Peter and Martha Heier celebrate 70 years, are thankful for each day the Lord gives them
"Peter and Martha Heier celebrate 70 years, are thankful for each day the Lord gives them." Emmons County Record, 24 November 2011, 1, 3 & 5.
Peter and Martha Heier are especially thankful this Thanksgiving. That is because they were married 70 years ago on November 24, 1941, at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Hague.
Originally from rural Hague and long-time residents of Herreid, the Heiers are now residents at the Strasburg Care Center. If the weather cooperates Thanksgiving Day, they will host their family at their home in Herreid.
Their special enthusiasm for life together may go back to April 15, 1942, when Peter left for Camp Crowder, Mo., for basic training in the U.S. Army Air Corps. Martha was pregnant with their first child, Kenneth.
Thousands of American boys had already lost their lives in World War II, with the toll eventually rising to over 400,000. The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor two weeks after Peter and Martha’s wedding, and the war was intensifying by the day Peter left in 1942.
When Peter boarded the train at Selby, neither he nor Martha knew when, or if, they would see each other again. As it turned out, Peter was not given leave to go home when Kenneth was born, and it was nearly four years before his first two-week furlough.
There were few phoners on the farms in the 1940s, so Peter’s dad drove to Hague to call to report Kenneth’s arrival. Martha and Kenneth divided their time between the farms of the baby’s grandparents. Before Peter left for the service, they lived in the summer cottage on his parents’ farm.
“When I came home on furlough over Christmas of 1944, Kenneth was three years old, and he had no idea who I was and was scared to death of the stranger in the house,” Peter recalled. “The first time I tried to pick him up, he cried, but it didn’t take him long to warm up to me. That was such a happy day, to see Martha again and to meet my son.”
Concerns about Peter increased on New Year’s Eve in 1942 when he left his duty station in Tampa, Fla., for the South Pacific—Guadalcanal, the Solomon Islands and other islands in the region.
He was trained in long-distance radar, the predecessor to the radar systems now used by the National Weather Service. He tracked Japanese war planes and witnessed many “dog fights” between U.S. and Japanese fighter planes.
The accuracy of the radar was critical to detecting enemy planes and giving warning to military and civilians on the ground to take cover.
“We were under fire by the Japanese many times,” Peter recalled. “Bullets from enemy planes kicked up clods of dirt as soldiers hunkered down in fox holes or other shelters. Nobody got hurt in our group, but the fox holes kept getting deeper.”
Peter wrote to Martha every day that he was gone, and she wrote to him just as often.
“All military letters were censored, so if you said the wrong thing, the censors would cut it out with a pair of scissors,” Peter explained. “I was very careful, but some of the guys’ letters were cut to pieces until they figured it out.”
Postage was free to service members, and everything went by U.S. Air Mail. It took only four or five days for their letters to arrive. Martha paid three cents for a First Class letter and eight cents for an Air Mail letter.
Martha sent Peter many pictures of their son and other family members to help keep him in touch with the folks back home.
After his Christmas leave in 1944, he was re-assigned to Florida to Drew Field, the home base for the big B-29 bombers. He was back home on leave over Easter 1945, and he took Martha and Kenneth back with him to Florida. They lived off base in Avon Park, which is about 11 miles from Drew Field.
Peter still remembers his discharge day: September 15, 1945. That’s when the family packed up and moved back to Hague.
A side note is that six of the nine Heier sons served in World War II, the army of occupation or the Korean War.
The young couple and their son stayed with Peter’s parents briefly until they got a place of their own.
“The first thing we did was to buy a farm,” Peter recalled. “I had farmed with my dad before entering the service, and that’s what I wanted to do.”
They purchased the former Frank Haag farm one mile north of the state line on U.S. Highway 83. It was their home until selling to Arlyn Hasper in 1976 and moving to Herreid.
They bought new machinery to get started, including an International W-4 purchased from Martin Schall in Hague.
“Equipment, especially tractors, was hard to get after the war, but veterans got priority,” Peter explained.
Other purchases were a plow and drill. Since Peter harvested with his dad and did some farming with his brother, Rainer, he didn’t need to buy harvesting equipment.
The Heiers enjoyed life on the farm but decided it was time to slow down. After they bought a home and moved to Herreid, Peter helped out a farmer one summer and worked at the Herreid Equity Exchange (now North Central Farmers Elevator) for several years.
He owned a boat and was an avid walleye fisherman, fishing Lake Oahe many times.
Peter and Martha also enjoyed traveling, especially to see family members in Minnesota and Illinois.
Martha gardened and did some picture painting, but her main hobby is crocheting.
Martha was born February 10, 1918, and grew up four miles from Peter. Her parents were Emanuel and Theresa (Heilman) Miller. She is the oldest of 11 children.
Like most older children from large families, Martha attended country school through the eighth grade and then went to work, helping neighbors and baby-sitting. She stayed at home to help out, too, until she and Peter were married.
Peter was born December 13, 1919, and was delivered on the family farm by Dr. Felix Vonnegut, a Hague doctor who later practiced in Linton. His parents were Michael and Catherine (Feist) Heier, and they farmed four miles north of the state line along U.S. Highway 83. Peter’s brother and sister-in-law, Tim and Jane Heier, now own the farm.
He was the oldest of 13 children, and nine are still living.
Martha and Peter grew up in the same farming neighborhood and attended St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Hague. The Miller and Heier families were back and forth all the time, and the children from the two large families played together, each having someone about their age in the other family.
“Transportation was not good in those days, so you looked at the girls next door,” Peter joked.
Their brothers being friends is what introduced them to each other, according to Peter, and he rode horseback on Sunday afternoons to visit Martha. His dad sometimes let him drive his 1927 International pickup.
In those days, cards were played at get-togethers, and the most popular was Pinochle, which is still the preferred card game in the area.
Peter and Martha were driving around in the pickup when the subject of marriage came up.
“He just asked me, and I said, yes,” Martha laughed.
November 24 was a Monday in 1941, and their wedding at St. Mary’s was held at 9 a.m.
The tradition was for upcoming weddings to be announced in church each Sunday for three weeks.
“There were no weekend weddings in those days,” Martha explained. “And the weddings weren’t big with 500 people like they are now,” Peter added. “People didn’t spend so much money on weddings.”
Standing up with Martha were cousins Mary Volk and Eleanor Heilman. Peter’s best man was George Gross, and his attendant was Peter Volk. Father Joseph Niebler presided at the marriage ceremony and wedding Mass.
A noon meal and supper were served at the Miller farm to members of the two families. That evening, a wedding dance was held in Hague with Matty Lipp of Strasburg playing the accordion.
“Matty played for a lot of the dances in the area,” Peter noted.
They spent their wedding night at the Peter and Elizabeth Volk home.
As Strasburg Care Center residents since September 28, the Heiers find joy in gatherings with their five children and their families.
Kenneth, whose wife, Phyllis, died in 1986) lives in Bismarck. He has one daughter, Tina (Christopher) Ness of Mandan. They have a son, Andrew, soon to be three years old.
Kathy Hoffman lives in Herreid next door to her parents’ home and recently lost her husband, Harold. She has a daughter, Shannon Russell of Kansas, who lost her husband in a motorcycle accident. She has two sons, Kegan and Kyler.
Laurella and Floyd Weninger of Green Valley, Ariz., have two daughters—Kimberly (Brian) Townsend of Coal Valley, Ill., and Kari (Dave) Kasprzyk of Flagstaff, Ariz. They have three children, Taylor, Meagan and Carter.
Eugene and Judy Heier of Eden Prairie, Minn., have two daughters, Nicole (Chris) Marohl and Danielle and daughter, Emily.
Elaine and Tarry Hendrickson live in Bismarck. They have two children, Sara (Brian) Buckman of Fargo and year-old daughter, Zoey, and Jon Erik of Minneapolis, Minn.
A successful marriage
Reflecting on 70 years of marriage, Martha said it was “a long time but a happy time.” Peter added, “It’s been a pleasure even with the ups and downs of life.”
Their advice to newlyweds: Never go to bed mad at each other.
“Each morning when we wake up, we thank God for another day,” Martha said, with Peter nodding in agreement.
Peter Heier served in the U.S. Army Air Corps from 1942 to 1945.
This formal picture of Michael and Catherine Heier was taken in 1919.
Peter and Martha Heier farmed a mile north of the state line along U.S. Highway 83 from 1945 to 1976.
Martha and Peter Heier, front, pose with their children. Left to right are Laurella (Heier) Weninger, Eugene, Elaine (Heier) Hendrickson, Kenneth Heier and Kathy (Heier) Hoffman.
Martha’s parents, Emanuel and Theresa (Heilman) Heier are pictured in 1946.
Martha is pictured in the 1940s.
Peter picks currants on his parents’ farm.
Reprinted with permission of the Emmons County Record.