Gathering held at Bear Lake
By Jane Myhra
Area veterans gathered recently to recall the Berlin Crisis.
The former members of the Waupaca National Guard enjoyed a meal and rekindled friendships at Conroy’s Bear Lake Resort, Manawa.
Among the 31 veterans were National Guardsmen who had been activated during the Berlin Crisis. The unit was called to active duty on Oct. 15, 1961, as part of the military buildup ordered by President John F. Kennedy in response to the Soviet Union’s military threats in Germany.
As members of the 32nd Infantry Division, the Waupaca National Guard was ordered to Fort Lewis, Washington, for intensified combat training. They traveled with two units from Wisconsin Rapids and joined other units from Texas.
The objective was to field a combat ready division. With the increase in guerrilla type warfare in many parts of the world, the units also trained for counter-insurgency fighting.
The Berlin Crisis began in June 1961 after the building of the Berlin Wall and ended peacefully in November 1961.
“We were never called up to active duty, but we were active and ready,” said Leonard Haroldson, of Iola.
The 32nd Division was released from active duty in July and August of 1962.
“It was a period of personal and financial hardship for many,” Executive Officer Major Herbert H. Jackson said in his description of the 10-month active duty call-up. “But it was also a period of service which can be looked upon with pride and a sense of accomplishment by all who were a part of it.”
Bob Conroy, 88, of Manawa, was among the National Guard called up in 1961. He enlisted in the U.S. Army 1948 and retired as a major in 1974.
“I was in a lot of different units,” Conroy said. “You feel your country can use you, and once you get into it, it’s an interesting occupation.”
The veterans at the reunion also included Arlin Barden, of Waupaca, who served in the Army during World War II.
“I was right there when the Germans were shooting at us,” he recalled.
Barden was a replacement in the 80th Infantry Division in the European Theater. He landed in Scotland, travelled to France, Luxemburg, Germany and ended up in Czechoslovakia in 1945.
Barden said he enlisted in 1944 at the age of 18.
“And I was still 18 when the war was over,” he said.
After serving in the U.S. Army, Army Reserves and National Guard, Barden was discharged in 1967.
Haroldson was 17 when he enlisted in the National Guard during the Korean War.
“Then we were drafted by Kennedy and I went from National Guard status to regular Army,” he said.
While stationed at Fort Louis, Haroldson had a chance to sharpen his rifle skills.
“It was a good experience for me because I always liked to shoot,” he said. “They let me shoot many rounds per day on the national course and I shot in rifle matches almost every weekend.”
Haroldson won trophies and medals competing against shooters from the Air Force, Navy and Marines. He became a classified sharpshooter for the National Rifle Association.
He said the men in his unit were from a variety of backgrounds.
“Everybody who went to Fort Louis had good jobs,” Haroldson said. “I was an electrician and we had six teachers on KP (kitchen patrol).”
Back home, he said people were building bomb shelters and preparing for the worse.
“I’m glad it’s behind me,” said David Klatt, of New London. “I did my part and I got out with an honorable discharge.”
He was a radio operator and jeep driver for Barden.
Bob Dailey, of New London, served as a truck driver during the call-up. By the time the unit was sent home, he had been promoted to motor pool sergeant.
Russ Wiesem, of Waupaca, served over 22 years in the military, joining in 1947 and discharged in 1969.
In December 1961, Joanne Blum followed her husband, Ken, to Fort Louis.
“A lot of the wives went out with their husbands and tried to get jobs out there,” she said. “But nobody would hire us because they knew we wouldn’t be there long. It was hard on the families.”
She said the wives and the children stayed in hotels.
“The barracks hadn’t been used in 30 years and were in bad shape,” she said.
Joanne was only 19 at the time.
“The most interesting thing was that we got to go to the 1962 World’s Fair in Seattle,” she said.