When the 1942 graduates marched across the stage at Arenzville High School, the group included 17 students, only 6 of which were boys. Little did two of these lads know that their lives would intertwine at some amazing points in another part of the world.
Leland Nicol was drafted into the U.S. Army the year after he graduated from Arenzville and was sent to Westover Field, Massachusetts, for training with the Air Borne Engineers. He eventually became a part of the 1896th Aviation Battalion and soon found himself in Port Morsbey, New Guinea where he fought in the Lae and Nadzab campaigns. On Christmas Day of 1944 his battalion was sent to invade the Philippines and almost immediately suicide bombers attacked his ship. On January 12th of 1945 he was in the first hold with 150 other U.S. soldiers when their ship was hit. Eight men got out alive and Leland was among the survivors. He said, “I was on fire and had shrapnel in my leg. I got out of the ship by jumping in the ocean through the hole that the plane had made. I was burned over 30% of my body and when they couldn’t find me I was listed as missing in action.”
Nicol did have a life jacket and after a time floating in the sea was picked up by a ship. From there he was shuffled to various other hospital ships, eventually ending up in the 61st General Hospital in Hollandia, New Guinea, and it was in this facility where his Arenzville roots took a coincidentally welcome turn. He knew that his old classmate Dean (Butch) Zulauf had the same APO number as the hospital where Nicol was being treated so he asked the nurses if they’d ever heard of his high school friend. Nicol said, “…a few days later I looked up and there was Butch. It’s hard to believe that two boys out of a class of six would meet up in New Guinea.” Butch went to his bunk that night and wrote a quick letter to his mother saying that he’d found Leland, that he was badly wounded but would survive. Nicol said, “My parents didn’t get the telegram ‘til one day after Butch’s mother got the letter so they knew I was alive.”
But the lives of these two Arenzville lads were to intersect again. After Nicol had been released from the hospital he made his way back to his outfit in the Philippines, but the recurring problems with his burns put him back under the Army’s medical care. As he waited in Manila for replacements, he again ran into Zulauf. Nicol concludes his message to the Arenzville website by saying, “Out of the 185 men in my company who went overseas, only 34 of us came home, and all but 8 of them had been wounded or missing or both.”
Town historian Molly Clark Daniel writes, “The men and women of Arenzville had a proud history of serving their country, both at home and abroad. Their service has sometimes been heroic – — more than a dozen have given their lives for our nation’s cause, and many had their lives changed forever because they answered the call to duty. The veterans represent the strength and character of our community, and we are grateful to them.”
While the boys were serving during World War II, a group of local citizens created a newspaper to be sent overseas, keeping the young men abreast of what was happening in Arenzville. The first issue, published in April of 1945, introduced the paper by saying, “This is a solemn and historical occasion! You are holding a copy of the first edition of your hometown scandal sheet printed solely for your enjoyment! No ads to clutter it up. All the news on the hour (although possibly a few weeks late); a spontaneous sort of thing by a few of your friends who anxiously await your return after the big job is done and under the guiding wing of your local Red Cross. When our circulation exceeds the Chicago Trib, there may be a small charge but until then it is yours for the asking—-or should I say without your asking.”
That first edition goes on to talk about the fund drive to put an addition onto Passavant Hospital, proudly reporting that the Arenzville-Concord area was the only section to meet its quota. The Town Tattler, as it was called, went on to note that Heirman’s Café had been closed, Tater Paul and Zach Harvey had accidently let Hart’s horse loose, Cele Roegge bought a new jeep, the high school boys dug into the sand and built a new basketball court next to Wessler’s Electric Shop, Tony Pfolsgrof got married while on home on furlough, Esther Roegge is now walking without crutches, Eldore (Bud) Nobis was listed as a POW in Germany, Pvt. Gerald Beard is improving with his pneumonia, Wilbur Kleinschmidt was high point man of the basketball season with 226, and that the spring prom would be a Mexican fiesta.
It’s quite a remarkable record for a small town: Clyde Ginder: radioman on an unarmed C-47 transport, and unarmed it downed a Japanese fighter plane over Burma. Clyde came away with no scratches for a Distinguished Flying Cross. Eldore “Bud” Nobis: captured during the Battle of the Bulge, survived several prison camps, finally evading his German captors and rejoining the U.S. Army on Friday the 13th in April of 1945. Bob Clark: a pilot on a Hellcat Fighter scheduled to fly over China to bomb Japan with a little refueling help from the Chinese, his mission scrubbed at the last moment when it was discovered that his flight path would have taken him over Hiroshima as the bomb as being dropped. Howard Anderson: an integral link in the Manhattan project.
Every small town has its military heroes, but as Arenzville celebrates its 175 years of existence, we pay special honor to ours.