Monthly Archives: July 2012

Charles “Bud” Barth and WWII Excerpts

Brothers from Braddock, North Dakota: David Barth and Charles Barth. Photo taken in 1943.

I have since loaded up the digitized oral history from Charles “Bud” Barth, this curated for public dissemination (amongst hundreds of thousands of other oral histories) with the State Historical Society of North Dakota. In the previous post I noted how Charles was a medic in the 103rd Infantry Division, European Theater, Second World War. Here are a couple lines I transcribed from the audio, at least what Charles recounted from his time on the front lines. Charles said:

“…I was not on the front line all the time. I was what they call a medic recorder. I took care of all the guys who were hit, who were killed, who were prisoners of war, and stuff like that…”

And then he recounted one of the particulars in the broader, global war that resulted in millions of deaths. While in the Western European Theater, Charles said this:

“…I remember one incident, this guy was shot, two shells in his upper chest. And he knew he was going to die. I grabbed him, held him in my arms, gave him a [morphine] shot, and he said, ‘Would you… tell mom… and dad…’ and that was the last he said. Now I don’t know what he was going to say… I looked at his dog tags and they were so shot up I didn’t know where he was from.”

Charles transcribed these final words, “Would you… tell mom… and dad…” in the context in which he heard them, and then he attached them to the killed soldier. Days and weeks went by, and one of Charles’s commanding officers eventually tracked him down. His officer asked if he was the medic who wrote the note about the soldier who was hit and killed. Charles said that was the only identification he could make out since the dog tags were so shot up. The officer said they had the killed soldier’s home address, and they gave it to Charles.

Eventually Charles drafted a letter to the soldier’s parents who lived in Wisconsin. He told them  he cared for their son just before he was killed in action, and he wanted to pass along his final words. This induced a correspondence between this soldier’s parents and Charles, and they sent letters and Christmas cards back and forth until they just stopped one day. Charles suspected that the soldier’s parents had passed away, and he never was able to track them down.

Nonetheless, these North Dakotan oral histories are a part of the larger picture that is the national Veteran’s History Project. It seemed more than worthwhile to share this bit of digitized history. War is ugly. It is horrible; in fact the most horrific. Yet embedded within this horror are singular stories of selflessness, empathy, appreciation and compassion. These individual stories humanize those larger historical narratives that can seem so rote and distant. The individual stories are all around, just so long as we are ready to sit down and listen.

Charles Eugene (“Bud”) Barth in the Second World War

Within the archives of the State Historical Society of North Dakota’s Veteran’s History Project you can track down any one of the veteran oral histories. So upon hearing this morning that Charles Eugene (“Bud”) Barth passed away sometime last night at 92 years of age, I thought it would be good to track down the oral history he and I put together some years ago. I’m in the process of obtaining the entire file of his history, and it seemed reasonable to reflect a bit on exactly what he did in the Second World War.

Charles was known as “Bud” by any number of people. He hailed from a farmstead just outside of Braddock, North Dakota, and was called to serve not too long after the U.S. entered the Second World War. Charles was rolled into the 409th Infantry Medical Detachment, 103rd Infantry Division, and he served as a front line medic in the Battle of the Bulge. I did a bit of checking around to see about this division’s feats during the Second World War, and it also turns out that Charles along with the rest of the 103rd Infantry Division liberated one of Nazi Germany’s concentration camps, the details of which can be found in the link here.
I think it has been approximately 10 years since Charles and I recorded this conversation about his time in WWII. I remember that he gave me the stories primarily because he was getting up there in age and he thought it might be important to set this information down. I agreed with him. After the interview, at least after the tape recorder was shut off, I also remember Charles saying that he wanted to tell me a bit more about the war, but sans recording device. Vets carry the raw elements of war with them throughout life, and as Charles mentioned to me, every vet deals with it differently. I remember Charles telling me how guilty he felt for making it out of the Second World War while so many others perished. This feeling of “Why not me?” is not at all uncommon, and even quite normal as well.

Later this afternoon I will listen to the interview with Charles that was recorded some 10 years ago. I remember that for a short time he was captured but then escaped from the German Army. When he found his way back to the Allied front lines, his commanding officer told him to get back to work: no time to sit around and celebrate one’s escape after being captured. After all there was a war going on out there.

…More soon after I revisit the interview.

Note: Charles was my great uncle.

Historic Archaeology of the Upper Missouri River Fur Trade

On the morning of July 19, 2012, at the Fort Clark State Historic Site on the western side of the upper Missouri

W. Raymond Wood and others at the Fort Clark historic archaeological dig on July 19, 2012.

River in North Dakota, Mark Mitchell took time to describe the archaeology and systematic excavations that had taken place up to that point in time. Due to advances in technology — geophysics, and more specifically remote sensing, geomagnetic, electrical resistivity, electromagnetic induction, ground penetrating radar, among others — contemporary archaeology, or “techno-archaeology,” allows for archaeologists to garner a glimpse of what had gone on underneath the ground surface before they punch holes in the said ground. It takes an art and artist, though, to manipulate the controls of these devices and read and interpret the results. The results, in turn, allow archaeologists to drop excavation units down on focused areas, and some of the interpretive results of that are below.

The goal of this project is to discern whether or not the anomalies reflected by the geophysics are part of the broader North American fur trade that characterized much of the first half of the nineteenth-century. Mark explains how this archaeology may be the Fort Clark fur trading post built by James Kipp (note: temps on July 19, 2012 reached 101° F, or 38.3° C — nonetheless, the archaeology pushed on-ward):

Sweden and North Dakota: Local Genealogy and Google Earth

During the first week of July 2012, I sat down with my grandmother, Vivian Marie (“Larson”) Barth, and we started chatting about genealogy. We, as in the Royal Humanity We, are interested in genealogy for several

Vivian points to a Google Earth map focused in on the near historic archaeological townsite of Bremen, North Dakota. Her father, H.T. Larson, and his brothers and relations settled in and around Bremen and throughout Valhalla Township.

reasons. One of the reasons has to do with identity, or explaining who we can identify with, and how we identify who we are when asked by others. Large genealogical thinkers are often reflected in the form of theologians and naturalists (such as Charles Darwin): they have thought long and hard about where humanity came from, or might have come from.

Another reason we are obsessed with genealogy has to do with trying to explain to ourselves and others with better detail where we came from (when we know our origins, it gives us a feeling — delusional or not — that we know exactly where we are going, a way in which to push into the future).  It’s a fallacy to think that those in the past had such clarity of vision and that they new exactly where they were going. It is only the present, or present mindedness, that imposes this view on the past.

Anyhow, while chatting with this 96 year old Swede, I was able to capture some more focused familial history that invariably reflected a broader historical pattern (migration patterns and that thing we call diaspora). Vivian’s father (or my Swedish great grandfather, Hans Theodore Larson, or “H.T.” as he

Ivö, Sweden on a Google Earth map.

preferred to be called), came to the United States with his Uncle Pehr in 1889. H.T was 13 years old at the time, and he eventually found himself in Willmar, Minnesota (amongst other folks who talked his talk as well). I knew H.T. came from Skåne, but I did not know he came from the eastern portion of Skåne called Ivö. While sitting with Vivian, I pulled Google Earth up on the laptop and typed in “Ivö, Sweden” and hit “return.” The Google Earth map went from the now nearly historic archaeological townsite of Bremen, North Dakota (in northeastern Wells County), zoomed out, and then back in to the rural Ivö setting in southern Sweden. Below is a short clip of Vivian recalling where her father came from. One more ancillary note: does anyone else see a likeness in facial features between my grandma and the sitting Swedish King? Yeah, you’re right, I’m probably just projecting.

Bombing Through the Bakken

On July 7, 2012, I departed Bismarck for western North Dakota to take in another sample and slice of the industrial labor boom that comes with being the #2 oil producer in the United States. I left Bismarck, traveled down I-94 to Dickinson, turned north onto Highway 22, looped around through Watford City, up through Alexander and then into Williston. A sample of that is in the video below, the intersection of Highway 22 and the Green River just north of Dickinson, North Dakota.

This was taken on a Saturday (presumably a more toned down day of labor than a weekday?). From the cab of a ’93 S-10, semis whipping by give the impression of this. And that is tempered by the realities of real life stories, this one by Scott Grote when he confronted a truck dumping salt water on a road (presumably around Tioga, yes?):

“I found a truck dumping salt water on the road. Just open the valve and they drive down the road. I followed him into location to have a little talk with him. He was going to have a talk with me with his hammer. And I had my .45. That’s how I got away from that one. It’s not much fun. Wherever you go, you got one eye open looking for what’s coming.”
[The full story is linked here, and I came across this through Mike Frohlich.]
North Dakota has hit the big time whether we like it or not. While some of us enjoy Mad Max movies and labor industrial environs, there are many who understandably want a slice of the way things used to be (and this phrase, “the way things used to be,” is forever changing, since what’s different today will tomorrow be the way things used to be — once again, historians love tracking change throughout time).

A July 7, 2012 photo of Gramma Sharon’s in Williston, North Dakota. Note the oil truck at left, and the wood frame construction in the back-drop. As for the BLT when you get here.

When I arrived in Williston, I arguably had a bit of normalcy, at least in the form of one of the best BLTs I’ve had in the last 5 years, this at Gramma Sharon’s — even in the Mad Max series there are segments of normalcy. For a BLT, some potato chips, a couple pickles and about a gallon of icy cold ice tea, I was charged $6.97 (If you prefer unsweetened tea, it might be worthwhile to say, “Do you have unsweetened tea?” I do this since the southern migration into the northern Plains will invariably bring sweet tea

This is how they log complaints at Gramma Sharon’s in Williston, North Dakota.

along with it). They are also into self-empowerment at Gramma Sharon’s, and they communicate this in a way typical to North Dakota. If you have a complaint for management, you’re free to fill out an application to become a solution instead of contributing to the problem.

Of course, the pendulum swings back the other way, since everything is not a sustained normalcy. (Note: “sustained normalcy” is a fallacy in any time and age of human history; it’s probably a good idea to think what we mean by “sustainability” when we say it.) After lunch, I had a conversation with a white collar worker, and she said her lodging had to be subsidized since there was no way her salary could accommodate how the oil boom has inflated monthly apartment rates. This even came on the heels of some kind of 10% raise to her said salary. Ouch.
How to manage all of this change is a huge topic of conversation. And it’s nothing to be addressed in full in any singular blog posting. But this is just another contribution.

Urinetown, North Dakota

New Rockford, North Dakota

In the introductory remarks to “Urinetown: The Musical,” Director Deb Belquist says, “A few have questioned my sanity for choosing this show, URINETOWN.” With this opening statement and with her following remarks, Deb lays out one of the reasons we have and support the humanities

Urinetown signage in downtown New Rockford, North Dakota.

and the arts: to provoke, to disrupt, and therefore clear the mental cobwebs and encourage thinking outside of our cerebral boxes.

This is the description of Urinetown:

In a Gotham-like city, a terrible water shortage, caused by a 20-year drought, has led to a government-enforced ban on private toilets. The citizens must use public amenities, regulated by a single malevolent company that profits by charging admission for one of humanity’s most basic needs. Amid the people, a hero decides he’s had enough, and plans a revolution to lead them all to freedom!

This theme smacks of several works of political economy, art, and theater, at least since Thomas Malthus (which Deb mentions in the pamphlet) laid out his ideas in the early 19th century that concerned population dynamics. As the planet becomes increasingly populated, it’s always interesting to hypothesize how private and public institutions will manage all of us locally and internationally (life is one big private and public protracted exercise in management). “Urinetown” also reminded me of “Soylent Green,” starring the late Charlton Heston. Put out in 1973, “Soylent Green” was set in the future, in 2022 (or a decade away), and this perhaps is one of the most memorable and understandably recycled lines from the flick.

The drawback of “Soylent Green,” though, is that it’s a movie, and as with all movies, the viewer or movie-goer cannot have the real-time attachment to the actresses and actors as they can when they take in live theater. With the movie, only the viewer can develop a delusional engagement and one-sided friendship with the Hollywood actor on screen (the Hollywood actress or actor simply could not have friendships with the volume of people they attract). With live theater, though, the actors and actresses get to respond accordingly to the audience. There is an interplay, a continued back and forth.

The Urinetown stage set in the Old Church Theater in downtown New Rockford, North Dakota.

This is something the philosopher, historian and archaeologist R.G. Collingwood was deeply concerned about in the first half of the twentieth-century, especially as art became increasingly mechanized (now, for example, we put money into electronic Jukeboxes to hear music instead of bringing in live bands; or we often expect live bands to simply play cover songs; and just yesterday a friend used an iPhone ap to communicate with the electric Jukebox across the room and select songs without even having to get up from his table — this simultaneously didn’t surprise me while blowing my mind).

But enough of my ramblings. Go to New Rockford and see “Urinetown.” Click here for the schedule.

Rage Patriotic

Since it’s July 3, 2012, and since I’ve been flipping through Ambrose Bierce, The Unabridged Devil’s Dictionary (Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press, 2000), it seemed worthwhile to do at least two things. No, wait: three things. The first thing to do is to upload the following photo for some patriotic visual.

An American flag next to American daisies with a backdrop of an American brick pattern.

So above is, as the caption reads, an American flag next to American daisies in front of arguably an American brick design. It is not uncommon for nations to assert and lay claim to certain architectural styles, soccer teams, beers, automobiles, and so on.

Anyhow, the second thing to do on this July 3, 2012 is to provide Bierce’s definition of patriotism: “Combustible rubbish ready to the torch of any one ambitious to illuminate his name.” (Bierce, 2000:179) If you made it in and out of the realities of the American Civil War, you too may have grabbed hold of the Skeptical Outlook (One of Bierce’s fantastic short stories on the Civil War is about a hanging).

So we can rage patriotic, or rage skeptical, and this brings us to the third thing to do today. In the paraphrased words of Voltaire — something I heard one of those crack Navy SEAL troopers say on the television some years ago — to be a human and American means that we stand up for the right for others to tell us how wrong we are, to disagree with you and me, to carry on this grand human project and to speak our minds. Yes, even if we’re speaking mindlessness. All the better if we’re speaking sense.

Wait! I will leave you with a fourth (of JULY!) thing, some fanfare for commoners. Take that, Great Britain and you Tory loyalists — or I guess this was written prior to the Second World War, so take that Nazis!