Thursday, October 1, 2015

Spam Cans, Riceballs, and Pearls by Bruce Muench
Object of the Month, October 2015
Philip Mohr, curator

Our book club recently discussed Kurt Vonnegut's Slaugtherhouse-Five, which brought our World War II book series to a close. The book is a fictionalized version of Vonnegut's own experiences in the war. Writing was a means for him to cope with his memory of the war. Writing can be an excellent method to record one’s experiences and express emotions. It can also help people deal with the trauma of war. Jonathan Shay’s work on PTSD argues that being able to place trauma within a larger narrative can aid in the healing process.

The memory of WWII has stayed fresh in the minds of veterans, people who lived on the home front, and also in the “collective memory” of nations. It is important to remember historic epochs such as WWII and the detailed events within them. In order to do that, we must consider all kinds of writing, including those that question the value or means of war.

Local veteran Bruce Muench wrote SPAM Cans, Rice Balls and Pearls: Snippets of Memory from World War II as fictionalized memories from his time in the Pacific Theater. He intentionally straddled the line between fiction and autobiography in order to tell a short novel of truth instead of facts. This artistic expression of experience is a legitimate source for understanding attitudes toward the war even though we cannot use them to discern how events actually occurred.

Want to document your wartime experiences without publishing a book? Contact the History Center via email at or call 847-391-5399.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Victory Gardens & Wartime Canning
Philip Mohr, curator

I’m keeping a community garden plot this year just to have some home-grown vegetables for me and mine. I remember helping my grandpa tend a vegetable garden on his acre in suburban St. Louis. He grew up on a farm in southeast Missouri, a little too young to be drafted into the service for World War II. His mother kept a vegetable garden just as a matter of fact on a farm. The concept of a victory garden was unnecessary for them. In the suburbs, however, it was different.

Victory gardens played a role in feeding the United States during World War II. While they did not fulfill every kitchen need, they supplemented many households enough to reduce the effects of wartime rationing. Growing fruit and vegetables was only one part of being thrifty in those years. In fact, all kinds of guides on how to run an efficient wartime household came out.

“Wartime Canning” helped gardeners can some of the food they grew in order to stretch their produce through the winter. This guide, and others like it, really do not offer unique information about canning, thrifty shopping, or stretching your food dollar. However, it was more necessary for most people to pay attention to these guidebooks under war rationing.

The guidebooks played numerous roles. One, they helped people survive well under rationing. Two, they served as a means for the food industry to be involved in the total war effort. Three, they advertised companies and associations that published and distributed them. For example, the American Meat Institute published “32 Tested Meat Recipes for Thrifty Meals” and “Meat Buying Guide for Thrifty Meals” in 1942. As representatives of meat and poultry growers, they tried to show people how they could continue to buy meat through lean financial years.

If you remember tending a victory garden and have a story to share with our community, please contact the History Center. 847-391-5399

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Memorial Day: Research on Korean War Dead
Philip Mohr, curator

The Korean War is known as “the Forgotten War” because not much documentation or historical significance has been attached to it. Unfortunately, the History Center archives are no exception. We have boxes of archives on the World Wars, Vietnam, and the recent wars in the Middle East. We have no such box on Des Plaines and the Korean War.

VFW Post 2992 is taking time this Memorial Day to honor the memory of five Des Plaines men who died in the Korean War. The service will be held on May 25th at 11:30am at the Lake Park Memorial Pavilion. The men’s information follows.

Richard Becker, Army, a veteran of WWII died in an accident near Nong-Dong on January 13, 1952
Robert Beth, Marines, killed in action near the Chosin Reservoir on December 2, 1950
Donald E. Engh, Marines, killed in action near the Western Outposts on October 27, 1952
Sam Harmon Wakefield, Air Force, killed during a training exercise in Utah in June 1951
William Zoellick, Army, died while a prisoner of war on February 27, 1951.

The VFW approached the History Center for information on these men. Two volunteers and I researched in our archives and online newspaper databases to put together a set of obituaries. A good place to start research on Korean War casualties is on We will continue to look into these five men.

Using the database above, we came upon records of three other men who enlisted in Des Plaines. We will continue researching these men to understand their Des Plaines connection. Here is what we have found so far.

Harley K. Herbster, Army, killed in action near the Chinju-Masan Corridor on August 18, 1950
·         Harley enlisted in Des Plaines. He was survived by his father, who lived in Chicago. No further information found as of yet.
James Anthony Hofius, Army, killed in action near Bloody Ridge on August 27, 1951
·         James grew up in Amherst, Wisconsin. His father died and was buried there. James moved to Des Plaines with his mother, Irene, and at least two siblings sometime between his high school graduation and his conscription at age 20 in August 1950. According to a Chicago Tribune obituary, James has two jobs before the draft: one at International harvester in Chicago, and another at Keefer Grocery store in Des Plaines. His remains were buried in Amhurst with his father’s.
Edmund W. Suhren, Army, killed in action on April 18, 1951
·         Edmund’s home address was in an unincorporated area north of Des Plaines that I hear was called Mudville. One member of the American Legion post thinks of Edmund as a Des Plaines person. However, that unincorporated area falls under the Mt. Prospect postal zone if we’re splitting hairs. Edmund’s remains were buried in the Memory Gardens Cemetery in Arlington Heights.

If you have original material that will enhance our knowledge of Des Plaines people involved in this war, please contact the History Center.  847-391-5399

Friday, May 1, 2015

Mother's Day / Memorial Day
Philip Mohr, curator

Many of you are familiar with the story of the Niland brothers, Sullivan brothers, or Borgstrom brothers. The movie Saving Private Ryan is a fictional story paying tribute to families with multiple members serving in World War II. It was not unusual to have more than one family member in the service. Around 410,000 died in the war out of nearly 18 million who served in the US military. Statistically, families that lost multiple or all service members were extremely rare.

James Radlein and his brothers Raymond, Kenneth, Robert, George, and Lawrence served in World War II. (Another brother, Al, enlisted in the 1930s and was discharged before the war.) Fortunately, none of the Radleins died in the war. Their friends and family only went through the arduous fear of losing someone. James gave many donations to the History Center, including his uniform, badges, and medals currently on display in the exhibit.

While researching for the exhibit, I considered the emotional toll of having six brothers fighting in the same war. Pat Haugeberg, James’ daughter, stopped in for an exhibit preview since she could not attend the opening reception. She said that her grandmother Bertha Radlein’s remembrances of World War I tempered her for the next war experience. I would have thought the other way around.

Bertha Radlein received this six-star service pin from the Blue Star Mother’s Club. This is featured in the current exhibit next to James’ uniform and a photo collage of the six Radlein brothers.

Memorial Day comes at the end of May each year and reminds us of the sacrifices made by men and women defending the United States. Des Plaines lost 34 men in WWII. These are their names.

Alfred H. Armborst
Henry A. Bade
James Bauman
Arnold E. Blume
Robert Ford Click
Irving T. Colburn
Richard Deithloff
Robert E. Edgren
William C. Elling
Robert Frankhauser
Frederick Gaulke
Allan E. Gernhardt
Albert Lyle Grewe
Raymond John Guettes
William Heize
James Hoffries
Herman Jordan
William C. Ladendorf
George Lecomte
Eugene Meyer
Roy W. Milkert
Dock G. Moore, Jr.
George Neilson
Norbert Perkins
Raymon Pinney
James H. Plew
Herbert E. Rothery
Raymond C. Schacht
Eugene Selleck
Frank Stella
Roy O. Tagtmeier
Frederick L. Talcott
Robert P. Ulhorn
Frank Ulrich

We compiled this list from various resources held at the History Center. If you have further information, please contact us.  847-391-5399

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Earth Day 2015
Philip Mohr, curator

Today is Earth Day! Enjoy this photograph of bicycles at Rand Park in 1963 (now Mystic Waters Family Aquatic Center). Here’s to an active community, a healthy mode of transportation, and a clean environment!

For more information on historic activities in Des Plaines contact the History Center via email at or call 847-391-5399.

Monday, April 6, 2015

POWs Keep in Touch
April 2015 Object of the Month
Philip Mohr, curator

In 2014, the History Center and the Des Plaines Public Library hosted a presentation by James Meierhoff about his archaeological survey of the Camp Pine site. This was a retention facility for German POWs. Space for POW camps was extremely limited in Allied Europe, so shipping them to the interior of the United States made a lot of sense.

Des Plaines Camp was constructed in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. It served as a base for the CCC operating in this area.

The first German POWs arrived in 1944. POWs were barred from working in war industry by the Geneva Convention of 1929. Men held in the Des Plaines camp and most others in the country worked in agriculture. Many friendships were forged in these circumstances. Recall that a large percentage of the Midwest population were recent immigrants from Germany, and many of the second or third generations still spoke German in family and social settings. The foundations were there for good relationships.

At least some of the POWs were sent to camps in France before release to their homes, many of them several years after the end of the war. Heinz Wollhaf wrote from France to Des Plaines farmer Arthur Shroeder in order to kindle a long distance friendship. You can see this note and others in the Camp Pine collection on Des Plaines Memory.

Former POW Rudolf Velte came Des Plaines on a trip in 1996. According to a June 5, 1996, Chicago Tribune article by Tracy Dell’Angela, he visited the camp site and Pesche’s, where he worked. He remembered how well people treated him in the Des Plaines area. The ordinary people of Germany and the United States were very similar, especially when you realize that many people in this area were only one or two generations removed from German ancestors.

After all POWs were removed, Camp Pine was used by local Girl Scouts for activities and retreats.

If you have more information on the CCC camp, the POW camp, or the Scout camp, please contact the History Center. 847-391-5399

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Des Plaines culture was not steeped in Irish heritage during its formative years. The History Center cannot point to any particular St. Patrick's celebration in this area. Below are two postcards sent to Frieda Stellman of what was then Orchard Place, Illinois. Orchard Place was located in what is now the extreme south of Des Plaines and O'Hare. That is why we have Orchard Place Elementary and why O'Hare's airport code is ORD.