Newsletter - December 2011


Burlington Historian

December 2011

Author to Present "World War I Christmas Miracle" at Society’s 2011 Christmas Gathering

The Burlington Historical Society’s 2011 Christmas program will be held Sunday, December 4, in the Stars and Stripes Room of Veterans Terrace in Burlington at 1:30 p.m. The program will feature a presentation by Wisconsin author Rochelle Pennington on the "World War I Christmas Miracle."

The presentation is based on a true story included in Ms. Pennington’s forthcoming book, "Ten of the Greatest Christmas Gifts Ever Given." Ms. Pennington draws directly from the written memories of those who participated in the events of Christmas 1914, when an estimated 100,000 soldiers experienced the unofficial "Christmas Truce" which spanned hundreds of miles along the Western Front in Europe.

Some truces were initiated when soldiers started singing Christmas songs, while others began when candlelit Christmas trees appeared along the German trenches. In some places the truce started when brave soldiers appeared unarmed in the "No Man’s Land" between the trenches. Many truces began on Christmas Eve, while others commenced on Christmas Day.

Ms. Pennington will detail the extraordinary circumstances surrounding the war’s "miraculous" halt. The author will share vintage photographs of soldiers exchanging gifts with one another, as well as photographs of Christmas trees lit with candles on the battlefield. She will also share diary entries, letters home, and newspaper articles of the time describing the truce. In addition, she will bring authentic World War I battlefield artifacts, including items exchanged between the British, Scottish, German, and French troops.

The presentation by Ms. Pennington, who has also authored "The Christmas Tree Ship," "The Historic Christmas Tree Ship," "An Old-Fashioned Christmas: Tinsel, Gingerbread Men and Billie-the-Brownie," and other books, will be preceded by a short business meeting of the Burlington Historical Society. The Veterans Terrace is located near Echo Park and the White River bridge on Milwaukee Avenue (Hwys. 36 and 83). Refreshments will be served. There is no charge for the program.

President’s Message

This time of the year we usually look back and reflect on the happenings of the past year. The media usually "replays" the big headlines and news stories which lately have not been very happy moments for most of us. I like to look at the more positive and fun events that took place for ourselves and family members and think of how we may add more of them to our activities of the new year.

A recent retiree mentioned to me that he just sold his house and many items he had collected over the years in order to "scale down" to apartment living. He mentioned that he disposed of many local photos and advertising items that the Historical Society could have had, but he never thought of it until it was too late. I remind all members to get the word out that the Society is always looking for photos and other items of interest to add to our collections. All it takes is a phone call and we will be happy to see what may be of interest to us.

I wish all a happy and joyous Christmas season and a fun and eventful New Year.

                        Dennis Tully

Pioneer Cabin Had Many Visitors

Pioneer Log Cabin closed in October after a season that saw a great number of visitors enjoying a view of how an early Burlington farm family’s home may have appeared. The cabin, furnished for a post-Civil War family of German descent, was open from May through October on Thursday evenings and Saturday afternoons. An adjoining tool shed containing an exhibit of agricultural and woodworking tools, area agriculture-related articles, and pioneer biographies was also popular, often starting "I remember . . ." conversations among the visitors.

Grateful thanks go to the docents – Jim Kubath, Kathy Thate, Debbie Regner, Elaine Burke, Bernard Walli, Don Vande Sand, and Jackie Heiligenthal – who welcomed visitors to the cabin. Mother Nature cooperated by providing good weather at most times throughout the season. Thursday nights saw many visitors who stopped by the Cabin while visiting the Farmers’ Market in Wehmhoff Square.

Thanks also to Judy Stone, Paula Puntenny, Eddie Krumrey, and other members of the Burlington Garden Club and Master Gardeners who tended the Vintage Garden and Kitchen Garden near the Cabin. The gardens are also popular stops for Cabin visitors.

The Society is always looking for new Cabin docents. If you are interested in volunteering, please contact Jackie Heiligenthal, 262-661-4272. Training is free and the rewards are great!

The Cabin will reopen the first weekend in May 2012.

College Students Return to Mt. Hope

A group of Wisconsin Lutheran College students, led by Dr. Ned Farley, head of the college’s anthropology department, returned to Mt. Hope Cemetery in late October to continue their work on mapping the cemetery and making archaeological "digs" to determine the composition and history of the site.

The cemetery is located on the Robert Stowell farm on Spring Prairie Road, a short distance west of County Trunk DD.

Dr. Farley and the students plan to return to Mt. Hope Cemetery for a week in the spring of 2012 to continue their work.

Wisconsin Lutheran College students (in distance at right) in Mt. Hope Cemetery, October 2011. Ken Amon, the cemetery's volunteer caretaker, is at left.

LeRoy Anderson - A Burlington Hero

With more and more men and women of "The Greatest Generation" passing away as the years go by since World War II ended, we sometimes tend to forget the courage and selflessness of those who served our country in a time of great danger. Even more forgotten at times are those who gave their lives during that war.

While about 70 servicemen from (or formerly from) Burlington and the surrounding area were killed in action or died from disease or accidents while serving in World War II, most were not known beyond their families, their relatives, their friends, their fellow service men and women, and their communities.
There was one Burlington soldier killed during the war, however, whose exploits had been known throughout the nation and even internationally. That soldier was Burlington native, LeRoy Clark Anderson (shown at right in a framed display in Burlington's Veterans Terrace), who was the first draftee in World War II to receive the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s second highest military award, next only to the Medal of Honor. LeRoy was also awarded two Purple Hearts.

LeRoy, better known as Roy or Andy, was born in 1918 in a house built by his father, Erwin, which still stands on Briody Street. Andy was in the first group of Burlington boys to join the Army in January 1941 to fill the local draft board’s quota. The other volunteers were Joseph A. Pieters, James Corbett, Wallace Bartelson, and Leon Bender. During training, Andy was assigned to Company A of the 192nd Tank Battalion and became a tank driver. The company was sent to the Philippine Islands, arriving in Manila on Thanksgiving Day 1941

On February 3, 1942, in an engagement against the Japanese, Andy led his platoon of tanks into action. According to newspaper clippings of the time, an American counterattack was being held up by Japanese machine gun nests. Andy’s platoon of tanks was called in to clear out the nests. While leading the counterattack and attempting to retake positions lost to the Japanese, Andy’s tank was knocked out. Andy and his crew climbed out of their tank and continued the attack on foot using hand grenades and rifles to wipe out the machine gun nests. Andy was wounded during the attack and did not return to duty until February 12th.

For his actions, Andy was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross – the first draftee in World War II to receive the medal. During the presentation, General Douglas MacArthur stated that Andy had demonstrated "extraordinary heroism" in action against the Japanese.

Newspapers throughout the world noted the award, Paramount News made a newsreel, the Kate Smith radio show aired a segment celebrating Andy’s exploits, and Boys’ Life magazine included an article on Andy, who was an Eagle Scout and Scout leader. His stepmother, Mrs. Hattie Anderson, allowed photos to be taken of Andy’s bedroom, Scout uniform, shortwave radio, and other possessions. Burlington held an "Aid Andy" week to promote the sale of war bonds.

On April 9, 1942, Andy became a prisoner of war when 66,000 Filipino and 12,000 American defenders of Bataan, facing a shortage of food, ammunition, and medical supplies, were surrendered. He and the other members of A Company were taken to the southern tip of the Bataan Peninsula from where Andy and the others, under brutal treatment from their captors, began the infamous Bataan death march.

Andy survived the death march, but experienced all the deprivations and cruel treatment that the Japanese imposed on their prisoners. In October 1944, with the U.S. re-engaging in action in the Philippines, the Japanese loaded about 1,800 POWs aboard the freighter Arisan Maru to take them to Japan to work in their factories. In contravention of the Geneva Convention, the Japanese refused to mark POW ships with red crosses to indicate they were carrying prisoners.

On October 24, an American submarine torpedoed the Arisan Maru, not knowing it was a POW ship, causing the deaths of all but nine of the prisoners when the Japanese refused to rescue any of the POWs. Andy was among those who perished at sea. Not one of the Japanese lost his life. It was the worst maritime disaster in our nation’s history, but because it was classified information at first, the story of the Arisan Maru has been mostly untold.

Andy has been honored in his hometown by the Veterans of Foreign Wars, which named its post the Anderson-Murphy post in memory of Andy and Marine Gunnery Sergeant Lloyd D. Murphy, who also lost his life in World War II. By this, they are remembered. But who among us could name three, or two, or even one of our area’s other heroes?

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year. . .

Contributed by Priscilla Crowley

Thanksgiving is almost here as I begin this article and already we are hearing Christmas music playing on the radio and enticing ads are appearing in the paper and on television regarding all of those wonderful things that you just have to buy for yourself or someone you love for Christmas. There is no getting around it – Christmas is on its way! Commercialism has become a big part of the Christmas season and for the most part those of us who are "true believers" can relegate that part of the season to the back of our consciousness. We all know what Christmas really means – it’s a time to be a little kinder and more thoughtful towards our fellow human beings and to remember why we are all here on this earth. It’s a time to share what we have with those who are having a rough time of it or who need a little extra understanding in their lives. Kindness to others costs nothing but the return on your investment is huge. Christmas is also about family, friends, traditions (old and new), snow, trees, wrapping paper, cookies, kids, Santa, and believing in something you aren’t able to touch, see, or put a precise name to. It’s a feeling – it’s a sense of well-being – even at its most hectic – it’s a time when man finally remembers what life is really all about. IT’S CHRISTMAS!!

Part of the fun of Christmas is all those happy times when you are with family and friends and you begin to reminisce. It’s a season of "remember when’s" – old stories become new stories for the younger generation and bring a smile to the faces of those who "were there when it happened." Children only learn what we as adults choose to teach them and what better lesson for them to learn than what family and tradition is all about.

When I was a child Christmas was always very special – we didn’t always have a lot of money but money isn’t really the issue for a great Christmas, is it? No matter how bad things were, we always had a tree – it’s true that some years the tree was more of a "Charlie Brown" type rather than the full, lush, perfectly shaped tree of everyone’s dreams, but that didn’t matter. What mattered was that we had a tree and we decorated it with all of the old ornaments and lights and when it was done, whether there were branches missing or the trunk was a little crooked or it was kind of spindly – it was the most beautiful tree we had ever had. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and you can’t beat the magic that occurs when you turn on the tree lights and you see the looks on the faces of your children as they stand in awe of what started out to be just a little old fir tree that was home to a squirrel or a bird in the forest.

The celebration of Christmas is very much like the Christmas tree – the main trunk of the tree is family and from the family the branches include all of the other things that go hand in hand with Christmas. Just think about all the layers Christmas has – all the things that are truly important. The star on the top is the true meaning of the season, the joy that comes to all who are believers in things they cannot see or touch but who know in their hearts that they are real. I know there are cynics out there who are not believers, who scoff at the thought that Christmas means much more than the day after Thanksgiving sales and what goes on your Christmas list and how much money do we have to spend but I truly believe that not all of these people are as cynical as they would have us believe. I think that deep down there are more believers than non-believers and that believing is what keeps the true spirit of the season alive and lets you enjoy all of the parts of the season – the things you can touch and feel and see and things that you can’t see, the ones that exist only in your heart and mind. Christmas is joy and hope, laughter and sentimentality, tradition and love of humanity – it’s bigger than all of us – it surpasses all expectations and helps all of us see life in a new light.

There are so many reasons to love this season and one of the ones I enjoy the most is the memories. Many years ago – when my children were little, I remember a story about a particular Christmas tree that Mom and Dad bought. Mom loved decorating for Christmas and Christmas tree decorating was her favorite. One year, for old times sake, they decided to go back out to Lyons to buy their tree. They enjoyed visiting with old neighbors and people they knew from when they lived out there and they found a nice sized tree that was perfectly shaped and just the right size. The person who sold it to Dad gave him his personal guarantee that it was a freshly cut tree – they shouldn’t have any problems. They happily took the tree home and as usual Dad was in charge of the lights and the star for the top of the tree and Mom was in charge of everything else. Mom always took her time and did it up right. Two days later the tree was decorated to within an inch of its life, the tree skirt was arranged just so and the presents were all under the tree. Everything was perfect – maybe too perfect.

As they were sitting there watching television and enjoying their beautiful tree, Mom could hear the sound of ornaments tinkling and the sound of something plinking as it hit the top of the presents. Needles were falling off the tree like rain and the ornaments were falling almost as fast as the needles. By morning their beautiful tree had become something much less than beautiful. The presents and the tree skirt were covered in a carpet of green needles. Mom said the air was a delicate shade of "blue" as Dad expressed his opinion of the tree and the person who had personally guaranteed that this tree was freshly cut with no chance that a single needle would drop off of it. By this time the tree more closely resembled the saddest version possible of a Charlie Brown Christmas tree. They undecorated the tree, picked up all the fallen ornaments, removed all of the lights, and moved the presents and the tree skirt. Dad silently opened the front door, picked up the tree and threw it out onto the front lawn where it lay in a sad little heap, minus 80% of its needles – those were still in the house. Mom said it took her over an hour to clean up after the tree.

Of course, Dad was in no mood to go shopping for another tree but Mom was nothing if not persistent. She finally convinced him that it would be a terrible thing if his grandchildren came to Grandma and Grandpa’s house and there was no Christmas tree. So they went shopping for a second Christmas tree. I have always felt sorry for the person he bought that second tree from. Dad practically made the man sign in blood regarding the freshness of the tree. The new tree was decorated but Mom said her heart just wasn’t in it the second time around; she kept remembering how perfect the first tree was. Unfortunately, the first tree was nothing but a distant memory and a sad little heap of bare branches and fallen needles sitting on the curb in a forlorn little pile waiting to be picked up for disposal.

This particular incident did not change the state of world affairs, it did not secure peace and prosperity for all time, it didn’t really affect anyone except our own family but what it did was create a memory. Memories of Christmas’s past have been occurring for thousands of years. Memories are part of the intangibles of the season. You can’t see them, except in your own mind’s eye, you can’t touch them, and you only have my word that this actually happened. The retelling of this family story creates a sense of warmth and well-being, it makes you totally aware of not being alone in the universe, of having a connection with the past and building a bridge to the future through the sharing of this memory. I hope that you all count yourself as true believers during this most important season. Remember to keep Christmas in your heart and to share all of the intangibles with those you love.