hour or more, some fond, some sad, but all vivid and precious. At that time, I was in the middle of sending out a personal letter and season’s greetings to those members of the 121st with which I still have contact. The number would be somewhere near 150 or more and by the time I finished posting them, Christmas was upon us.
In my Christmas mail, Mr. N.B. Cheek sent a copy of a paper printed on the subject of the 121st hospital unit which is very well done and very correct as I recall.
I suppose it might be well if I should tell you a few things about myself in order to give you more of a complete picture of the connections between us.
I was born on 9 Feb 1918 on a farm in Story County Iowa, USA. I was educated in a one room rural school for 8 years, then attended a 4 year high school located in the county seat of Nevada, Iowa. I returned to the farm in 1935 and worked with my father and brother operating a 240 acre livestock and grain farm raising corn (maize), oats, alfalfa, and soybeans. We kept a herd of Shorthorn (Durham) cattle and raised and fed out several hundred pigs and a flock of sheep.
On 1 March 1941, I accepted a position as a farm manager of a dairy and livestock farm near Burlington, Wisconsin about 350 miles from my Iowa home.
I worked in Wisconsin about a year and upon the bombing of Pearl Harbor 7 Dec 1941, I joined the US Army. I took my basic training at Joseph T. Robins, Arkansas and was then enrolled in a crash course of nursing at Fitzsimmons General Hospital in Denver, Colorado. Upon graduation from that school, I was sent for more training in Texas where the 121st Station Hospital was activated. My own occupational specialty by the army was termed male nurse, operating room. After training for several months more, our unit was completed with 395 enlisted men, 40 doctors, and 66 nurses which to be picked up at the Port of Embarkation, NY, NY.
We left Texas on a troop train and traveled some 2000 miles across the states — Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Michigan, into Canada, and back to New York to Camp Shanks staging area. As male nurses, we were put to work in dispensaries giving immunizations to thousands of men, doctors, and nurses who were leaving for overseas duty.
On June 23, 1942, under cover of darkness, we loaded our unit. There were 395 enlisted men, 44 doctors, 44 nurses, and 10 medical administrative officers on board the Queen Mary docked on the Canard White Star Line at New York Harbor. It was a very warm night and as we walked up the gangplank, a US Army band played over and over again, “A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody”. At 10 AM June 24 Eastern Standard Time, we sailed out of New York Harbor. We passed the Statue of Liberty. The Queen carried a total of 23,600 people. It was reportedly the most persons she had ever carried.
We were on the high seas, changing course every 30 minutes, having no escort! On Saturday night, an enemy sub was reportedly detected nearby and we turned back, but by daylight we again were back on course in the North Atlantic. We arrived on Greenock, Scotland on 29 June 1943.
We were taken by train down the beautiful English country side to Braintree Essex where we spent the next two years.
As I have mentioned, my duty was male nurse operating room. After some weeks I was placed as First Sergeant in charge of 395 enlisted personnel, a position I held the remainder of the war until discharge December 20, 1945. I was called to the operating room to assist only in pressing times, however, throughout stay at White Courts.
We were surprised on the second night on our new location to see what we deemed to be haystacks open up to be ack ack guns blazing away at German planes flying overhead. Of course, we soon learned to know the difference in the sound of all planes; German, English and/or American, and to know what their purpose was. We soon got accustomed to the English Wireless, (radio to us) and the BBC and of course the propaganda from German radio featuring the traitor voice of Lord “Haw-Haw”. He acknowledged our arrival, the 121st, and promised us a “visit” which did occur about 1 1/2 year later.
Daily sorties flown by our B-26’s, B-17’s, and B-24’s in good weather got to be part of our life at the hospital. As the planes came back, we counted them, knew the names of the planes, and sometimes the flying crews, many times having had a mild and bitters with them the previous night. We prepared ourselves for the admissions to the hospital and stood ready at OR until they were accounted for.
We also would hear the British planes taking off after dark and knowing the sounds of those Landcasters, with their spitfires as escorts. They did most of the night bombing.
Those days in the summer found the German bombers calling on us with regularity. Seldom did a night go by but the air raid siren sounded — giving one the chills up and down the spine. At first we Yanks were a bit casual about maintaining the “black-out” in our area, but a few visits by the air raid “wardens” who took us to task a bit, and it did not take long until we fell into line with the rules of life and death.
At that time, The Jerries were trying to destroy the planes and equipment on the ground at our airfields; Wethers Field, Earls Cone, Andrew Field. I recall very vividly being called to get the morgue open to receive bodies of those who lost their lives in such a raid. Several arrived that night, and I began to realize the reality of the war in the European Theater of Operations. (ETO). I have since thought about the fact that we didn’t have body bags at the time and you were obliged to read the faces of the dead whether you liked it or not.
The B-26 was an aircraft, which on paper was not supposed to fly, but it did. It came to be that only the very young pilots had the reflexes to cope with their high speed landings and take-off. The crash of one with a bomb load on take-off is a memory I still carry, as they called our hospital for help and ambulances.
During that time, prior to D-day, our dead were laid to rest at Maddeningly near Cambridge. It was a duty assigned to me, to accompany many of those to their eternal rest.
The 121st had barely landed to White Courts when the male personnel were out and about the Braintree area with two or three things to check up on; the pubs, the girls, and perhaps the town itself.
It was one of my duties to keep and maintain the records of the enlisted personnel. It seemed only a few weeks until the first soldier came and asked permission to marry an English girl. Prior to that, the thought had not occurred to me that such a thing would happen. Occur it did, and many many times during the next 2 1/2 years. Stationed as we were, for about 2 years in one place, it came to be home for so many. My desk in detachment headquarters was not without one or several applications lying before me to be processed. As I look at the records today, I find that over 95% of these marriages have lasted, not without some problems, of course, but certainly a good match for the most part. I believe since then it’s been a fresh bit of old England enhancing the spirit of America.
Perhaps the finest part of all was the manner in which the English people opened their hearts and their homes to the American men and women who served over there. It could not have been easy in so many cases, as our youth were loud of mouth —braggers in some cases-having more money to throw around than even they ever had before, and yet for the most part, we were well received.
In my own case, a lady—Lillian Yeatman-who with her Aunt operated the Korner Houe Café in Braintree, befriended me. Mrs. Yeatman had a son Keith, that served in the Royal Navy, whom I never got to meet, but have kept a picture of. Mrs. Yeatman and Auntie were very kind to myself and two other GI’s, a private 1st class Henry Lyle, and Sgt. Harry Cowan, both of who are deceased. Mrs Yeatman had a cottage in Marks Tey where she spent her weekends and holidays. She lived the working days with Auntie. We three GI’s were given a standing invitation to use her cottage any time we were able to bring some government goodies from our commissary such as tinned peaches, sugar, and other staples as available.
For several years after the war we wrote and kept up correspondence with Mrs. Yeatman and Auntie, but the letters stopped coming and of course we can only guess they have passed on. A friend of mine, who served the 943rd Engineers as a Chaplain, visited Braintree about 7 years ago reported to me that the Korner House was closed and no one seemed to know what happened to Mr. Keith Yeatman, the heir. Through the years, as I’ve driven my tractors in the fields, I’ve had a great deal of time to remember. I wrote a poem about Mrs. Yeatman and her cottage. It went like this — sung to the tune of Galway Bay…
If you ever go across the sea to England
Be sure and par a visit to Marks Ty
Tis a village in the corner of old Essex
From London town ’bout 50 miles away
There’s a lovely cottage nestled in the village
With lavender and roses blooming ‘round
There’s a fish in the garden flecked with seaweed
That thatch upon the roof a golden brown
Oh! The grandest lady lived within this cottage
With heart of gold as pure as gold could be
And today there’s three American soldiers
Remember her, though far across the sea
She always left the key beneath the door mat
So we could find it there in case we’d call
She gave us all the comforts of a home there
When home was what we needed most of all
If there is going to be a life here after
Through faith of course we now there’s going to be
I hope we will find up there in heaven
Our lovely lady, her cottage, and her key.
During the time from July 1943 and June 6, 1944 we were preparing in all ways for the big battle; the big push we all knew was coming. We saw the build up of men, materials, and supplies. Meanwhile, the bombers were hitting the German installations harder and harder as tension built up. Our hospital was designated to be 750 beds and we operated as such until the spring of 1944.
On 19 April 1944, about 0100, a German plane dropped a 2400 lb blockbuster bomb in the surgical wing of our hospital. This of course is part of the history received by N.B. Cheek and passed onto me in his Christmas notes.
We rebuilt the hospital with the help of US843rd Engineers Aviation Battalion who worked with us in two 12-hour shifts. We had it all done before D-Day—June 6. In addition to that we put a cement slab of some 60 feet in length between each of the existing wards, put new beds in them, making our capacity about 1400 beds by August 1944. We were designated a General Hospital and remained as such until and after the unit moved to Germany in late 1945.
We moved through the month of May and tension was mounting, but no one knew the day or the hour D-Day would arrive. On June 3, orders came from Eastern Base Section for one member of Army Corps and one surgical technician-male to report to 32 Evac Hospital Portsmouth staging area; in name ANC Lt. Macerlane and Sgt. Arthur M. Stratton to proceed at once. We knew the invasion was upon us and before dawn on the 6th we were sure. At daylight the sky was full of planes — at one time we saw over 1000 B-26’s aloft at once, stacked as far as you could see.
When the casualties started to come back it was a nightmare. We could not keep up, the cannel was rough, and plus the injuries, they were all seasick. Some died before they could be helped — in those times there were no body bags — you were compelled to read the faces until they could be taken to a temporary morgue.
On June 13, we returned to Braintree, the remainder of the Evac Hospital moved across the channel.
We were soon loaded with casualties at our own unit and the real work was upon us, to care for, operate when needed. We sent those with major wounds or amputations back to the Zone of Interior (Z.I.) via C-47 planes (The Dakota) from local airfields to Preswick, Scotland. Then on a C-54, four engine they were taken to the U.S.
We opened a physical therapy section and also a rehabilitation center where many, many stayed until they were able to be reassigned, some to their former units and some to other departments of the service. There were the weeks of hedgerow fighting in France. The tragedy of bombing our own troop etc.
As the summer passed and fall came, we all hoped for a quick end, but that was not to be. On September 19 the ill-fated glider and paratroop drop into the Ardens took place—many mistakes were made and lives were lost.
When cold weather set in, the problem of “trench foot” took thousands of men out of action and we filled all the empty beds with men afflicted with that ailment. Treatment was very successful in the program prescribed and while it took some time, most of them fully recovered.
The winter of ’45 was a nightmare over all, as wars do, with the atrocities, the massacres at Malmondy, and the Battle of the Bulge—Liberating the death camps by the allies and as the spring slowly arrived, the desperate last battles of the German forces. Finally the surrender by early May with Jodl in charge of the German troops, the death of Adolph Hitler, and many of the Nazi “war lords”.
Many of us had been told that the war in Japan was our next stop and that, very quickly, we would be on our way to that destination. We did, after splitting up the 121st — part going to Netley and part to Tidworth, spent some anxious days waiting. Then the atom bomb was dropped in Hiroshima and then on Nagasaki and we were assured we should then, in time, be deployed to the USA. We were shuttled into other units, our old groups being deactivated, and reassigned—mine being the 87th General then 303 station and then the 7th General, which I came home with and which seemed to be a melting pot for 1st Sergeants.
It was late October, 1st Sgt. Eddie Disler from the 7th General and myself were put on Detached Service to 64th US Graves Registration Company, issued a jeep and sent to attempt to locate “missing in action” personnel, both in the UK and on the continent. That of course is another story, about which we will not discuss here and now.
Our final orders were to report to Southampton on or before 9 Dec 1945. As that date arrived, we turned in our jeep and reported to Southampton where the Queen Mary was docked. We were present at that time, boarded the Queen Mary, and rode through a 72 hour storm from LaHarve, France to mid-Atlantic, with 7000 of the 11000 on board seasick. One of those was yours truly; lost 16lb., but able to deliver my morning report to the authorities in charge of the 7th General Hospital every day.
I carried my duffle bag down the gang plank, knelt and kissed the ground and drank a cold milk, the first in 31 months, and headed for the chow line in the Fort Dix, New Jersey debarkations center.
I remember many times Uncle Art telling the story of Mrs. Yeatman. He always talked about how kind she was. Uncle Art also mentioned his time assigned to the Graves Registration Company. He gave no details but said it was by far the worst assignment of the war. After the bomb was dropped on the hospital, Uncle Art was assigned the job of writing a prayer for the services afterward.