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: http://www.thenewstribune.com/2009/11/10/948325/your-voice-perpetual-tension-keeps.html#ixzz0xxp9rY9M

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.