From mess kits to mortar rounds
Lina Belar, Interim Exucutive Director, WCHS
From mess kits to mortar rounds, these artifacts in the collection of the Wadena County Historical Society represent the stories of the men and women who served their country in the armed forces. At the Museum there is one display room devoted entirely to the military. It is a place to learn more about Wadena’s veterans and the many contributions they made to this community.
George Whitney came to Wadena following the Civil War. For decades, he was an active member of the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) a fraternal organization of men who had served with the Union Armies. His collection of medals tells less about his experiences in the Civil War than they do about his subsequent love and appreciation for his fellow soldiers, many of whom also settled in and around Wadena. Whitney himself played a prominent role in the early history of the area, serving the public in one capacity or another throughout his whole lifetime. At the time of his death he was vice president of the First National Bank of Wadena. He also served as president of the board of education for many years and as principal of Wadena’s graded school. A very active member of the Wadena G.A.R., it was perhaps fitting that his last day was spent enroute to Wadena. The May 21, 1914 issue of the Pioneer Journal reported it this way. “Eager to reach Wadena in time to assist comrades of Farragut Post in the proper observance of Memorial Day, Mr. Whitney dropped dead without any warning as he was boarding the train at Omaha, Nebraska, on the last lap of his journey home from California.”
A record from Farragut Post No. 102 lists over 110 names, including Peake, Colson, Pelton, Perkins, Colman, Stowell, Ackerman, Beach, Dobbins, Weston, Snyder, Veden. Many of these names are familiar today:
Clifford A. Stevens made a scrapbook of his WWI experiences, remembering the men who served with him and the little jokes they collected to keep their spirits up. He enlisted on April 22, 1917, one of 40 people from the little town of Underwood, North Dakota and served as a Corporal in Battery A with Field Artillery.
Frank C. Stedman, a veteran of World War I, served with the 82nd Division and the Division of Criminal Interest in Europe. His passcard identifying him as a Criminal Investigator is on exhibit at the museum.
Several generations of Garrs served in the military. Floyd Garr was born in Mower County, Minn. and resided at Austin until 1900 when he moved to rural Hewitt. He served in World War I and in 1918 he was united in marriage to Estelle Buck. After a short time in Montana, they moved to Wadena where he worked as a WPA project supervisor and assistant county highway engineer. He was a member of the Wadena Methodist Church and the American Legion. He died at the age of 92. His wife, Estelle, died in 1992 at the age of 100. Their son Wayne, served in the Army Air Corps during World War II.
In the obituary files of the Historical Society, it shows that a George Marquardt was killed in action in Europe during World War I. Several decades later a George Marvin Marquardt joined the Army October 16 1941 and was assigned to the 8th Air Force 384th Bombardment Group 547th Bombardment Squadron. He flew 30 combat missions over Germany as leadership bombadier. He was discharged December 22, 1945 and began a distinguished career with the Minnesota State Patrol. His patrol service was interrupted with a return to Air Force duty during the Korean War in May, 1951. He served with a B-29 combat crew as squadron bombardier until October, 1952 when he returned to patrol duty in the Wadena area. After 48 years as a resident of Wadena he sold his property to the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church and left for Duluth where he became the commanding officer of the 2700 district of the National Guard. A bomber jacket worn by him is on display along with other artifacts from his years of service.
Capt. A. Scheer’s trunk was donated to the museum, along with his uniform, a book “The Officer’s Guide”, and an amazing story. Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Ralph Scheer graduated from the University of Wisconsin with a degree in bacteriology but his career was interrupted by World War II. His lottery number was the first to be called and he joined the Army. After the first year he was accepted into the Air Force Cadet Training Program where he trained as an Armament and Bombsite officer. He served in Africa and Europe, flying over 1000 missions. After the war he returned to his work in the food industry until he decided on a career change and completed a master’s degree in psychology. He was a professor at North Dakota State University and was instrumental in establishing the first hospital-based in-patient residential alcoholism treatment unit in Fargo. He retired to Wadena where he became an active member of the community until his death in 2008.
In one corner of the military room is a woman’s Coast Guard uniform that belonged to Kathryn Pierce who served in the U.S. Coast Guard as a SPAR during World War II. She married Reginald Mead in 1947 and they moved to Wadena where they raised their four children. She was very active in the community with memberships in Eastern Star, the Wadena County Historical Society and American Association of University Women.
A vacuum tube from the 739th Radar Squadron WAFB, is a reminder that not all military service happened overseas. Some of it was pretty close to home. From 1950 to 1970, the Wadena Air Force Station was home first to the 132nd and then the 739th Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron of the Minnesota National Guard. At the peak of the Cold War, about 300 men comprised the squadron at the radar site which played an important role in the United States Air National Defense. Wadena Air Base personnel added much to the local community and its activities. They held many social affairs and dances and relationships must have been good because many base men married Wadena women.
The men and women of Wadena have nobly served their country through two world wars, the Korean Conflict, Vietnam, the Cold War, and the wars in the Middle East today. More histories of veterans can be found in the collection of the Wadena County Historical Society. Thanks to the late Robert Zosel, these stories have been collected and organized. Research assistants are available daily to help people with any questions. The Museum and Research Center is located at 603 N. Jefferson Street, Wadena and is open Tuesday through Friday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.