Outside of the Classroom: Remembering our fallen soldiers

by Julie Mecikalski

Author’s Note: Since Memorial Day is fast approaching— this coming Monday—I wanted to use this week’s column to recognize a few of our county residents from the past who died while fighting in a war. Although not the people I have chosen to write about died from battle wounds, each served his time in a way that was very important for all of us and how they died is not as important as why they were there. I do not have all of the answers about their military past, but I have done a lot research to find out as much as I could about each. I wish I could write about each veteran, but due to space, I chose five men—each from a different war—some may be familiar while others may be obscure. In any case, all—including those who are not mentioned in this column—were equal in that they were veterans who died while serving our country. May they never be forgotten.

William P. Harrison was the son of John and Isabell Harrison. He was born in 1839 in the Town of Summit, Juneau County. On the brink of the United States Civil War, Harrison did what a lot of men did in Juneau County. He volunteered to join a Juneau County Military Company— The Lemonweir Minutemen—and went to fight. Harrison, at this point was living in the Town of Lindina, was a private who fought under Major Rufus Dawes in the 6th Wisconsin Infantry Regiment, Company K, also known as the Iron Brigade. Harrison’s unit was sent east to Maryland. He fought in the Battle of Sharpsburg (also called “Antietam”) on September 17, 1862. On the day, Harrison took a bullet in the back. He was sent to a hospital in Boonesboro, MD, where he died three days later. It was noted in the Mauston Star that Harrison was buried in a Boonesboro cemetery. On the website Find a Grave, one entry has Harrison buried in the Antietam Cemetery, while another entry identifies him as buried in the Evergreen Cemetery in the Town of Lindina (there is a headstone marker there, too). At this time, it is uncertain where the remains of William P. Harrison are truly laid to rest.

John Tabor Kingston, Jr. was born in January 1860 in the Necedah, and was the son of John T. Kingston, Sr. and his wife, Hannah Dawes. The elder Kingston was one of the first
to settle in Juneau County in the 1830s and later became a three-time Wisconsin Senator, Assemblyman, Postmaster and President of Necedah, and Register of Deeds of Juneau County. Town of Kingston was named in his honor.

The younger Kingston was no slouch to politics. Unlike his Republican father, junior was a Democratic State Senator who represented the Ashland County area in the northern part of the state, and he was regarded as a “brilliant speaker”. Kingston was a graduate of the University of Wisconsin and later from the university law school in 1886. He was widely known as a prominent lawyer with a large practice in the Ashland area.

Widely known for his devout patriotism, at the age of 38, Kingston decided to leave everything behind—including his family and practice—joined the army as a private in the Second Infantry Regiment of Wisconsin volunteers, Company L, and was mustered into service in May 1898. Kingston and the other boys in his company were sent to the Puerto Rico campaign during the Spanish-American War in July 1898. Unlike Harrison, Kingston did not die while fighting. He was victim of different war death—typhoid fever. The disease became an epidemic during the entire war. Kingston was strickened with peritonitis before succumbing to typhoid fever.

Kingston passed away in a hospital wagon in Coamo, Puerto Rico, the day before his regiment moved on to Ponce located in the southern part of the island about 25 miles away from Coamo. It had been recorded that Kingston’s last words were “Boys, I am starving to death.” Unfortunately for him, Kingston was too weak and there was not much he could eat in spite that the other members were bringing him everything they could find for him. It was recorded that Kingston was “little more than a skeleton,” and it was believed that he starved to death. Similar to Harrison, there are documents that conflict on the exact location Kingston was buried. One newspaper cited the Ashland hero was buried on a promontory overlooking the Town of Coamo in Puerto Rico in September 1898, with funeral consisting of a regimental band, firing squad, and buglers. Kingston also has a plot and a headstone marker at the Bayview Cemetery in Necedah next his parents in a small fenced-in family lot. Again, at this time, it is uncertain where Kingston’s remains are truly buried.

Corporal Benjamin Franklin Jones was a farm laborer who lived and worked in the Town of Orange/Camp Douglas area. He was born in January 1890, in Richland Center, and he was the son of Oliver and Lillie Jones and was one of about 11 children. According to his draft registration card dated June 5, 1917, Jones was short with medium build. Jones was part of the 128th Infantry, Company D, and the 32nd Division. Jones’ company was sent to an area west of Juvigny in northeastern France to fight the Germans. This was Phase III of the Second Battle of the Marne—the Oise-Aisne Offensive. During the time of August 28 - September 2, 1918, The 32nd Division captured Juvigny— which was a tough fight— and caused a block for the Germans, and they had to withdraw before the River Aisne. the Germans were playing nasty as they were using cannons and mustard gas. The Division Historian referred to this battle as “five days of hell on earth.” The French referred to the 32nd Division American fighters as “Les Terribles” to praise them for their prowess during the previous difficult battles. However, Juvigny was considered to be the toughest.

Not able to find specific details of Jones’ last days, he was killed in action in France, presumably in the Juvigny battle. He perished on September 1, 1918, in France. He is buried in the Camp Douglas Cemetery.

Private First Class Kenneth A. Olson had a grammar school education, was a farm hand for various farms, and enlisted for World War II military service in March 1942. He was the son of Halvor (Henry) and Lizzie Olson, who resided in the Town of Fountain area (1940 census identified them living on “Old 94 Road”). Records indicated that Olson enlisted for military service with his record stating that he “enlisted for the duration of the war or other emergency, plus six months, subject ot the discretion of the President or otherwise according to the law.”

Little information has been found about Olson specifically, but it is known that he was part of the 121 Infantry Regiment. Olson fought in the Battle of Normandy, namely Operation Cobra. Olson had enlisted in the United States Army in March 1942. He was sent overseas in June 1944. Olson was part of the attacks around the Saint-Patrice-de-Claids region of Normandy.

In late July 1944, the 121st Infantry Regiment was faced with heavy opposition and was hit with mixed artillery and mortar fire. As a result, many troops were killed in action including Olson.

Brought back from France, Olson’s remains were laid to rest in the Trinity Lutheran Cemetery in the Town of Fountain. He was posthumously awarded that Combat Infantryman Badge for his actions on the day of his death.

An interesting note is that the military headstone placed in his honor erroneously listed him as part of the 83rd Infantry Division; however the 83rd was not part of the 121 Infantry Regiment. Olson was part of the 8th Infantry Division.

The final veteran in this article was not born or raised or buried in Juneau County. In fact, he was not even born in Wisconsin. However, it is important to include him since his name is associated with a major entity in this county. The veteran is First Lieutenant Jerome A. Volk and his association with Juneau County is that Volk Field Air National Guard is named after him.

Volk enlisted in the Air Force and served during the Korean War as a pilot. He was killed in action when his aircraft’s wing tanks fell off and the plane crashed during a mission against communist forces over North Korea in November 1951. His remains were never recovered. Volk has a memorial marker placed at the Volk Field-Camp Williams Memorial Cemetery in Camp Douglas. Since he was the first Wisconsin Air National Guard pilot who was killed in combat in the Korean War, the Wisconsin Legislature officially named the newly developed training field after this fallen veteran.

Lt. Volk is also memorialized in Honolulu at the Honolulu Memorial.

It is nice to know that Juneau County has had some amazing veterans and regardless of when they served, they should all be remembered and appreciated.