A trip through time: Remembering veterans through the eyes of a 71-year BG resident



Never judge the past by the present. However, it should guide you. That is how we can improve.

When the pioneers first arrived in Washington state, 90 percent of the U.S. population were dependent on agriculture. Therefore, trees were weeds. To clear the land for farm activities, the trees were felled and burned.

As late as when the Yale dam was built, literally millions of board feet of cedar that grew in dense stands in the valley above it were simply piled up and burned because there was no market for it. Anyone could have had it for free. Since cedar doesn’t rot, we could still be milling it. But no one wanted it piled on their land for a future use that might never happen. 

So again I say, please don’t judge what we did in 1949 by the standards of today.

I also would ask that you remember that I moved to Battle Ground 71 years ago and did not think I would be around to be writing this. Had I known, I probably would have taken some notes. I will not lie, but I may not remember correctly.

I will start with a physical description of the little town I moved to.

It was not incorporated. A local group of activists led by Trudy Gish organized themselves to that end but soon found the population count in 1949 did not reach the legal requirements to create a city. They patiently waited and stayed active. 

The local cheese factory sold piped water from their tower to area residents who wanted it. Otherwise you used a well. Everyone had septic tanks or outhouses. The local schools had their own septic systems.

State Highway 503 as it exists now through Battle Ground was only a dream for the future. Coming north from Orchards, it wound through Brush Prairie and came into Battle Ground by abruptly turning right on 199th and then left, headed north again, on Parkway. Northwest of the intersection of 199 and Parkway was a huge dairy farm (Dick Gardener) of about 100 acres that included the corner where the theatre now sits. If you stayed on Parkway traveling north from Battle Ground you eventually passed Dublin cemetery on the right, made a wide, sweeping turn to the left, and then wound down a very steep hill to the Lewisville park bridge. In winter, if school closure was considered, the bus superintendent drove a school bus down and back up that hill at 5 a.m. If he made it safely, classes were held. If not, a telephone tree was immediately activated by School Superintendent Carl Johnson. In Dole Valley, where everyone was on a party line and listened to their neighbor’s calls, one call did it all. 

Students in the Battle Ground system greeted many new teachers in the late 40s because the school population was expanding rapidly. They may or may not have been aware that many of those new teachers were ex-service men and women who had served in World War II whose mindset was not that of a returning war veteran, but rather that of a person whose normal life had been disrupted for a time and they were anxious to get back to that normal.  

Those of us serving all yearned for home. In the Pacific arena, our hope was “home alive by 45,” then, “Out of the sticks by 46,” then “Back to Heaven in 47.” We had resigned ourselves to “Golden Gate by 48” when the bomb went off and changed the course of history. Suddenly there were millions of service people clamoring to get home, and when they got there, immediately tried to pick up their lives.

That was 70 to 75 years ago, but I will tell you what I can about those veterans, and hopefully leave none out or make errors about their service. Much of the information I am about to give you was learned many years later by me. I didn’t know about John Kettering’s service (later in this narrative) until I read his obituary. We never sat around telling war stories.

Veterans started arriving in the Battle Ground school system in 1946, though I did not start teaching there until the fall of 1949. Pre-1949 hires In no particular order, but as they come to mind:

Don Howard had served in the Army Air Corps. I am reasonably sure he was a radio operator.

Dick Morsman had been a naval officer serving in the Pacific and had some close calls with Kamikazes while on his vessel. Having started college before the war, and thus having a head start on me, he was hired one semester before me. He and I had never met, yet discovered we must have been physically very close to each other when we were within feet of an incident on Guam during which many servicemen were killed. An out of control B-29 crashed into our airstrip killing many men waiting to be flown out as well as destroying the four transport aircraft they were waiting to board. 

Mac McConnell was one of the most decorated pilots in the European theatre. He survived over 50 missions flying a B-24. He once had most of his instruments shot out. He used coffee from his thermos, which he poured into an open container beside him so he could observe the action of the coffee. He used it as a level to guide the plane until he broke out of the clouds.

I flew with Mac on local flights out of the old Orchards airport many times, and most of those were adventures, since he piloted the plane like he was flying a military trainer.

Joe Englmann, Navy, I think. 

Pat Pettichord, I don’t know what service branch. Probably the Navy. Don’t know what he did, but he and Joe were close friends. 

Some or all of those above mentioned had already finished college before or during the war and all were teaching at Battle Ground in 1949 when I arrived.

Should I mention the beginning salary when I got there in 1949 was $2,400.00 per year?

In no order but 1949 and later:

I, Dave Kooken, U.S. Marine Corps, served in the central Pacific. I was a wire chief responsible for creating and maintaining ground communications for an aviation unit. My squadrons mission was to fly out the worst of the wounded from battle sites and transport them to hospitals equipped to handle their needs. We carried out over 600 during the battle for Iwo Jima.

Earl Harman was an artillery captain in European battles. I can’t supply any details, but we were all aware that his health had been severely damaged by smoke from battle. He developed an enlarged heart and died from a heart attack.

Dale Dafoe, Merchant Marine. That was very harrowing duty. Died of Alzheimers.

Axel Forsman was in the Army. No other information on him. Died of cancer.

Jim Gilroy was U.S. Marines. I know nothing about his service.

John Plett was a weatherman on an aircraft carrier in the Pacific. Many carriers in those days had wooden decks and John’s bunk was just under the flight deck. A plane crashed on the deck one day and the propeller, slicing through the wood, missed John by inches.

Wally Barker served in Europe and personally saw the horrors of the German concentration camps. His knowledge of the German language led to him teaching it.

Phil Schaefer was an Army medic in the New Guinea area down near Australia. He not only tended wounded, but treated malaria cases as well as soldiers who contracted jungle-related diseases.

George Morris served in the Marine Corps. I do not know where or when.

I am not sure where Lloyd Damewood served but he died of a heart attack shortly after starting to teach in the Ag Department.

Some of you may have had Marion O”Neal for girl’s physical education. She had been an officer in the Navy.

Orrell Peru did not serve, as far as I know, but lost a brother in the war. That is how the local American Legion got its name of “Peru/Pancoska Post.” Orrell had another brother who was a pilot in the Marine Corps, I think, but I know nothing of him.

There were a few veteran non-teachers you might have known. Everett Eaton was a Marine in the Pacific Area where he got the nickname “Lil Abner.” Other than a small, single star on his car bumper, you would never have known that John Kettenring, who owned Battle Ground Lumber Co., held the rank of Vice Admiral in the Navy.

I am sure that I have left out some, but those are all I remember at this stage of my life.

Forced to give up much of our youth (I was 17 when I enlisted) we still had some fun to catch up on when we got back. We did. I know at reunions I have surprised many former students by telling them tales of guys who drank beer, smoked and played poker, yet, every school day, showed up in their classrooms, neatly dressed, freshly shaved and expecting the best out of the pupils.

Some of our pranks deserve to be remembered.

Two young lady school teachers rented one side of what was known as Wescom’s duplex on North Parkway. Some male teachers attempting to get their attention went to Battle Ground Lake and captured a bucket of frogs, which they secretly dumped into the furnace pit under the apartment. The croaking was very bothersome. The ladies asked for help. Next came those same gallant male teachers to the rescue who removed the pesky croaking frogs.

When Lil Driesman married Joe Englmann during the cold winter of 1948, they were supposed to honeymoon in one of the small Morgan apartments that only had single door access. A large number of teachers created and rolled up against that door a 6 foot snowball at what they felt was an appropriate time. Lil and Joe had the last laugh because they were not in there.

Oley Olsen, maintenance supervisor, never found out who hid the homemade root beer behind the boiler, but had to clean up the mess when it exploded.

Dale Dafoe went to work one morning and found, behind his desk, a seatless porcelain toilet in place of his office chair. He had barely reacted to that when maintenance and supply people showed up with several cartons of toilet paper that had been requisitioned and asking Dale what he was going to do with all that.

One I will admit to. Our office mailboxes were drawers. One day I opened mine to find a pair of wind-up, chattering teeth. I immediately suspected Dick Morsman, so I wound them up and put them in his mail drawer. I will never know who put them in mine, because Dick blamed one of the lady teachers, Clara Griffith, for what he received and did something to her I no longer remember. She retaliated by taking Dick’s metal lunch box, with his lunch in it, to the welding shop and had someone tack weld it shut. I really don’t know how it ended, but other innocent people became victims. I was never caught, but now wish to clear my conscience by confessing to causing the whole string of unexpected consequences.

I am telling you all of this because I want you to understand WWII veterans. None of us felt like heroes. We went to defend our nation, families and way of life. War was something we felt we had to do. We had to engage in actions against our nature. We had no choice and it made men out of boys in a hurry. It was an unpleasant, nasty, danger-filled, cruel interlude in our lives that needed to be put behind us as quietly and quickly as possible — and mostly forgotten for sake of our sanity. 

The Battle Ground Area people and the many good students in it helped me achieve a good life.