Thursday, April 23, 2015

20. Nancy’s Family Ties to the Civil War

By the time my family moved to the Borough of Gettysburg in 1942, I had lived in four other communities including two in North Jersey. Nancy, however, didn’t just grow up in Gettysburg, her family roots there go back to the early 1800’s. Our genealogy records suggest that over 150 ancestors preceded her or were her contemporaries in the Gettysburg/Adams County Area.

Gettysburg is famous because of what happened there in 1863, and Nancy has several family members with ties to the Civil War and at least two who actually lived through the battle.

Nancy’s great grandfather, William Alexander Ogden, fought with the 87th Pennsylvania Volunteers and was captured by the Confederates during the Battle of the Wilderness in 1864. He spent the rest of the war in Andersonville Prison.

Nancy’s Great Great Great Uncle, Francis C. Ogden, was a tenant farmer on the Rose Farm during the Battle of Gettysburg, and Francis’ son, Francis Charles (Nancy’s distant cousin), fought with the Union Army and was killed in the Battle of Locust Grove, Virginia.

Margaret DeGroff Ogden, Nancy’s Great Great Grandmother made an American Flag which she hung proudly on the front porch of her Gettysburg home throughout the battle. Thirteen minnie balls and a shell fragment passed through the flag which had 34 stars. The Ogden Flag is now displayed in the Gettysburg College Library. 

My only family tie with Gettysburg is Rev. David Eyster, a distant cousin, who founded the Young Ladies Seminary in town. Tillie Pearce, a student at the school in July of 1863, wrote At Gettysburg one of the best accounts by a resident and witness.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

19. Beginning Eighth Grade in 1944

After a delay of two weeks because of concerns about polio in Adams County, Nancy and I finally started eighth grade at Lincoln School in Gettysburg on Monday, September 18, 1944.

World War II continued in Europe and the South Pacific with Allied victories reported in both areas. Residents of Gettysburg were reminded of the war often as convoys of troops moved through the village streets almost daily. We were also reminded of the cost of war when the local papers reported on County residents who were killed or wounded in action. 

For Nancy and me, the war was personal as her Uncle John Strevig was an Army Chaplain in Italy, my Uncle Bud Houck was a cook in the South Pacific, and my Dad, Carl Westerdahl, was a Seabee in Gulfport, Mississippi.

Uncle Bud, who died in 1966, is buried in the Gettysburg National Cemetery, and every December Nancy and I, with friends and family members, place a Christmas Wreath on his grave and many others. The annual event is sponsored by the Sgt. Mac Foundation and the National Wreath Project.

Nancy and I didn’t really know each other in eighth grade. I do recall seeing her as I passed through her room on the way to English class. One of her hobbies was collecting novelty pins that she wore on her blouse or sweater. If that was a scheme to get boys to notice her, it worked on me, but no one would have predicted our wedding nine years later.

Nancy’s diary often mentions the most popular songs of that year as reported on a radio program called Your Hit Parade. On Saturday, September 9, for example, the number one song was I’ll Be Seeing You by Bing Crosby. Bing was popular in 1944, but it was a twenty-nine year old baritone from Hoboken, New Jersey named Frank Sinatra who had the teenage bobby soxers screaming and swooning in the aisles. Some of the girls in our class were huge Sinatra fans.

The 1994-45 school year began with optimism that we were winning the war,  and the 3,100 men and women from Adams County serving around the world would soon be coming back to their friends and families.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

18. POW Camp in Gettysburg during WWII

Before Nancy and I leave the summer of 1944 behind and begin reminiscing about eighth grade in Lincoln School, we should remind readers of a brief era in Gettysburg history that most tourists never knew existed.

Our memories were jogged when we read the entry for July 1 in Nancy’s 1944 diary:
This afternoon, Bill and I played croquet and Monopoly. After supper, Grandpa and I went with Aunt Sara and Betty Ann to see the German Prison Camp.
The first POWs were sent to Gettysburg in the Spring of 1944 to help harvest and process fruits and vegetables for the farms, orchards and canneries in the Adams County area.

Initially, fifty Prisoners of War lived in the National Guard Armory, but when the  tent camp on the edge of the borough just west of the Emmitsburg Road was completed, it housed nearly 500 prisoners. 

The camp on the Emmitsburg Road was strictly a tent camp, so in November of 1944, it was abandoned and prisoners were moved to other areas including 200 who were interned near West Confederate Avenue at a location previously known as Camp Colt. Captain Dwight D. Eisenhower commanded a tank corps at Camp Colt during World War I.

In 1945, a second POW camp was created at Micheaux State Forest between Chambersburg and Carlisle. German Prisoners of War were secretly interrogated there until they were eventually returned to Germany. In June of 1945, 200 Japanese prisoners were assigned to the camp.

Author Barbara Platt wrote a more complete description of the Gettysburg camp in her book, This Holy Ground.

       NOTE: The photo above is from the Adams County Historical Society in Gettysburg

Friday, April 3, 2015

17. A Third War in the Forties

In recent posts, Nancy and I described how World War II and the war against polio touched our daily lives in the famous town where we grew up. Recently, we remembered another war we fought every summer as long as we could remember. It was the war against mosquitoes.

Our weapon of choice in that war was an insecticide called Flit used in a hand held device called a Flit gun. Flit was marketed in very successful cartoon ads created by Theodore Seuss Geisel years before he became Dr. Seuss. His ads typically contained the popular catch phrase, “Quick, Henry, the Flit.”

In the fall of 1944, we began to hear about a new discovery that promised to wipe out  the mosquito, liquidate the household fly, cockroach and bedbug and control some of the worst insects that ruin crops all over the world.  

The new remarkable insecticide, which we were told was safe for humans, was called DDT, and a few years later, the town of Gettysburg began to spay it from the air and from trucks on our streets.

Nancy and I remember the warnings to stay inside during the sprayings, and we recall the distinctive odor when the DDT cloud went by our houses.

In 1948, Swiss Chemist, Hermann Muller, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for his discovery of the amazing new insecticide. 

Then in 1962, in her book Silent Spring, biologist Rachel Carson presented evidence that DDT killed wildlife and caused cancer in humans. Today, DDT is banned around the world for agricultural use, but limited use is still permitted, with reservations, in countries where deaths due to malaria are significant.