Bob Lind, Published March 22 2009
War’s impact rememberedThese are difficult days for many people. But they were difficult 60-some years ago, too, whether you were in battle during World War II or toughing it out on the home front.
Larry Aasen saw the war from both angles.
Larry, now of Westport, Conn., grew up on a farm near Hillsboro, N.D., then served with the 13th Airborne Division in France from 1943 to 1946.
Thanks to his own memories and the diaries of his mother, Larry has many stories, and now he passes them on to Forum readers, starting with life on the farm.
Farmers were asked to produce more food than usual. But that was a good trick. For one thing, they had a hard time getting parts for their old machinery. For another, most farm hands were in the service.
“The workers who were available were above the draft age and many were too old to be much help,” Larry says.
Colleges let students have time off to work on farms, though, and prisoners of war were sent to area camps so they could work the fields. (Neighbors carried a story in 2008 about a camp in Moorhead for German POWs.)
American soldiers also were sent to help farmers. Larry says some of them were stationed at Mayville, N.D., and were paid 60 cents an hour by the farmers.
The farmers’ wives did their share, and then some. Besides looking after their houses, they also drove tractors, brought in the hay, milked cows. “They did not look like fashion models on the tractors in all the dirt and dust,” Larry says, “and they missed their lipstick and dresses. But they were proud to show their husbands that ‘Anything you can do, I can do better!’ ”
As for the wives and girlfriends of the men overseas, well, it was a lonely time; “It was not a period of parties and joy,” Larry says.
For mothers whose sons were fighting in the war, it was a time of stress, of fear. Such was the case for Clara Aasen. Two of her boys were in France. Larry was one of them.
Good, bad news
“Every single day we hoped for a letter from home,” Larry says. Due to censorship, however, the men couldn’t write back about what was happening.
“One of my good friends was killed by a land mine in France,” Larry says. “The Germans had buried land mines before they left for Germany. This kind of news never got in letters to home.”
But he says the home front did a good job of providing clothing such as socks, mittens and scarves for the soldiers. “The Red Cross ladies gave us coffee and doughnuts and made us think of home,” and “once in a while candy or ethnic food would reach us.”
Another welcome treat was receiving the hometown newspaper. Through it, the troops could learn both who had been discharged from the military and who had been killed.
The newspaper also brought (ouch!) news about which girls had married.
And sometimes the mail brought that most dreaded piece of mail – a “Dear John” letter.
But all in all, Larry says, “The folks back home in North Dakota did every thing they could to support the North Dakota men and women in the service.”
They, like everyone in the nation, put up with rationing: four gallons of gas a week, sugar, nylons, tires, meat. And they bought War Bonds, collected money for the Red Cross and the USO, collected scrap metal to be turned into tanks and planes.
Also, Larry says, “When the soldiers came home on furlough, they were treated like the heroes they were.
“The troops on the front did North Dakota proud (while) the people on the home front did everything they could to win the war.
“And,” Larry’s letter almost shouts, “we won!”
Larry has this story, too, of “a thrill I will always remember.”
It was the day in 1946 when he returned from France to his farm home at Hillsboro, hugged his family, and then noticed a switch on the wall.
He flicked it. And lights came on.
While he was gone, electricity had arrived.
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