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Column: A large family of American heroes

Editor's note: This column originally appeared in the Nov. 5, 2005, edition of the Daily Globe. WORTHINGTON -- Did you know Oscar Heig? Oscar came to Worthington with Tuthill Lumber Co. Lampert bought Tuthill. Oscar became longtime manager for La...

Editor’s note: This column originally appeared in the Nov. 5, 2005, edition of the Daily Globe.

WORTHINGTON - Did you know Oscar Heig?
Oscar came to Worthington with Tuthill Lumber Co. Lampert bought Tuthill. Oscar became longtime manager for Lampert Lumber when Lampert’s yard was at the corner of 10th Street and Second Avenue.
Oscar was from a family of Norwegian ancestry living among Norwegian people in western Murray County - Lake Wilson, Hadley - the Moens and the Johnsons. In 1918, Oscar became a U.S. soldier. A machine gunner. Machine gunners were a new kind of soldier in World War I.
Friday will be Veteran’s Day, scheduled Nov. 11 because, once, Nov. 11 was Armistice Day, a celebration for the end of the first world conflict.
In a time gone by, we would have interviewed Oscar Heig for an Armistice Day story. He was a proud veteran. In fact, I did interview Oscar when he was more than 90 years old and while he was living at In-Town Apartments.
Elinor Heig Griffith, second of Oscar and Olga’s four daughters, has been working at her family’s military history to review how wars changed American families.
1942: Nearly a quarter-century after his discharge, Oscar, the patriarch, had a special place in his family as the lone veteran.
1943: Elinor married Kenneth (Jack) Griffith, who was serving in the U.S. Navy.
1945: End of World War II; Jack was discharged. His brother, William, was discharged from the Army. Brother Robert from the Air Force. Brother Francis from the Navy. Sister Helen’s husband, Floyd Currier, discharged from the Army.
Six war veterans in the extended family.
1952: Donna Heig, youngest of the sisters, marries Dale Peters, who was serving in the U.S. Air Force in the Korean War. Seven veterans.
Early 1960s: Jack’s sister Rosemary serves in the U.S. Army, the first of the family’s females to become a veteran. Rosemary weds John Nelson, U.S. Marine Corps.
1968: Jack’s and Elinor’s daughter Barbara weds Richard Bjornstad, serving in the U.S. Army during the war in Vietnam. Ten veterans.
1970: Jack’s and Elinor’s son Jerry serves in the war in Vietnam. Eleven veterans.
1973: Jack’s and Elinor’s daughter Jane weds Dennis Voss, serving in the army through the aftermath of Vietnam. One dozen.
1990/1991: Son Jerry, veteran of Nam, is involved with strategy plans employed by Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf in Desert Storm, the first war in Iraq.
To date, the family has “skipped” two wars - Afghanistan and Iraq II - but it has a gold star for one young man lost:
Oscar Heig’s nephew, Dale Dahlquist, a U.S. Marine Corps pilot in the Joe Foss Fighter Squadron, was killed in the South Pacific in World War II. He was the son of Oscar and Edith Heig Dahlquist of Lake Wilson.
Oh well, I know: This family is not unusual. By now, all among us not only celebrate our veterans but also count them. It is hard to remember the wars. Remember Granada? Somalia? Dominican Republic?
Oscar Heig, the veteran of 1918, told an interesting story of his great joy on the first Armistice Day.
The 332nd Machine Gun Battalion went to France aboard an English ship and crossed the Channel on a French ship that formerly was used to transport cattle. In France, the battalion was “skeletonized” - some gunners were sent to one unit, some to another. Oscar was in a village where he watched French people trapping eels. “The French were overjoyed at catching these things - to me they were hideous creatures.”
On Nov. 7, 1918, Oscar and 18 or 20 of his fellow soldiers were sent to St. Andrea and pressed aboard one of the famed 40-and-8 French railroad cars: 40 men and eight horses. Three days later, Nov. 10, they were told to prepare themselves for action. They would disembark just behind the front lines and proceed to the trenches.
There was tension. Men joshed, but they could not escape thoughts of what might soon overtake them. Oscar remembered, “At noon of the eleventh we pulled into LaMoines.”
“There, in the freight yard, we found American soldiers, rifles and packs scattered everywhere. The Americans and the French were dancing and singing.
“We soon learned of the armistice, and we joined in the celebration.”
They were in the second hour of peace, celebrating the end of The War to End All Wars.

Ray Crippen is a former editor of the Daily Globe. His column appears on Saturdays.

Related Topics: VETERANS
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