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Sunday, November 11, 2018

Homage to Colonel Paul Southworth Bliss on the 100th Anniversary of Armistice Day

By Lillian Crook and Jim Fuglie

(As many of you know, Jim and I have a fascination with a North Dakota poet named Paul Southworth Bliss and we are writing his biography. Here, on the 100th Anniversary of Armistice Day, is an accounting of his military service, from my research.)

Joining the legions of Americans sent to France to join the trench warfare of World War I was a brilliant young Hamline and Harvard University graduate from St. Paul, Minnesota, Paul Southworth Bliss. In her memoir, his mother, Olive Irene, recounts a summer day of 1917. “One day Paul called me from the Minneapolis Journal to which he had transferred and asked me to lunch . . . He broke the news that he was going into the army. I had suspected that he would do this. It was no easy thing to be brave, but I was proud of him and believed it was right.”

On his draft registration card, he indicated that he was “tall” with blue eyes and brown hair, of medium build, and that he was a “newspaper man.” He indicated that he had a physical disability (hernia, left groin) and a mother to support.

He was entered into the U.S. Army on August 27, 1917, training at Fort Snelling, Minn., commissioned as a captain of infantry on November 27, 1917. Just before Christmas, 1917, he reported to Camp Funston, commanded by Leonard Wood, attached to Company K, 355th Infantry, 89th Division. From Jan. 5 to April 15, 1918, he had special duty as the supervisor of academic instruction for Company 2 of the Officers’ Training Camp and was then transferred to the 164th Depot Brigade. In May, he was promoted to major. 

Next, he was detailed to Small Arms Firing School at Camp Perry, Ohio and transferred to the 805th Pioneer Infantry on July 5th of 1918, where he was regimental adjutant. His mother traveled to Kansas to be with him and act as hostess at social gatherings. He spent a month at the School of Small Arms Firing at Camp Perry, Ohio, where he shot “marksman” and “first class pistol.”

Bliss sailed for France on September 2, 1918, with his regiment, landing in Liverpool on September 16, 1918. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 805th Pioneer Infantry. Their “engagement was Meuse-Argonne offensive.”  The 805th Pioneer Infantry was an all-African American infantry regiment, made up of soldiers from the state of Mississippi, with the nickname the “Bearcats,” after the regimental mascot, a white, wooly, scrappy dog that had wandered into Camp Funston. The officers of the regiment were white.

Major Bliss and the First Battalion at Brest, France

Bliss was appointed historian by Colonel C.B. Humphrey. “Colonel Humphrey had been assigned to the 805th Infantry by General Wood. The regiment awaited his coming with interest. He arrived July 23rd, tanned with three years in the tropic, a tall, powerfully-built officer, light on his feet as a cat, giving the impression of tremendous nervous energy. All he asked of his officers and men was—perfection . . . He asked that bricks be made—and somehow the straw was found.”

While serving in France, Bliss, like so many military personnel, kept meticulous records, and thus later published the history of the regiment, Victory: History of the 805th Pioneer Infantry, American Expeditionary Forces. The publication was funded by a $3 contribution from each member of the infantry who subscribed. This book is an excellent read for insights as to what life for a soldier in that time would have been like.

Later, in his book Spin Dance, in an essay entitled “Green Begins to Dominate,” dated Sunday, May 21, 1933, he wrote, “In France, a flower garden seemed, to members of the American Expeditionary Forces, a veritable heaven.”

The Bearcat Entertainers tried to keep their spirits light, and performed shows for various guests including many “visitors of high rank.” The regiment was described as “brimming with music” and Colonel Humphrey commanded Captain Bliss to “bring back a set of band instruments….”

Bliss brought these back by ‘grande vitesse’ (express).” There were also vaudeville shows to entertain the troops. No doubt, Paul Bliss, with his extensive dramatic background, fit right in.

Interestingly, the regimental history book gives very little detail about battles, but, rather, focuses on the work that was done to reconstruct roads, railroads, and such. This is explained by the fact that 89% of African-American soldiers were non-combatants. Twenty-six thousand Americans were killed in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, the most in a battle in American history. After the Armistice, they returned aboard the U.S. Transport Zeppelin and Bliss was promoted to major on May 28th, 1919. (He was later promoted to colonel in the Army Reserves.)

Major Bliss, in front of HQ805, is third from right

On June 6th, 1919, Major Paul S. Bliss “assumed command and brought the battalion home.”

Bliss writes: “It is a hot day—July 8, 1919. The place is Camp Shelby, Miss. The exact time is 2:45 P.M. At this minute the 805th Pioneer Infantry becomes history . . . the last official act is taking place . . . There is a lull—just a moment of quiet.” 

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Helmer Hovick: My Family Link to World War I

With the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I approaching, the remembrance of my family link to the war takes me back in time. My Grandma Lilly's brother, Helmer Hovick, a true Norwegian bachelor farmer, who lived in the Dakotas in the years before the war, was a World War I doughboy. He served as a courier.

When he returned from France, he herded sheep for a living, and in his last years, he resided in Miles City, MT. In 1960, he traveled to Europe with his sister and nephew, to Norway. On this trip, they also visited Verdun, France, where he had served. My aunt tells that Helmer never spoke of the war.
(Source: Slope Saga)

Helmer with two of his sisters, Anna and Emma. Anna's husband, Gaylord, was gassed on the front.

I wish I could say I remember him, but I really don't. I was young and not paying attention. But I do remember the World War I veterans in the color guard at parades in Rhame, ND all those years ago. Men who returned home and quietly went about their lives with dignity and honor. I remember attending Veterans' Day programs my father organized at the Mound Church in Slope County, where I recited to the crowd In Flanders Field, with my poppy pinned to my clothing, my legs shaking ever so.

Tomorrow, when the bells ring throughout my town, I will honor my great-uncle and all of the other soldiers, including my father, husband, and brothers.

Dulce et Decorum Est

by Wilfred Owen, a British soldier who died in World War I on Nov. 4, 1918, just a week before the Armistice was signed

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knocked-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys?--An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime. . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in.
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,--
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest,
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Wilfred Owen

Monday, November 5, 2018

More Notes from My Wild Life: Owls

Late in October, my daughter and I traveled to Theodore Roosevelt National Park, where magic happens for us no matter what see or do. We go there whenever we can. This time, we were there to join in with a research project that has taken place there for several years -- banding Northern Saw-whet Owls.

I assisted with this project in its first year and determined then and there I must take Chelsea at the next opportunity, which I did the following year. While this year the quest was quixotic and no owls were captured in the mist nets spread in the junipers, we always have the memory of the first time for Chelsea (shown below).

We arrived at the Park early this particular day and drove the Park loop road. There were very few visitors. We spotted lots of the feral horses and many bison. The autumn light was amber on the seed heads of the maroon little bluestem and other prairie grasses.

Just the slightest of breeze and the lenticular clouds set the stage for a glorious day in the Bad Lands, after what has been a rather gloomy fall.

I pointed out to the Chelsea that the Green Ash trees (Fraxinus pennsylvanica) have an unusual number of seeds. I don't happen to believe that this is a "sign of a tough winter to come," but rather, more to do with the growing conditions of the particular season and other natural forces affecting the tree. I pointed out to Chelsea that those with the seeds are the female trees and the seeds are called winged samaras (a close examination of the seed demonstrates the "wing" portion of the name).

Winged samara (seed) of the Green Ash tree

Chelsea has a particular passion for the Park's wild horses, and these creatures dominate her Wild Dakota Photos social media. Here are a few shots she took last week.

Photo by Chelsea Sorenson, Wild Dakota Photos 

Photo by Chelsea Sorenson, Wild Dakota Photos

Photo by Chelsea Sorenson, Wild Dakota Photos

Bittersweet. Photo by Chelsea Sorenson, Wild Dakota Photos

Photo by Chelsea Sorenson, Wild Dakota Photos
We found our way back to Medora to check into the hotel and get some supper. With the tourist season passed, it is a quieter time in the village and we laughed at the tumbleweed blowing down the street.

Back at Peaceful Valley Ranch, the cottonwoods were adorned with roosting Wild Turkeys.

At the owl banding station, we got acquainted with the two women running the station this season. These biologists were very interesting and enjoyable company and we went straight to work (after Chelsea wandered off to the nearby corral to say hello to the mule and horses the Park stables there for work projects). It was just the four of us, at the table, in the dark, chatting, pausing to visit the nets at :20 and :40 on the hour.

It was a very dark and star-filled night. One lingering Orionid meteor shot across the sky. Mars and Fomalhuat were low on the southeast horizon. Soon the rising Hunter's Moon over the buttes flooded the Little Missouri River valley with creamy flight. Nearby, we heard Saw-whet Owls and a Great Horned Owl hooting. One small owl darted by us.

The researchers told us that it has been a slow year, here, and at other banding stations across the country, for reasons not clear. Sadly, we captured no owls this night. Here is a blog summarizing the project's years in this location.

I had just finished reading an excellent book about owls. One of the biologists knew some of the ornithologists featured in the book.

At less than 3 ounces, the Northern Saw-whet Owl is one of the smallest of owls in America. There are a couple of North American owls I have yet to see that remain high on my to-do list, including the Flammulated and Great Gray Owls.

I've written about my fascination with owls before, here and here. Sadly, no owls have yet nested in either the box or nest we've erected at Red Oak House. Someday.

Just the other day, I read this fascinating story about the West Virginia mythical creature, The Mothman, thought to most likely be an owl, perhaps a Barn Owl or Snowy Owl. It is thought that we are so fond of owls because of their faces, with front-facing eyes, which seem almost humanlike. Goodness knows I'm enchanted with owls.

As we drove back to Medora, we spotted a band of horses illuminated by the moonlight. For good reason, the Park is well known for the abundance of wildlife viewing opportunities. After our heads hit our pillows, our dreams were filled with happy, wild memories.

An Owl at Night 
by R.C. Trevelyan

From time to time an owl hoots in the distance.
He hoots not for me, I know;
Yet he seems to be uttering some meaning, some passionate
Was it by such-like solemn shuddering cries
That our own remote forefathers before the birth of language
Communed with one another speechlessly,
Uttering their solitary moods of grief and joy and exaltation?