Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Christmas in Puyallup, 1941

Christmas in Puyallup, 1941
By Hans Zeiger
(A version of this article appeared in the Puyallup Herald on December 2, 2009)

On December 9, 1941, two days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the 260th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Regiment cut short its training at Fort Bliss, Texas and boarded trains. “We didn’t know where we were going,” said gunnery sergeant Warren Eddy of Washington, DC, who had joined the 260th Regiment a year earlier, just before it was called to active duty for training. “Finally we found out we were going to the Northwest.”

Within a few days, the 260th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Regiment of the Washington, DC National Guard found itself in Washington State, tasked with protecting it from Japanese air attacks. First Battalion was assigned to Boeing Field and the Bremerton Naval Shipyard. Second Battalion was assigned to guard the recently-opened McChord Field. Without adequate housing for 600 Guardsmen at McChord, the battalion arranged to take over the Puyallup Fairgrounds while awaiting more permanent quarters. “It was the only place they could put [us],” said Eddy.

Lt. Col. Curt Hammond, who was a young second lieutenant in December 1941 and who today at age 93 is the only living officer from the 260th, recalls arriving at the train depot in Tacoma and immediately moving into the Fairgrounds on December 13, 1941.

Not that the Fairgrounds had proper accommodations. “We slept in our bedclothes on a cement floor in the horse pens,” said Hammond. According to Eddy, “You just lived wherever you and your fellow soldiers could find a place to lay down. I remember laying on one of the vegetable stands most of the time. The cold weather set in and the pipes in the Fairgrounds froze up. There was no running water, and the toilets weren’t usable.” Families who lived around the Fairgrounds generously opened their homes for Guardsmen to use their bathrooms.

Eddy recalls carrying his gun with him in downtown Puyallup. “Not knowing what the Japanese were going to hit next, we were always required to take our weapons with us with ammunition.” The sight of uniformed, armed men from the East Coast must have been a strange phenomenon in the Valley, the first visible sign that the war had come to Puyallup.

Christmas was also coming. Men like John Morris of Baltimore, who had just turned 18 the month before, were a long way from home.

"And then the citizens of Puyallup took over,” Morris recalled in an article several years ago. “[P]retty soon, cars were stopping at the main Guard Post (on Meridian) with cookies, cakes, pies, offers of dinner, pots of steaming coffee in their own coffee pots and on and on … cars would be lined up for half a block just to drop something off. And this was not just during daylight hours; many was the lonely sentry on the midnight to 4 am watch that would have people stop by during their shift with hot coffee and a goodie.”
“And as it got closer to Christmas we got so many invitations to Christmas dinner that we didn’t have enough guys to fill the invitations. The primary reason for that was that we could only release ten percent of the unit at one time. That did not deter the wonderful people of Puyallup; we could only be gone for four hours at a time, therefore, on Christmas day, some families would have one group of guys at noon, and a second group at 5 pm. Other families actually postponed their family dinners to another day to insure that they would get to have some of the youthful soldiers as guests.”

Morris was the bugler for the battalion. Each morning that winter, Morris would climb to the top of the Grandstand to play reveille, and taps in the evening. As part of the 260th Band, Morris recalls marching up and down 5th Street Southwest. It didn’t take long for the children of Puyallup to notice the new band in town. “[W]e would have 20-30 kids and their dogs marching along with us. The dogs would be yapping and playing and the kids, girls and boys alike would skip along beside us in time to the music. Some of our older bandsmen must have presented a father figure to some of the kids, as they would play their horn with one hand and have a kid hanging on to the other.”

The 260th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Regiment, 2nd Battalion remained in the Fairgrounds for three months. Some Guardsmen organized a basketball team. “We used to go to Puyallup High School and practice,” said Eddy. “I remember playing the high school basketball team and we were soundly beaten because we were so badly out of shape.”

In early March 1942, the men of 2nd Battalion moved to new barracks at McChord.

Many of those stationed at McChord kept their ties to Puyallup throughout the war. The 260th band provided entertainment for a dance in the Fruitland Grange hall one March evening in 1944. John Morris played the trumpet. And that night, Morris met the woman he would marry, a pretty Puyallup High School senior named Dorothy Heil. In May, Morris was transferred to Camp Hann, California, but he made a quick visit back to Puyallup in July for the wedding and returned to California with his bride. John Morris later organized the 260th alumni association, with annual reunions mostly around Washington, DC, where most of the Guardsmen lived.

“It was a big deal for all of us who lived in Puyallup that they were a part of Puyallup,” said Dororthy Heil Morris. “Here they were far from home. It was all a new experience for them.” It was a new experience for Puyallup too.

Contact Hans Zeiger at or 253-905-8160.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Washington State's 120th birthday

Perpetual tension keeps the Evergreen State young, restless
by Hans Zeiger
The News Tribune, November 10, 2009

Now in my mid-20s, I have spent good parts of my education in the upper Midwest, Southern California and the East Coast. I have learned something about the virtues and vices of the various regions, and I have learned to love the country for its people and its central idea: that all of us are created equal, that all of us can pursue our American Dream.

But for all the loveliness of America, there is nothing lovelier than Washington state. My travels have only deepened my affection for home. I hope to spend the rest of my life studying it and learning its secrets.

At 120 years old, Washington is maturing. It became a state on Nov. 11, 1889. Unlike older parts of the country, our identity is still being shaped. We are always in a process, a process of figuring out our relationship to the environment, to the rest of the country, to each other. We are a people who alternate between restlessness and rootedness.

When I think of the classic restless, rooted Washingtonian, Ezra Meeker comes to mind. He was the quintessential pioneer – rugged, daring, ambitious to get ahead in business, thinking always of the future. He was also the quintessential settler – he founded Puyallup, built enduring local institutions and wanted younger Washingtonians to remember the lessons and challenges of the past.

So Washington is in perpetual tension: between sunshine and rain, between individualism and community, between change and preservation, between the Norwegians and the Californians, between West of the Cascades and East of the Cascades. If this is the state that Postmaster General James Farley once described as the “Soviet of Washington,” it’s also the state that has proven the genius of the free market time and again.

Unable to settle with a single identity, our people are fundamentally independent. Our political culture has produced liberal Republicans like Dan Evans and conservative Democrats like Scoop Jackson and Dixy Lee Ray. Our economy is built by independent people: loggers and fishermen, engineers and software designers, farmers and entrepreneurs.

Yet, more than others in the American West, we see the sense of working together toward big goals: educating our children, harnessing the power of the Columbia River, protecting the environment. We are a diverse and conflicting group of citizens who usually get along because of our common affection for our common resources: the mountains, the water, the coffee, the human potential.

We’re generally not opposed to government – in the tradition of Sen. Warren Magnuson – but we also love liberty. The framers of our state constitution wrote in the beginning of that document, “All political power is inherent in the people, and governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, and are established to protect and maintain individual rights.”

In earlier days, we depended on each other because of our relative isolation. But in an economy where cyberspace and the Pacific Rim matter as much to the rest of the world as East Coast boardrooms, Washington’s geographic remoteness is not as culturally and politically consequential as it once was. Today, we depend much more on the rest of the world, and the rest of the world depends on us. What would the global economy look like without Boeing, Microsoft, Amazon and Starbucks?

The perpetual tension that is Washington is best summarized in our nickname: The Evergreen State. When you think of the Western Red Cedar, the Douglas Fir or the Western Hemlock (our state tree), you think of freshness. You also think of permanence. In more deciduous parts of the world, life moves in predictable patterns – sometimes living, sometimes dying. Here, life never stagnates. Here, something new is always going on, but the new always owes its growth to old and deepening roots. There is something both new and continuous about the idea of an “Evergreen State.”

At 120 years, the Evergreen State lives up to its nickname. If that means we’re getting old, it also means that we’re just getting started.

Hans Andreas Zeiger is a fourth-generation Washingtonian who writes a column about hometown heroes in the Puyallup Herald, and he is the author of two books about young Americans.Read more:

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Victor Leonard Kandle, Congressional Medal of Honor

Victor Leonard Kandle, Congressional Medal of Honor
by Hans Zeiger
(adapted versions of this story appeared in the Puyallup Herald on Oct. 3 and Nov. 4, 2009)

When Whitney Mullen of North Carolina visited the U.S. cemetery at Epinal, France in October of 2008, he was more than a visitor. He was a veteran of the battles that accounted for the graves around him, an old man now, his life four times the length of the lives that had been cut short on the battlefields of World War II.

The crosses stretched on and on at Epinal, with an occasional Star of David among them. Mullen stopped when he came to the grave of Lt. Victor L. Kandle of Washington, a cross like all the others except for an inscription in gold that ran vertically. “MEDAL of HONOR,” it read. Mullen snapped a photograph.

It was in the first week of a very different October, sixty-five years ago, that Lt. Victor Leonard Kandle of Puyallup earned the Congressional Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military honor.

By then, the 3rd Division, 15th Infantry Regiment was pressing eastward through France. When they arrived at LaForge, the battalion was unable to penetrate a German stronghold. For two days, the battalion was halted at LaForge, uncertain how to proceed.

On the third day, it fell to a reconnaissance platoon of 16 soldiers and a squadron of light machine gunners under Lt. Kandle’s command to go ahead into the enemy-occupied mountains.

Early on the foggy morning as they set out into the mountains near LaForge, Lt. Kandle’s patrol encountered five German soldiers and took them as prisoners. Shortly after that, the platoon met a German officer. As the officer raised his gun to fire at pointblank range, Kandle reciprocated, shooting and killing the German officer.

The Medal of Honor citation describes what happened next.

“Rushing forward several yards ahead of his assault elements, Lieutenant Kandle fought his way into the heart of the enemy strong point, and, by his boldness and audacity, forced the Germans to surrender. Harassed by machine gun fire from a position which he had bypassed in the dense fog, he moved to within 15 yards of the enemy, killed a German machine gunner with rifle fire, and led his men in the destruction of another machine gun crew and its rifle security elements.”

But Lt. Kandle and his little platoon were not finished with their great task.

On reaching a fortified farmhouse, Lt. Kandle ordered his men to form a firing line toward the house. Then, knowing that the enemy was watching, Kandle ran alone through the yard in front of the house, and with the concentrated intensity that only a cautious, reserved man like he was could have stored up in the course of the years, he single-handedly rammed through the barricaded door.

Then Kandle stood alone in the entryway to the farmhouse, a likely target for the gunfire of the 30 German soldiers and 2 officers who proved to occupy the dwelling. But Lt. Kandle’s assertiveness—the mysterious power of rare, unanticipated boldness—made the German occupiers helpless in his presence. Then and there, 32 of Hitler’s warriors surrendered themselves to Lt. Kandle.

That great day on the frontlines of the French liberation, Lt. Kandle helped to make possible the victory of the Allies in Europe. According to the Medal of Honor citation, “His intrepidity and bold leadership resulted in the capture or killing of 3 enemy officers and 54 enlisted men, the destruction of 3 enemy strong points and the seizure of enemy positions which had halted a battalion attack.”

With a little platoon of 16 men and a handful of machine gunners, Lt. Kandle, pride of the Puyallup High School class of 1939, accomplished what an entire battalion could not.

Some of Victor Leonard Kandle’s hometown friends were surprised when stories of his daring reached home. At LaForge, France in October of 1944, Lt. Kandle led 16 men and a handful of machine gunners “in the capture or killing of 3 enemy officers and 54 enlisted men, the destruction of 3 enemy strong points and the seizure of enemy positions which had halted a battalion attack,” according to Kandle’s Congressional Medal of Honor citation.

But Leonard, as they knew him in the PHS Class of 1939, was not known back home as a risk-taker. His classmate Don Henderson recalls that he was “kind of a conservative kind of a guy. You would never think of him as a guy who would subject himself to that kind of ordeal.”

“He wasn’t ambitious, but he was conscientious,” said Lt. John Shirley of Livermore, CA, who served with Kandle in the 15th Infantry Regiment, 1st Battalion, I Company. “He did what he had to do and did it well, and his men liked him.”

For General Maurice Kendall, a young Army lieutenant during his association with Kandle, it was Kandle’s cautious demeanor that actually accounted for his outstanding conduct in battle.

“You’ll be surprised,” said Kendall, “conservative people are often very responsible citizens. After 36 years in the Army, I have found that they’re very serious about their mission. If that involves taking risks, that’s what they do. I’d take a good old conservative on the battlefield anytime. Those rash guys would often expose our troops.”

Kendall first got to know Kandle during the 15th Infantry’s Italian campaign, because the two officers were often being confused on account of their similar names. “I remember Lt. Kandle as a handsome young man who looked like he ought to be in college. He always sort of reminded me of a frat guy.”

Kandle was born into a pioneer family in Roy in 1921. His early years were spent around Roy and Yelm and McKenna before the family moved to Puyallup, where he graduated from Puyallup High School in 1939. He was an avid outdoorsman as a youth, fishing in the Puyallup River and finding every occasion he could for hiking and camping.

Essey Kinsey Faris remembers Kandle from youth group activities at Puyallup First Methodist Church, which included events in coordination with Tacoma churches. Equipped with a warm smile, Kandle was shy with strangers but opened up with friends. He enjoyed sharing jokes and laughs with his friends, Faris recalls.

During his first year out of high school, Kandle attended classes at Beutel Business College in Tacoma. Lacking a car, he sometimes walked 8 miles from his house to class. As the possibility of American involvement in the war grew, Kandle volunteered for the Army in September of 1940 and began training at Fort Lewis. With his year of business school and an evident talent for leadership, Kandle served as field secretary to the Fort Lewis Commanding General before undergoing additional training at Camp Rucker, Alabama. He completed officer candidate school at Fort Benning, Georgia.

Kandle was assigned to the 15th Infantry Regiment, 1st Battalion, I Company, landing on the beach at Anzio, Italy in May of 1944. In the months before I Company joined the fighting at Anzio, progress had been slow and the Allied sacrifices were costly.

“Anzio was a hellhole, to tell the truth,” said SSgt Manuel Moreno of Fullerton, California. Moreno joined the 1st Battalion’s H Company as a replacement, surviving on the Italian battlefront in a foxhole for three months in early 1944.

“You couldn’t move in the daytime because the Germans were up in the mountains throwing 88s. At night we came out. Our antitank guns, 57 calibers, just bounced off the German tanks at Anzio. They were in the hills, just looking right down at us. There were two of us in a foxhole. We just kind of sat around and hoped that a shell didn’t hit our foxhole. Three months of that kind of gets to you.”

Moreno is haunted to this day by one horrific frame of memory. The GIs were wearing long wool overcoats as they retreated from the frontlines at Anzio. “We were withdrawing back to our secondary lines because the Germans were attacking with Tigers. I looked back, and I saw one soldier stand up. He took a direct hit by a Tiger heavy caliber cannon. I can still see him. I remember him hitting the deck. His overcoat went to pieces. Little things like that a guy wants to forget. You just keep on going.”

Having referred to the unspeakable horror of a distant past, Moreno mentioned his realistic fear of something more immediate: “I hope I don’t have nightmares tonight.”

The Allies were making progress when Kandle’s I Company came ashore as replacements in May, but the combat remained intense. So it would remain throughout Italy, France, and Germany for the next several months, during which Kandle would earn the nation’s highest honor for heroism and give his life for freedom.

Ryan tried to discourage Kandle from going on the mission. “You’re crazy,” Ryan said. “You did all this stuff and you’re in for the Congressional Medal of Honor—there’s no question you’ll get it.”

General Kendall is also surprised that Kandle was not pulled off of the frontlines because of his Medal of Honor. “Usually they did that when they got the CMH.”

But Kandle volunteered.

Late on December 31, Lt. Kandle took a seat on the back of a tank beside radioman Bob Ralston of rural Georgia as they rode up the hill. Shortly after midnight of the New Year, 1945, a German soldier in the darkness beside the tank threw a white phosphorous grenade. It hit Lt. Kandle in the stomach and exploded. His body absorbed the impact and fell from the tank. Ralston jumped off and knew instantly that the hero of La Forge was dead.

When word of Kandle’s sacrifice reached home, “I remember it fell rather heavily on Puyallup,” said Kandle’s classmate Frank Hanawalt. “Everybody was greatly sorrowed.”

When the war had ended, the men of the 15th Infantry waited in Harrelson, Germany for shipment home. In the camp at Harrelson, the Army named its cinema the Kandle Theater for their departed hero.

On June 4, at the Presidio in San Francisco, Kandle’s widow Marigene and young son Terry accepted the Congressional Medal of Honor on behalf of the fallen hero. General H.C. Pratt of the Western Defense Command made the presentation. He also earned the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, and the French Croix de Guerre.

Back at Colmar, it was raining when French workers dug up Kandle’s body from its temporary grave for removal to the U.S. cemetery at Epinal. Phosphorous remained on the corpse, reigniting when the rain fell into the grave; Ralston and Shirley learned this when they returned to visit the people of Colmar.

White phosphorous destroyed Leonard Kandle’s body, but it did not kill the spirit that animated him. It was the spirit not only of a man, but of the people and the place he knew as home. Leonard Kandle embodied the idea of Puyallup: the generous people. In recognition of his service, the Washington Army National Guard named its armory in Tacoma for the hero of La Forge and Kolmar. Leonard Kandle gave his best for the community he loved; the least we can do in return is to remember that he lived.

Of all the generous people who have called Puyallup home, Victor Leonard Kandle stands above them all for his courage and heroism. “He was a hero in Puyallup as well as being a national hero,” his classmate Frank Hanawalt recalled.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Train to Minidoka

The Train to Minidoka
By Hans Zeiger
(A version of this article appeared in the Puyallup Herald on September 2, 2009)

With the Fair making its annual return, it would be easy to forget that there were four years—1942 through 1945—when there was no Fair. Most notably during that time, Japanese-Americans were evacuated to the Fairgrounds in May 1942 for internment. They called the place “Camp Harmony.”

But Camp Harmony was only a temporary evacuation center while federal workers finished construction of a long-term internment camp near Eden, Idaho. In September, when the cows and pigs stayed home from the prize stalls, when the wooden rollercoaster sat motionless and the Boy Scouts who once kept the Fair running went off to war, the aroma of Fisher scones and onion burgers was replaced by the diesel exhaust of the buses that came to remove the internees.

Internees could only bring what they could carry onto the buses. They were taken to the train depot in Tacoma, where the thousands of Japanese-Americans boarded a passenger train.

The train-ride is an especially haunting memory for many of the Japanese-Americans who lived through that time.

Sam Ueda, who had immigrated from Japan in 1899 and spent most of his career working for Colonial Gardens in Fife, suffered a stroke on the train. “There were no medical doctors,” said his son, Herb Ueda, 13 years old at the time. “All we could do was place boards across the seat for a bed.”

Sue Fujikedo, a 1939 Sumner High School graduate, recalled the long train ride. “They pulled all the shades, so we didn’t see anything until we got almost to Idaho. Then we could see sand on the banks. We were in a different place.”

Some internees had heard that the new location, as the name suggested, was like the Garden of Eden. But as Bob Mizukami of the Fife High School class of 1940 remembers it, “We got out there in the middle of the dessert, and the train stopped and they said, ‘Okay, get off.’ There was nothing but sand and sagebrush out there. It was about four miles to the campground from there. They picked us up on buses and hauled us into camp from there.”

The 964 internees from the Puyallup Valley and the 6,185 internees from Seattle called their new compound Camp Minidoka. “They just scraped all the sagebrush off and built a camp there,” said Mizukami. “Everytime the wind blew there was a dust storm, you could hardly see across the street.”

Mae Fujii of Milton recalls those dust storms amid the blockhouses and watchtowers. “The windows were not tight inside. We had a lot of dust inside the house.”

Internees lived with their families in cramped quarters, dining in large mess halls and organizing social activities such as Saturday dances. From the time the internees entered Minidoka, they were surrounded by electrified, barbed-wire fence. Later, realizing that these measures were unnecessary, camp authorities de-electrified the fence and removed guards from the watchtowers.

Herb Ueda was a teenager, and he and friends would sometimes slip under the barbed wire. “All that was out there was jackrabbits and rattlesnakes,” he said, though occasionally they hiked to Eden to buy alcohol. While Ueda acknowledges that many of his peers were straight-laced, good students in the camp schools, for him, Minidoka “was a good place to learn bad habits. I skipped more school than I attended.” Ueda joined a gang with other boys on his block. “We had competition, not violence.”

Ueda took a job as a messenger in the camp, which was a major advantage when it came to getting meals. “I had a bike. And I could eat in any mess hall I wanted because I could get around.”

Ueda’s father Sam was the first patient in the Minidoka hospital after arriving in camp. Sam Ueda spent the next three years not only behind barbed wire, but bedridden from the effects of the stroke he suffered on the train. He died three years after the war.

Internees were allowed to apply for work releases away from the camp if they could line up employment. Sue Fujikedo worked for an English couple in Twin Falls as a housekeeper, then found a job in a tomato cannery, and finally joined her sister in Salt Lake City, again working as a housekeeper.

Bob Mizukami spent the fall of 1942 harvesting sugar beets and potatoes near Minidoka. After the harvest, he volunteered for the Army and spent the war serving with the all-Japanese-American 442nd Infantry regiment.

Min Uchida, a 1940 Fife High School graduate, got out of the camp to work on a farm in Montana, then moved to Chicago where he worked days for a soda pop maker and nights at a bowling alley. Then, he too volunteered for the Army. He spent the rest of the war repairing Army trucks in France and Germany.

All told, 211 Minidoka internees volunteered for military service.

Hans Zeiger is documenting the World War II generation in the Puyallup area. If you have memories to share, contact or 253-905-8160.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Remarks for Ross Zeiger's Eagle Scout Court of Honor

Remarks for Ross Zeiger's Eagle Scout Court of Honor
Hans Zeiger
May 19, 2009

It’s a pleasure that Ross asked me to speak. He and I happen to go way back. We shared a bedroom for two years after he was born, and he would rise every morning and crawl out of his crib and summon me to prepare his bottle of milk, warmed to just the right temperature in the microwave. Ross would help to let in Sammy the cat and together we would feed him. And then we would begin the descent down to the basement TV room, where, for fear of embarrassing Ross, I will not mention the name of the show that he watched. I will only tell you that it featured a purple dinosaur. I will also tell you that for many years Ross’s nickname from Grandpa Ed was—Barney.

Now the color purple is significant because as you know, Ross is a Viking at Puyallup High School, where the colors are purple and gold, and since he was a very small boy he has been determined to become a Washington Husky. Gold is also significant, I should mention. Ross has been scheming to become rich also since he was a very small boy. A few weeks ago, a crowd of kids had gathered around Ross here at the church, and Katherine Stone asked, “Ross, what do you want to be when you grow up?” “A billionaire,” he replied.

And in that sense, Ross Zeiger will not be living up to his name. To our ancestors in Germany, I understand that the word Zeiger meant a homeless person who sat beside a signpost outside of a tavern to beg for the leftover food. I assure you that Ross will not be living up to his name. He will be a millionaire before long.

Also, he will spend his millions, which is not a Zeiger thing to do either. From our great, great grandfather Wiley back in Illinois we inherit a famous trait of frugality, most notable today in the person of Grandpa Ed. Ross, a passionate connoisseur of all the latest technologies and gadgets, did not inherit that particular family trait.

But all along he knew what was truly important. One morning as we were driving to church, Ross was about two or three, and he was learning a children’s catechism question. As a reward for memorizing the catechism, he would get a piece of candy. Well, the question was the very first question of the children’s catechism: “Who made you?” “God,” he replied. Mom’s arm reached back and deposited a lovely little candy into Ross’s hand, which he quickly inserted into his mouth. After he had chewed on it for a moment, he uttered back to Mom, using his very best manners, “More God, please.”

Well young Ross was out at Ocean Camp and Meeker Lakes with Dad and the Scouts years before he himself was a Boy Scout. He had probably finished all the camping requirements for First Class and induction into the Royal Order of Siam by the turn of the millennium. And then, over the course of his Scouting career, Ross proceeded to achieve a long string of extraordinary feats. After Joe had recently posted a list on Facebook of “25 things you don’t know about me,” Ross, not to be outdone, followed with his own list. They included, I think, reaching the top of Everest, winning several Olympic events, and curing AIDS, which I think was his Eagle project.

Well Ross has exerted a profound influence on the culture of Troop 174 these past several years. He has added character—as well as mischief. There are generational cycles in a Boy Scout troop. I remember hearing how good and well-behaved we were back in my day. Ross’s day—is another story. If there was a microwave in an abandoned ski lodge, or a fire extinguisher in a bulldozer on a backwoods fire road, or a phone number on a billboard on a roadtrip—you can bet they found a use for it.

But there was one occasion, well-enshrined in the Troop 174 folklore, when Ross and his Scouting buddies seemed to be saints. It was when we went to Maupin Oregon for a 50-rafting trip on the Deschutes River. We were camped in a public campground, next door to a family of angry drunks with a flea-ridden mangy dog named Kelly and a parrot on one side, and a convention of a hundred drunken college students on the other. Well, that night, the Boy Scouts were exemplars to the world around them.

And Ross is an example to the others. He is the sort of guy who is roundly admired by all of his fellow Scouts. Sometimes I noticed certain mannerisms and ways of talking that they would copy from Ross. They admire him in part because he is an imaginative and playful little man. Two summers ago, we were on a 50-mile hike between Crystal Mountain and White Pass. Ross and Chief and Justin created a new philosophy of life complete with its own confessional statement and hierarchy. They also schemed to take over the entire Cascade range and subdue certain forest creatures in their service. They maintained a steady denial of certain important outdoor truths, such as the existence of bears and the incidence of rain. Therefore they refused to put up a tent. They did not encounter any bears, but as they laid out under the clouds they did claim to see a white cheetah leaping over them, and then it began to rain. Ross, oblivious to such things, slept soundly at first, and then they all moved into Carlson’s tent.

Well, if you truly want to honor somebody, especially if you want to honor somebody who has yet to go into the thick of the fight of life, you honor the people who have gone before him who he will hold up as heroes. In Ross’s case we do not have to look far.

The Rosses of Scotland came from a place called Ross, and no one quite knows where it is or what happened there, but whatever it was, it was very important. I imagine the Rosses as a strong, colorful people with a sense of humor and a love for freedom, and one of their American manifestations was our great grandmother Jewell Ross, who married a Westward-bound banker named Charles Greening. There were three children. The first was Shirley. The baby was our grandma Virginia. A few years ago I was with Ross and some of his friends, and I asked them to name the people who they look up to. And the person who Ross named was his beautiful grandmother Virginia, who is with us this evening. I’ve never met the Rosses of Scotland, but if our Grandma Virginia is anything like them, I may have to consider going back to the old country.

Well, Grandma Virginia’s brother was the Rossiest of them all. He took his name from his mother’s maiden name, and so he was Ross Greening. He was an artist. He painted beautiful things all his life. He was a pilot who crashed his first plane in a Puyallup Valley berry field at the age of 13. And he was a character, a charming and fun-loving human being, and also a very great man, one of the very greatest who ever lived in Tacoma, Washington.

Not only was he a member of what has been called the greatest generation, but he is the kind of man who many others of that generation regard as their hero. He assisted Col. Jimmy Doolittle in the secret preparations of America’s first raid over Japan on April 18, 1942 and piloted plane #11 off the deck of the USS Hornet in what is known as the Doolittle Raid. It was thought to be a suicide mission, but Ross and his crew bailed out over China and made it to safety. He was reassigned to North Africa and there conducted 26 bombing runs over Italy before he was shot down over the volcanic cone of Mount Vesuvius. When he came to consciousness, he had broken his leg, and fascist soldiers carried him down the mountain to a prisoner of war camp.

Ross spent the next few months there, slowly recovering from his broken leg and painting pictures for the camp commandant in return for extra food that he delivered to the sick men in the camp. When the Italians capitulated, the Nazis rounded up the prisoners and loaded them onto a train bound for the north. American planes bombed the train, allowing Ross to escape into the Italian countryside for the next seven months, where he met up with New Zealanders and made a home in a cave high in the Italian alps.

When they were recaptured in the winter of 1943, the Germans took Lt. Col. Ross Greening to Stalag Luft 1, a POW camp of 15,000 Allied men on the Baltic Coast. There he was the American commandant for a quarter of the camp, leading art and morale programs and himself painting the war experiences of his fellow prisoners. Later those paintings and his memoirs were published under the title Not as Briefed.

He was the organizer of the multi-city POW Exposition after the war, which drew 8 million people. The Air Force made him Air Attache of Australia. He was known by one of his biographers as the Man the Axis Couldn’t Kill, but he had a weak heart that cut his life short after the war and he died in 1957. And yet as Grandma Virginia would tell you after he passed away, there are some things bigger and better than this life itself that remain with us. These are what the Book of Revelation call “the things that remain.”

Here tonight, Uncle Ross’s legacy continues in the life of his great nephew.

That inheritance began in a remarkable way. For my own part, I was in Karshner Elementary School on November 12, 1991 when a call was placed through the intercom to Mrs. Adams’s first grade class. It was my mom calling to say that I had a new little brother. And he had come at just the right moment, you see, because November 12 was also the birthday—of Ross Greening.

I should mention one more thing about that moment in 1991, because it was also a remarkable moment in the history of the world. It was a moment of profound transition when scholars were proclaiming that history itself had come to an end with the fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of the Cold War, the promise of globalization and liberal democracy. On October 29, 1991—just two weeks before Ross was born—a new word appeared on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, and that was the word “internet.” Soon it was available for commercial use, and so Ross never knew a world without it. As a matter of fact, Ross was almost tech savvy before he could walk or talk.

And yet there were also storm currents in the deserts of the Middle East, and cultural wars across America, and history was not over yet. It will continue, Ross, and you must study it, and you must prepare yourself to be a part of it. There is a lesson in the title that Uncle Ross chose for his memoirs, “Not as Briefed.” Life takes turns that we cannot anticipate. It points to the lesson of the Boy Scouts, to “Be Prepared.” It points finally to the truth of Scripture, to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.”

As a Boy Scout, you know something about paths. As an Eagle Scout, you must also know something about flight. At my own Eagle ceremony several years ago, I read from the Prophecy of Isaiah, that those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up on wings like eagles. It is fitting that your Uncle Ross was a pilot. As an Eagle, you must try to emulate him.

But there’s more to your name that we need to talk about. Ross is not just Ross. He has a middle name, Edward. Now all of you I’m sure are wondering where in the world that came from.

Well, I will tell you that it came from the highest geographical point in Puyallup, known since Ed and Wilma came here in 1952 as Zeiger Hill. Back then South Hill was less populated than it is now. After the Zeigers set down roots, they effectively doubled the population.

There was a time when Ross was three years old when the family came together for a gathering and as all of our gatherings go, there was some evidence that the Zeigers had taken the command seriously to be fruitful and multiply. And when we had gotten in the car to leave, a small voice arose from the car seat, addressed to the parental department up front: “Who were all those people?”

Well, I can tell you that a Zeiger family gathering is almost another way of saying—a Troop 174 meeting. Cy, the youngest grandson, will be the seventh Eagle Scout in the family someday.

Grandpa has been involved with this troop for more than four and a half decades, and with Scouting for much longer. If you had to summarize his life, you might do it in the words of the Scout Oath or the Scout Law. He applied them to his work as a teacher and principal at Maplewood, Firgrove, Stewart, Wildwood Park, Pope, Sunrise. He exhibited them in his role as a community servant, a coach, a Kiwanian, a church elder. And most of all, he taught them to his children, and now to his grandchildren.

No sketch of Grandpa Ed would be complete without mentioning Grandma Wilma. They were married right out of high school. She was a graceful lady. She passed away in 2004. And over her headstone at Woodbine Cemetery there is an engraving of a daffodil. But that’s not all. There is a place beside it for Grandpa, and it too contains an engraving. I only mention it because of what it says about him: it is an engraving of the Boy Scout seal: a fleur de lis—and an eagle.

And so, as I said, we are here not just to honor Ross, but to honor the heroes for whom he is named. A moment ago I mentioned that Ross shares the birthday of his namesake. Well, there is another birthday I hadn’t mentioned yet. It is not a coincidence that Ross chose to schedule his court of honor the day before Grandpa Ed’s 80th birthday. As much as I hope it is a gift for Grandpa to have a sixth Eagle Scout in the family for his birthday, it does greater honor to my little brother, and to all of us Zeigers who have been Scouts and Eagle Scouts, that he is presenting this award. And before he does that, will you join me now in singing happy birthday?

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Bob Mizukami: "We Had to Prove Ourselves"

Bob Mizukami: “We Had to Prove Ourselves”
By Hans Zeiger
(A version of this article appeared in the Puyallup Herald on April 8, 2009)

Bob Mizukami once visited Puyallup High School to talk about how his life changed in May 1942, two years after his graduation from Fife High School and several months after the beginning of World War II. He told about the evacuation orders, about leaving behind his home and his family’s greenhouse business, about entering the Puyallup fairgrounds, about the barracks and the barbed wire and the year that there was no Fair, and the prejudice. “Most students from Puyallup High School didn’t know anything about those things,” he said. “They were surprised to hear that such a thing would be happening in our country, in our own backyard.”

“It was kind of a shock to us,” said Mizukami, “because we didn’t know that we would have to leave. We were born and raised in America. We were American citizens. We could understand our parents being interned, but evacuation should never have happened to anybody of American citizenship.”

The Mizukami family and hundreds of other evacuees of Japanese descent from Seattle and the Puyallup Valley reported to Puyallup City Hall between May 14 and 16. Families could bring only what they could carry as they entered the fairgrounds that week. Camp administrators issued mattress covers to be filled with straw and assigned families to small rooms in makeshift barracks. Over the next few months, the internees ate together in a mess hall, organized dances and activities, and learned to get along in the close quarters of “Camp Harmony.”

In September, the internees were relocated by train to the desert of Idaho. They called the new camp “Minidoka.” There, 211 young men enlisted in the military, including 36 from Pierce County.

All three Mizukami brothers—Bob, William, and Frank—enlisted and served in the 442nd Infantry, an all-Japanese-American regiment. All three had good reason to stay at Minidoka with their parents and two sisters, and all three volunteered. “Others may have said that they don’t know whether they could go into the service with their parents in the concentration camp,” said Bob. “We went in with a different purpose. We had to prove ourselves.”

William, a quiet Fife High basketball player, was younger than Bob by one year and one day. When Bob left the internment camp for training at Fort Douglas, Utah, he instructed William to care for the family in his absence. “Well, he had other ideas about that,” Bob recalled. It wasn’t long before William abandoned his familial duties and met up with Bob in the infantry school at Camp Shelby, Mississippi.

The two brothers were assigned to the same company in the 522nd Field Artillery. They went ashore at Anzio in June 1944 and fought through German-occupied territory below the Arno River. The fighting was intense. One night, about three weeks into the Italian campaign, the boys from Fife found a moment to chat. “Some of those shells are getting awfully close,” said William “Well,” said Bob, “what do you want me to tell them when I get home?” No reply. They only laughed.

The next day, July 11, 1944, William paid the ultimate price for the country that had interned him in the Puyallup fairgrounds. “He was killed from a mortar shell. We were in the same company, but I didn’t know about it until several hours later that evening. There was no break. They were stacking them up like cordwood. I really didn’t spend that much time thinking about it. You see all that death all the time. It was another casualty and that’s about it.”

The 442nd advanced through Italy into France, liberating Bruyeres in October and rescuing the Texas 36th Infantry Division, the “Lost Battalion,” at the price of over 200 Japanese-American lives. While Bob moved from a jeep to help clear a tree that had fallen across a road in the Vosges Mountains, a German mortar blasted the side of the road and sent shrapnel into Bob’s face. He was quickly bandaged and returned to his company.

The survivors spent the hard winter of 1944-1945 defending Nice, then moved south back into Italy to conquer the Germans’ Gothic Line. Bob and the 442nd had far more than their fair share of combat. “A lot of time we were considered cannon fodder, getting tough assignments,” said Bob.

Finally—even after the loss of one brother and the wounding of the other—Frank joined the Third Battalion of the 442nd late in 1944. He was aboard a ship bound for Italy when the war in Europe came to a victorious end.

Though many Puyallup Valley Japanese-Americans moved elsewhere after the war, Bob and Frank Mizukami returned to their furusato—their home—to give even more to the community that they and William left in 1942. Bob and Frank resumed their father’s greenhouse business. After helping to incorporate the City of Fife in February 1957, Bob sat on the city council, serving as mayor from 1980 to 1987.

“I was proud to become mayor of my native area that I was evacuated from, booted out, so to speak,” he said.

Hans Zeiger is documenting the experience of local veterans and Japanese-Americans during World War II. Contact him at 253-905-8160 or

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Depression Days in Puyallup

Depression Days in Puyallup
By Hans Zeiger
(A version of this story appeared in the Puyallup Herald on Feb. 4, 2009)

The stock market crashed the year after Ezra Meeker died. He had watched Puyallup grow from a camp in a thick forest to a prosperous, growing town. He, more than anyone else, was to credit for Puyallup’s success. But in his later years his mind turned from the blessings of growth back to the changeless values of the place he loved. He hoped that the younger generations would remember the hardships and hopes of the pioneers.

Sure enough, the Depression generation in Puyallup came to know difficulties and dreams, but it was because they experienced those things for themselves.

In 1937, a Swedish carpenter named Nicholas Hogman of Sangamon County, Illinois sold almost everything he owned, purchased a truck, and built benches in the bed and a canopy over the top. His wife Mary sat in the back in a rocking chair, surrounded by seven of their children, as two more sat in the cab with Nicholas. Their 18-year old son, who had never driven a truck before, took the wheel all the way to Issaquah. The price-tag on the weeklong road-trip, truck included: $75.

Relatives in Issaquah advised the Hogmans to seek work in the berry fields of Puyallup. So the family spent the summer of 1937 picking berries. Soon Nicholas found work for a cherry farm in Sumner and bought a little house on 23rd Avenue Northeast. Somehow they made ends meet. “We could make $50 a season picking berries,” recalls Manford Hogman. “And that would buy us all of our school clothes and supplies and everything we needed.”

The Hogmans understood the word “need.” So did the Stempczynski family. A few years ago, when Eleanor Stempczynski Brecht saw limousines pulling up for Aylen’s Ninth Grade Dance, she had to chuckle.

In all of 1935, Stanley Stempczynski made $80 from his Riverside berry, rabbit, and chicken farm. With his daughter graduating from Puyallup High School in June, Stanley stretched his money to ensure that she could celebrate in style. “We had a dress-up day on the last day of school,” Eleanor recalls. “The girls got dressed up in new outfits. Mamma took me into Tacoma to get a suit. She didn’t have enough money for shoes, so she had to borrow $5 from my sister.”

Not everyone in the Class of 1935 was so fortunate. Eleanor’s cousin was among those who couldn’t pull together the funds for dress-up day. She stayed home. “Those are the kinds of things that hurt your feelings when you couldn’t do the things that others did,” said Eleanor.

“We didn’t get to play much,” said Eleanor’s younger cousin Stanley Stemp, who managed to play basketball at school as long as he was back on the farm doing chores before his father. “We came home and had duties to do: clean the pig pens every Saturday, every night clean the cow and horse stalls, when you’re done with the chicken stalls pick up the eggs.

“Every night you had to chop old cedar berry poles for kindling. If in the middle of the night dad didn’t find it there he’d wake you up to go get it. It was hard to learn, but that’s how you learned.”

In the Depression days people felt a sense of responsibility, the realization that a mother and father, a grandparent or a grandchild, a daughter and son depended on you. It shaped the character of a generation. Describing his high school classmates, Hogman recalls, “The guys weren’t rowdies in those days like they are today. If they had anything, they had to work for it. The kids all had to work. Everybody who had more than a city lot had raspberries and blackberries growing on it.”

It was long before the age of iPods and cell phones. But according to Eleanor, “There were a lot of advantages about that era—not as many things to amuse themselves with—but they learned how to work.”

They also learned how to give. When the occasional hungry Tacoman showed up on their back porch, the Stempczynskis always had chicken from the farm to give away. Then there was Marty Martinson of Queen City Grocery downtown, who spent his lunch hours delivering groceries to elderly shut-ins. And there were extraordinary teachers, like Mr. Matthews with his old-fashioned clothes, and Mr. Starbird with his passion for history, who inspired the students of Puyallup High School to dream of a better future.

But for all the impoverishments of the age, the people of Puyallup were rich in a way that few other people have ever been. Amid work, people found time to celebrate the passages of life. It was in 1933 that the Daffodil Festival began. The berries followed the daffodils, and the rain watered the rich soil and muddied Viking Field before the rivalry with Sumner, and then there was the Fair.

And in the memories of Puyallup’s oldest members, the great thing about the place where they grew up was that they belonged there, and the place belonged to them. The town offered a sense of place to anyone who was born there or moved there on the condition that they could give back something to their neighbors when they were able.

Indeed, the generation of Puyallupans that grew up during the Depression has given us more than any other. We owe them our thanks.

Hans Zeiger lives in Puyallup. If you have stories about the Depression, contact Hans at 253-905-8160 or

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Legend of Doug Kelley

The Legend of Doug Kelley
By Hans Zeiger
(A version of this article appeared in the Puyallup Herald on January 7, 2009)

We mustn’t forget the greatest daredevil who ever called Puyallup home. His name was Talbot Douglas Kelley, but in the 1930s, “Doug” was enough for anyone to know that something very dangerous was going on in town.

Doug would hop on his motorcycle and drive to a straightaway, and then, hurtling down the avenue, would draw up his feet onto the seat and come into a standing position. The neighbors grew worried as they saw him pass by their front porch on a summer’s evening, standing on his motorcycle like Evel Knievel before his time. This feat of acrobatics was a regular subject for town discussions about public safety, as were Doug’s flying habits.

In the age of Lindbergh, Doug Kelley aspired to greatness in the sky. He took up flying in his teen years, saving his money from a job delivering telegrams and special mail to pay for lessons and plane rentals. Taking off from the little airstrip along the river, he would come down low over his girlfriend’s house in the Riverside area, buzzing in for a noisy greeting. “He did things our parents shuddered at,” his classmate Frank Hanawalt recalls. “We all thought it was great.”

Some say that Doug once flew a small plane beneath the Puyallup River Bridge at the Meridian crossing. Others call this a myth. “He was always pulling something,” said his friend Earl White. “He was a pretty darn nice guy on top of it.”

After graduation from Puyallup High School in 1939, Doug joined the Royal Canadian Air Force. Though America would not be at war for another two and a half years, Doug’s ambitions for glory transcended the national border as well as the ground. With training, Lt. Kelley was off to England for the Battle of Britain. He commanded a night-fighter in the Nazi-laden sky over London in the fateful summer of 1940—and survived. Nearly a fifth of the 3,000 allied flyers in the Battle of Britain were killed.

With Doug Kelley, it was the enemy that had to worry, said Jackson Granholm, Kelley’s high school chemistry lab partner and later a navigator on bombing raids over Germany with the Eighth Army Air Force. “Knowing what a tough cookie and a wild man Kelley was, I felt sorry for the German air-crews,” Granholm wrote in his 2000 memoirs.

After the U.S. entered the war, Lt. Kelley returned home and went to work for Uncle Sam. The Army Air Corps assigned him to lead advanced air training at an air base in Florida. After months of teaching his craft to the rising generation of flyers, Kelley was apparently restless. He wanted to get back into the action of war. His request for transfer to the South Pacific was granted.

In October 1943, Doug came home to Puyallup on furlough. His brother Jack, a field artilleryman then stationed at Fort Ord, was also home. For the two brothers and their mother Florence, it was the first time their little family had been together for three years. And it would be their last.

In December, Lt. Kelley flew over the Pacific in a P-38 or a P-70 to join up with the 419th Night Fighter Squadron under the Thirteenth Air Force newly arrived at Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands. The 419th went to Guadalcanal to reinforce the 6th Night Fighter Squadron, Detachment B, which had been flying P-38 and P-70 patrols in the area since February. The P-70s flew best under 10,000 feet, only half the altitude of the Japanese bombers. When the superior P-38s were brought to Guadalcanal, the difficulty of spotting enemy planes in the dark of night from an altitude of 30,000 feet made it nearly impossible to intercept the Japanese until ground crews turned searchlights onto the offending bombers.

At this rate, Detachment B could claim only one kill for each of the two types of aircraft by the time the 419th arrived in the fall. Meanwhile, Japanese Zero bombers inflicted serious damage on U.S. targets at Guadalcanal.

On his night mission of January 10, 1944, Lt. Kelley’s plane went down in the Pacific. He was reported as MIA. Florence Kelley learned that her son was missing a few weeks later. But of course, in Doug’s business, MIA in the Pacific almost certainly meant the worst.

Aboard a destroyer escort in the Pacific, Frank Hanawalt received a letter from his mother with news of Doug’s death. “My mother wrote to me that he had been killed by a Japanese Zero and that it was speculated that the type of flying between the European and South Pacific theater was different and that he hadn’t quite adapted to it yet.”

Doug’s high school classmate Essey Faris playfully imagined him crash-landing on a remote Pacific Island and soon “setting up a kingdom.”

But if anyplace deserved Doug for royalty, it was our own daffodil frontier. Lt. Doug Kelley, who lived and died dangerously, should never be forgotten here.