By Victor Knell
May 30, 2007
A recent hospital stay and the removal of a non functioning gallbladder
has brought to my attention how transitory is our time on this earthly
plain. Lying on the hospital bed, not able to sleep, made me resolve
to put pen to paper or fingers to computer keyboard and share some
recollections of my life.
A rereading of a memorial piece written about my parents and their
life in 1991 convinced me that I had recorded not only their life,
but mine as well. As the oldest child, I experienced this family
togetherness starting in 1941.
I will try not to duplicate the earlier "Memories" composition,
but to recount elements not already detailed.
My earliest years were spent on farms within a 3 4 mile radius.
First on what is now the Quentin Ziemann farm and then in 1945,
the Knell Home Place, when grandparents, Jacob and Pauline Knell,
moved to town. It was here that the basic skills of a farm lad were
developed, feeding calves, milking cows, gathering eggs, feeding
hogs, cultivating corn, working summer fallow, plowing and seeding
as well as other agricultural talents.
In 1948 as the farm dairy operation evolved, a silo was constructed.
It was during this period that I determined that I would never take
up smoking. One of the workers putting up the silo left a lite cigarette
butt in the barn where they had their equipment. As an adolescent,
exploration is the nature of things. So, I decided to take a drag
on the cigarette. I almost coughed my head off. It convinced me
that smoking was not for me. A resolution I have honored to this
After the silo was filled in the fall, the corn squeezing that
oozed from the bottom were much appreciated by the cattle. To keep
the silo footing from being damaged, an electric fence was put around
the attraction. It was powered by a six volt car battery that pulsed.
One day to test if the fence was operational, I checked it by peeing
on the fence. It was in working order and it felt like being hit
on the head with a big block of wood. This was not a recommended
means of testing an electric fence. I don't know if this could be
a possible cure for Prostrates, but I have had no problem with this
On June 10, 1955, after attending country school Krem Number 4
for 8 years, I received my diploma signed by John Boyko, the County
Superintendent of Schools.
Also that year, I along with cousin Duane Knell and LeRoy Reinhardt,
were the last students to be confirmed at St. Peters Lutheran, rural
Hazen. Soon after this the church was closed, because the congregation
was becoming too small to support a pastor. The people now attend
church in Hazen.
The following fall, I along with Raymond Maas, Dalles Rahn and
Duane Knell, all neighborhood young men, drove to Hazen each morning
to attend Hazen High School. Each taking their turn. The school
bus from town was not started until the 1960s.
In the winter when the country roads became impassable Duane and
I stayed in town with our grandparents, Reinhold and Pauline Adolf.
In 1959 my class of 38 members graduated from Hazen High School.
The class theme was: "The Higher We Climb, The Broader the
View." The athletic teams were the Hazen "Bison."
After a short period working on the farm, I joined the United States
Army on December 5, 1961. This inspired many "firsts"
in my life. This was the first time away from home. I had to report
to the Fargo Recruitment Station for a physical and other tests.
While in Fargo I stayed at the Fargo Hotel for two nights, also
a first time staying in a hotel. I also received my Social Security
Card during this Fargo stay.
The next morning we recruits left by bus for Fort Carson Colorado,
where we began our careers in the U.S. Army. We came into Fort Carson
during the middle of the night. We were issued military clothing
and equipment, were fed and were put to bed.
The next day the task of turning green recruits into soldiers began.
My list of firsts continued. I had my first inoculations, I met
and interacted with Blacks, Hispanics and Orientals for the first
time. Army life was marching in step, drill, shots, standing in
line for everything and "G.I. Parties." For those who
assume this was a fun time, let me enlighten you. This was cleaning
up a barracks and equipment for inspection. If not up to the standards
of the inspecting officer, doing it all again.
My service number, which I still remember, was RA17617527. After
eight weeks of marching, learning to fire a M 1 rifle and acquiring
other basic training skills, we were ready for the next phase of
our transformation to being military personal. We were given two
weeks of leave, allowing us to go home before having to report to
the next training station, which in my case was Fort Dix, New Jersey.
After spending a week or so at home it was time to get on the Greyhound
and make my way to New Jersey for the next part of my training in
military discipline. At Fort Dix I underwent Field Communications
Crewman Training. They made me a pole climber. On May 4, 1962 we
graduated from this course and were transported to New York to embark
on the USNS General Ross to sail to Germany. After a week or so
we landed at Bremerhaven and went by train to Muenchen, where I
became a part of the Communications Platoon at 3rd Battalion, 70th
Armor stationed at Henry Kaserne (barracks). Along with my wireman's
duties I was also the driver for the Communications Officer.
After some time our battalion was transferred to the 3rd Battalion,
32nd Armor. We were part of the 24th Infantry Division. The change
in unit also meant a change in location. We were now stationed at
Will Kaserne, about one mile north of our former base.
I celebrated my 21st birthday in Germany. I would have forgotten
it, but I received a card from home with birthday wishes.
I was lucky to be able to visit my German relatives while I was
stationed in Germany. I was also able to visit my cousin Duane,
who was in the Army and stationed at Augsburg, a distance west of
On a visit to my relatives at Adendorf, I was able to watch on
television, as John F. Kennedy make his "Ich bin ein Berliner"
speech in June 1963. I have one more reminiscence of JFK Our Battalion
had just come back from a field training exercise and were scheduled
to have a party to unwind at the Henry Kaseme N.C.O. Club, when
word was received that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas,
Texas at 12:30 November 22, 1963. The party fizzled out, everyone
went back to their barracks.
One interesting and humorous incident of my tour of duty in Germany.
After some time I became one of the two personal who were in charge
of the "SOI" (Signal Operation Instructions), a little
booklet that contained all the battalion radio frequencies and unit
designations. Without this an Army unit is unable to communicate
with other unite and with higher authorities.
A sergeant and myself kept these in a safe behind a locked door.
They were considered "Confidential." We thought that we
had an agreement with the company First Sergeant, that only one
of us would be put on guard duty at a time. But, the First Sergeant
was one of these military types who had many years in the service,
who could be told nothing.
One day both of us were put on duty, not on our base, but at the
Schleisheim Army Air Base, some distance from our company. We had
an "Alert" that evening, which means that you get ready
as if you were going to war. But, since the "SOI"s were
inaccessible, the battalion was unable to operate their radios and
could not contact other units. They could not move. This never occurred
I remained in Germany till November 22, 1964, when I sailed home
on the USNS Darby. Having reached the rank of Specialist Fourth
We were processed for separation at Fort Hamilton, New York. After
spending the night in New York, I took my first plane trip back
to Bismarck, North Dakota.
After coming home from the Army I was eligible to use the G.I.
Bill to further my education. I made planned to attend North Dakota
State University at Fargo.
In September 1965 I was back in Fargo to continue my education.
My brother, Marvin, was attending NDSU at this time. He and I along
with James Baszler and Eugene Blumhardt, two fellows from western
North Dakota, rented an apartment and were now ready to go to school.
Over the years I have worked a number of jobs, some for only a
short time and the others did become my final live's work. After
NDSU I sold insurance for a short time till I figured out that it
was not the life for me. I worked at a music store, which I enjoyed.
From there I went to St. Angar Hospital, where I worked until there
was an opening at the U. S. Department of Agriculture at the Bioscience
Research Laboratory, located on the North Dakota State University
campus, where I stayed until 2002, when I retired with 30 years
in government service.
I have always been interested in my Germans from Russia heritage
and in 1975 joined the Red River Chapter, Germans from Russia Heritage
Society. As a member of this Society, I have served as President,
Vice President, have been on the Board of Directors of the Society,
and was editor of the local Chapter newsletter for 18 years.
The clipping of obituaries from newspapers was started with the
encouragement of Michael Miller at North Dakota State University
Library, who saw that the University Library was receiving newspapers
from across the whole state that were thrown out each month. These
papers were a valuable source of obituaries that were not being
utilized. I took on this task. For the last 20 25 years, every month
I check and clip obituaries from about 30 or so newspapers. These
are then pasted on 3 x 5 index cards and become part of the Obituary
Collection at the Germans from Russia Heritage Society Library in
A big thrill I have had as a Society member was meeting Dr. Karl
Stumpp from Germany, who has written many books and gathered much
family data for the use of people doing roots research. He was scheduled
to be a speaker at the 1986 Germans from Russia Heritage Society
Convention here in Fargo. He came into Fargo on the 4th of July
and everyone else had family commitments, so I was elected to meet
and greet him at the airport. It was an interesting day spent with
him exchanging information and interacting with him in the German
Around Christmas 1976 my parents expressed an interest in going
to Germany to visit relatives. Dad's uncles, aunts and cousins.
After thinking it over I decided I would accompany them on this
quest since it had been about 14 years since I had seen these relatives
Arrangements were made and in early 1977 we arrived at the Frankfurt
airport. The first stop was at Wiesbaden, where Aunt Marie, a Lutheran
Deaconess, lived in a retirement home. We had a wonderful visit
with her. Some of the older relatives had passed on since my last
visit. We next visited Uncle Heinrich, who was not in the best of
health. In fact he died two weeks after our call. There was one
more Aunt, that was Aunt Elisabeth, and many cousins. My Dad enjoyed
meeting his German relatives for their one and only get together.
As a Society member I have manned an information booth at the Family
History Workshop in Moorhead since 1980. 1 an now a member of the
Heritage Education Commission of Minnesota State University Moorhead,
who put on the annual Workshop. The workshop is an all day genealogy
and family history research seminar. Experts from Ellis Island,
the National Archives, the Salt Lake Family Library and local scholars
provide help to people doing their family research.
As a member of the Red River Chapter, Germans from Russia Heritage
Society, I have been active in the German Folk Festival every July
since 1984. This is put on by the Fargo Park Board. We celebrate
German Heritage by bringing in musical groups from Germany and serving
German food to make a Fargo Park a "little bit of Germany."
I am a caretaker at the apartment building where I live. The caretaker
position and my volunteer work for the Germans from Russia Heritage
Society has kept my retirement years from being boring.
To see some of the family history research gathered, check the
Victor Knell Collection at the North Dakota State University Library
Written: May 30, 2007