Soldier Stories

The Unseen Enemy of 1918
By Richard Hanks

They are often armed with only a warm smile and quiet concern, but in times of crisis they do much to lift spirits and calm a restless heart with a healing touch.  American nurses were and are a critical component of any war effort.  Their venue, however, was not just on distant battlefields but included hospital wards on the homefront as well.
Nurse Emma Thorsen may never have been close enough to the front lines in World War I to hear the roar of the guns, but certainly knew the moans of dying men.  Their struggle became hers in the battle against the influenza pandemic of 1918.  It was a struggle that the Red Cross nurse from Silvana lost along with 700 others.  Influenza took nearly as many American lives as were lost on the war’s battlefields.  The deadly virus took Emma’s life on November 24, 1918, a month to the day after fellow nurse Mayme Downs succumbed to the illness.  Mayme, from Everett, and Emma had been classmates at Providence Hospital in Seattle where they graduated in 1915 before being assigned to the training facility of Camp Dodge, Iowa.     
They are the only two nurses from Snohomish County to have lost their lives during
the world conflict.
Emma Josephine Thorsen was born on August 30, 1890.  Her Norwegian father, Halvor, came to the United States in 1887 where he found work in the mines of Michigan and Colorado and finally the logging camps along the Stillaguamish River in Washington.  He married Hannah Green of Snohomish County in 1890 where Emma was born on August 30th of that year.  By 1906, Halvor had claim to 180 acres along the north bank of the Stillaguamish River with 30 under cultivation and a small herd of dairy cattle.  Emma’s younger brother Carl remembered the raw landscape where he, Emma and their siblings grew up with few roads or trails.  School was a four mile walk to nearby Bryant.
We don’t know why Emma decided to join the nursing corps but we do know that her assignment to Camp Dodge came at the height of the influenza epidemic—like a storm, one writer remembered.  Upwards of 14,000 personnel were hospitalized for influenza at the Iowa camp which prepared men for combat overseas.  Nurse Irene Robb wrote of the exhaustion of tending for so many without sufficient help; some nurses responsible for 150 patients at a time.  The nurses worked in hallways and wards crowded with the ill and dying without protective clothing, adequate procedures or any medication or vaccines.  According to one author, “in spite of their technological poverty, nurses and physicians stuck to their posts in the face of the most lethal medical disaster in history.”  Robb remembered two nurses at Camp Dodge who were very low, suffering from flu induced pneumonia and who were not expected to live out the evening.  It’s unknown if she was writing of Mayme and Emma, two Snohomish County girls whose dedication was to soothe the suffering but instead fell victims themselves.  Emma’s family placed a card of thanks for the kind words and prayers of friends in a Seattle newspaper following her memorial service on December 1, 1918.  She was buried at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Seattle.

“A DAY OF EXTREME SACRIFICE:”

DECEMBER 27, 1967

Richard Hanks

Operation “Badger Tooth” began December 26, 1967.  Its purpose was to search out and destroy enemy units known to occupy seaside hamlets in Quang Tri Province, South Vietnam.  That deadly stretch of northern coast, along the country’s Route 1, was dubbed by French troops the “Street Without Joy” after bloody engagements there in 1953.  Christmas 1967 would be the last one experienced for a young lieutenant from Stanwood, George Michael Broz, who died among the sand dunes of Quang Tri, a little over a month after reaching the war-torn nation.
The 23-year-old officer was born in Tacoma in 1944 but attended Stanwood High School, graduating in 1962. After time in Community College and the University of Washington, he worked as an accountant for the Weyerhaeuser Company in Everett.  Former teachers and classmates remember George as a good student and an aggressive athlete; loyal and kind hearted.  “Just a good guy,” one noted.
But in October 1965, George responded to America’s deepening involvement in the Vietnam conflict and enlisted in the United States Marine Corps.  George’s father had flown B-17 bombers during World War II and encouraged George to follow the honorable duty of military service.  Duty to country and family certainly served as motivation and coming just over a year after the misguided Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, Americans overwhelmingly favored sending more U.S. troops to that country’s civil war.
George spent his first year at a base in El Toro, California.  He returned to Washington to wed Camano Island resident Elizabeth Neale in December 1966 and then entered Officer Candidate School in Quantico, Virginia a month later. Graduating in April, George entered Vietnamese language school, graduating with honors on November 15, 1967, the same day he left for Vietnam as a 2nd lieutenant in Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Division.
As part of Special Landing Force Bravo, Lima Company spearheaded the attack of “Badger Tooth,” securing a landing zone on the beach for the remaining battalion units which were ferried in by helicopter.  North Vietnamese regulars were suspected to be in the area and Lima was tasked with clearing the villages of Thom Tham Khe and Trung An.  Resistance was light that first day and the Marines spent a quiet night.  The next day, however, Lima Company was again ordered to sweep the villages and the outcome was tragically different.  Unknown was that the NVA 116th battalion was now waiting, hidden within a network of underground tunnels which inundated Thom Tham Khe, supporting disguised ground level bunkers.  As Lima’s lead platoon approached the edge of the village, they were met with withering and lethal fire from multiple machine guns, RPGs, mortars and AK-47s, taking heavy losses.  The company regrouped but a second assault took the life of company commander Captain Thomas Hubbell and inflicted more casualties on Lima and supporting Mike Company before they drove the enemy from the villages.
The 3rd Battalion relinquished control of the area six days later following a New Year’s truce, returning to their ships offshore, earning the nickname of the “Suicide Battalion” after Quang Tri.  Eighty-six men had been wounded; forty-eight were killed, including 2nd Lieutenant Georg Broz.  Besides a stash of weapons, 31 of the enemy were believed slain.
Operation “Badger Tooth” became an asterisk in the annals of the Vietnam conflict and the men who died there statistics of war.  For many of the battle’s survivors nightmares intensify “excruciating memories,” of the conflict and bring many tears, one soldier wrote.  However, the name and memory of George Broz has been evoked recently through the George Broz Memorial Scholarship, presented to Stanwood graduates by American Legion Auxiliary Post 92.  A fitting tribute for one hero who gave his all on the “Street Without Joy.”

The Deadly Blossoms

By Richard Hanks

The temperature inside an unpressurized B-24 Liberator bomber flying at 25,000 feet can often drop well below zero.  Layered in flight suits and flak vests, crews required rubber oxygen masks fitted to their mouths and noses above 10,000 feet.  Tough work environment if you’re a waist gunner on such an aircraft.  On Sepember 13, 1944, that job belonged to a native son of Stanwood, Sergeant Gordon Leith Lord, aboard the bomber Ain’t Bluffin’.  Mix in attacks by German Messerschmitt fighters and the deadly black blossoms of anti-aircraft flak that peppered the skies above Germany with lethal blasts of shrapnel, and

job longevity was at a minimum.

The 22-year-old Lord was a member of the 853rd Bomb Squad, 491st Bomb Group stationed in North Pickenham, England; part of the 8th Air Force.  Roughly half of all the Army Air Corps’ 47,000 casualties, including 26,000 deaths, were suffered by the 8th Air Force tasked with destroying the infrastructure of the Third Reich.  The 491st flew 187 missions and lost 47 bombers including Ain’t Bluffin.’

Gordon Lord was born January 15, 1922 in Stanwood to Anna K. Pearson and William Leith Wade.  Anna’s parents Albert Pearson and Marie Hansen Pearson farmed in Cedarhome.  Anna and William Wade divorced in 1924 and Anna married Willard Lord who three years later moved the family to Wapato in Chelan County.  In 1940 Willard was service manager for an electric company and both Anna and her son worked in the area’s apple orchards.  Two months after enlisting in the Army Air Corps Gordon married Betty Loraine Halstead in April 1943.  A year later the 491st Bomb Group shipped out for Europe.

Their mission on September 13, 1944 included strikes by 342 B-24s on the Schwabish Hall Airfield and munitions dumps at Ulm and Weissenhorn.  At speeds of roughly 300 miles per hour, the bombers flew in staggered tactical formation creating a “combat box” of interlocking fields of defensive fire for combatants, such as Gordon, who hunched over mounted 50 caliber machine guns.

While fighters were a danger, by late 1944 Germans depended more on a massive antiaircraft system which was the greatest threat to U.S. bombers on the 13th of September.  A direct hit on Ain’t Bluffin exploded its number two engine thrusting the plane sharply down and to its left.  Its left wing pierced the fuselage of another aircraft, Time’s A-Wastin’, ripping away most of that plane’s tail section and pushing the aircraft into a nosedive.  Moments later Time’s A-Wastin’ burst into flames, killing all but two of its crew.  Six crew members aboard Ain’t Bluffin’ bailed out of the plummeting aircraft and were taken prisoner.  Three others including Sergeant Lord went down with the aircraft crashing near Sermenstedt, Germany.

Only one in three airmen survived the air battles over Europe in World War II.  Their plight was the subject of World War II vet and American poet and novelist Randall Jarrell:


Losses

In bombers named for girls, we burned

The cities we had learned about in school —

Till our lives wore out; our bodies lay among

The people we had killed and never seen.

When we lasted long enough they gave us medals;

When we died they said, 'Our casualties were low.'

A Spark of Hope
By Richard Hanks

Robert Duane Lindenau believed in the human spirit.  He thought that where there is hope, all could achieve a better life.  As a team leader with the 91st Civil Affairs Battalion, he had the opportunity to put his faith in humanity into action, by working in Afghan medical clinics and helping local families, especially the children of war-torn Afghanistan.  Those children—all children—were drawn to him, his uncle Mike Bloom remembered.
Captain Lindenau’s mission--a mission he loved--ended on October 20, 2008 when his vehicle was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade in northeastern Afghanistan.  He was just two months past his 39th birthday.  His promotion to major was made posthumously.  He left behind his wife Tonya (formerly Bloom) and four children.  Tonya graduated from Stanwood High School in 1989.
Perhaps it was Bob’s musical soul that children responded to.  The Camano Island resident was born in August 1969 in Seattle but attended the University of Idaho where he earned a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in music and classical guitar performance in 1992 and 1996.  He joined the Army in July 1996 shortly after his graduation.  His uncle thought Bob didn’t seem the “Army type” but came to appreciate the example that Bob set for the soldiers with whom he served.
Robert rose through the ranks after first being trained as a wheeled-vehicle mechanic.  He attended Officer Candidate School in 1999 and his following assignments included a company fire support officer and battalion targeting officer as a 2nd lieutenant of Field Artillery.  As a Civil Affairs officer—a soldier of peace--his job was to ease some of the suffering the war brought to Afghans such as the farmers in the rural area of Char Bagh, Laghman Province; a multi-tribal area 100 miles northeast of Kabul near the border with Pakistan.
In a eulogy given by Major Danford Bryant, the officer told the tearful gathering that Bob believed that the human spirit only needed a “little spark to begin the flame of hope.”  He believed the children of Afghanistan needed such hope.
Bob asked for two things after his death: a wake with food and good beer and the playing of a favorite piece of music--Bach’s Chaconne in d minor. Clearly a man with broad tastes.  On the same day that Captain Lindenau died of his wounds, a suicide bomber killed seven others 50 miles away in the Province of Kunduz.  Two were German soldiers.  The other five
were Afghan children.

 

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