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 day.
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 ailment.
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 my base.
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 again.
I remained in Germany till November 22, 1964, when I sailed home on the USNS Darby. Having reached the rank of Specialist Fourth Class.
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 Bismarck.
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 language.
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 last.
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 website: http://library.ndsu.edu/grhc/history_culture/family/knell_histories.html
Written: May 30, 2007