Monthly Archives: November 2021

The Fox & Illinois Union: When Kendall County farmers bought their own railway

My last post on the Aurora, Elgin & Chicago interurban line that ran from Aurora to Yorkville only dealt with trolley service in northern Kendall County. And that was mostly passenger service with a bit of very light freight service that included hauling milk from farmers along the line to Aurora creameries and delivering fresh bread and other supplies from Aurora to Oswego and Yorkville.

But the wider farming area south of Yorkville during the late 1800s and early 1900s was suffering with no easy way to get their crops to market even more than were farmers in northern Kendall County. Not only were farmers in the county’s northern tier of townships served by the new interurban line, but they had had access to, first, the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy’s mainline railroad since 1853 and then the CB&Q’s Fox River Branch that paralleled the Fox River starting in 1870.

Farmers on the prairies south of Yorkville, with no such rail access, meant that in the era of dirt roads that wet weather turned into bottomless mud tracks, getting crops to market and supplies back to farmsteads was a serious economic problem. It was serious enough to lead farmers in that area to begin seriously considering somehow getting their own interurban line after the AE&C began service.

There were, of course, some interurban lines in that area, just not through the area. My father’s story illuminates how convenient interurban lines in the Illinois River Valley made travel in the first quarter of the 20th Century.

He emigrated to Illinois from Kansas about 1919 in an effort to leave drought, chinch bugs, and dust storms behind. Unfortunately, as the 1930s would prove, all three plagues followed close behind—but those hardships were still in the future then.

He had made the first leg of the journey with his best friend, Ross Mays to the Illinois River Valley from Madison, Kansas in a Model T Ford that turned out to be such a trial that he vowed never to own another Ford vehicle of any kind—a vow he kept for the rest of his life, by the way. He and Mays eventually wound up down in Ottawa, Ill., where, experienced as they both were working high on Kansas oil derricks, they found work painting the towering smokestacks at the city’s glass factories. After a year or so, it became a career in which my dad didn’t see much future. He did, however, manage to pick up a bunch of discarded, colorful marble seconds at the Peltier Glass Company, which I greatly enjoyed playing with as a kid, and which I still treasure as an adult.

His buddy Ross had had enough about the same time and took the Model T and headed back to Kansas. My dad, decided he wanted to leave his dead-end steeplejacking career and get back to farming. He’d heard some solid rumors that farmers were hiring up in Aurora. Not having a car of his own, he headed north on the interurban trolley.

The fact that all-weather mass transportation during the post-World War I era was convenient and dependable meant my father could get on a Chicago, Ottawa, & Peoria Railway interurban trolley car in Ottawa, travel to Joliet. There, it was a simple transfer to the Joliet, Plainfield & Aurora Railroad on which he could roll on up through Plainfield right into downtown Aurora.

The nation’s interurban trolley system was a marvel of its time, that time being the late 19th and early 20th centuries. At a time when roads were still far more hospitable to horses than to autos, the nation’s system of electric-powered interurban trolley lines offered relatively cheap and dependable transportation just as the nation was beginning one of its most vigorous spurts of growth ever.

As noted, the Joliet Plainfield & Aurora interurban line linked downtown Joliet with downtown Aurora via Plainfield (where the company built Electric Park along the DuPage River, an amusement park very similar to Montgomery’s Riverview Park). And as we saw in my last post, the Aurora, Yorkville & Morris line had also linked downtown Aurora with downtown Yorkville beginning in 1900.

But an interurban link south through that rich farming country south of Yorkville all the way to Morris had to wait a few years after Yorkville got its link to Aurora. In fact, it wasn’t until the fall of 1911 that contracts to build a line between Yorkville and Morris were awarded and construction began on the Fox & Illinois Union Railway, yet another of the myriad electric railways promoted by Illinois State Sen. Henry Evans.

The line was heavily promoted among the farmers living south of Yorkville as a way to get their crops to market no matter the weather, and a variety of necessary products they needed, from lumber to coal, shipped back to grain elevators along the. In that era of terrible roads, it was an attractive idea.

The line’s route was planned to head roughly straight south from Yorkville to downtown Morris. The promoters claimed the Fox & Illinois Union would be completed within 60 days of the award of contracts, but events, and Mother Nature, didn’t cooperate. The winter of 1911-12 was particularly severe, and construction crews got only 16 working days in before the weather halted work for the season.

Map courtesy of Dave Hanks…

By September of 1912, tracks extended only eight miles south of Yorkville and by that November, the tracks still hadn’t reached downtown Morris.

To lay track, the line’s contractors hired a group of Bulgarian laborers, generally said to be good workers. As the Kendall County Record reported in late July: “At the junction point of the new road and the Aurora [interurban] line [in Yorkville] is a good-sized warehouse, which has temporarily been made into a bunk house for the Bulgarians who lay the track.”

However slow it was, the farmers living between Yorkville and Morris were pleased that actual construction was taking place.

“The people living along the new railroad from Morris to Yorkville are a very happy crowd,” an area farmer wrote in a Sept. 18 letter to the editor of the Record. “For over 40 years we have had railroad talk but today we see the railroad steel laid along the line and hear the bell and roar of the iron horse.”

But clouds were appearing on the far, far horizon. Over in southern Europe’s Balkan states, perennial conflict between those contentious people and the Turkish Empire was coming to a boil. In October 1912, the First Balkan War broke out, pitting the Balkan League, consisting of Serbia, Greece, Montenegro and Bulgaria, against the once-powerful Ottoman Empire. Word of war electrified the world, and here in the Fox Valley the news made had an effect on the new electric line’s construction.

On Oct. 16, the Record reported: “Several of the Bulgarians working on the Yorkville-Morris railway drew their money from the postal savings at the Yorkville post office and started for their homeland where they will do their part in whipping the Turk.”

In fact, as it turned out, all the Bulgarians ended up drawing their pay and leaving. Many went home to fight their homeland’s enemy, but some were simply tired of the cold, wet conditions that were prevailing along the Fox & Illinois Union line during construction.

One of the Fox & Illinois Union’s two combination passenger and baggage interurban trolley cars immediately after it was completed by the Chicago firm of McGuire-Cummings in 1912. (Dave Hanks collection)

In the summer of 1912, with construction well underway, the company ordered rolling stock for the new line from the McGuire-Cummings Manufacturing Company of Chicago, including a single express car and two combination passenger-baggage interurban cars. The passenger-baggage cars, each 48 feet long, boasted accommodations for passengers in a 27-foot passenger compartment, plus the large baggage compartment. A separate smoking compartment was included in the design for the menfolk.

The freight-only express car was 36 feet long, and had no passenger seats. Instead, it had a large single center-mounted door on each side plus end doors to make loading and unloading freight easier.

The F&IU’s Box Motor Car 7 equipped with a snowplow before its conversion to non-electric gasoline power in 1931. (Dave Hanks collection)

The cars were painted brown with dark red roofs and yellow trim and lettering. Notably, all three of the cars were fitted with standard railroad knuckle couplers to allow them to haul railroad freight cars. That’s because while the Aurora to Yorkville AE&C line linking Yorkville with Aurora was mostly a passenger line that hauled occasional freight, the Yorkville to Morris line was designed from the outset to be mostly a freight line that also hauled passengers.

The new interurban line’s junction with the Aurora Elgin & Chicago (formerly the Aurora Yorkville & Morris) line in Yorkville was located along VanEmmon Road, where there was also a connection to the CB&Q’s Fox River Branch line. That meant freight and grain cars could be easily switched from the CB&Q line onto the Fox & Illinois Union, where the electric cars could easily handle them with their built-in railroad couplers. It also provided direct access by F&IU grain loads to the Yorkville grain elevator.

Passengers, as noted above, were also accommodated on the new line. The F&IU’s cars used a section of the AE&C’s tracks on VanEmmon Road to pick up passengers in downtown Yorkville.

At the Morris end of the line, the interurban tracks passed under the Rock Island Railroad right-of-way and connected to the Chicago Ottawa & Peoria Electric Railway at the Hotel Commercial in downtown Morris. On the north edge of Morris, the line featured a siding at the Quaker Oats Company plant for direct grain shipments. The connection to the Rock Island was also located at that point.

From VanEmmon Road in Yorkville, the line ran straight south, climbing out of the Fox River’s valley onto the level prairie just south of town. There, it ran due south along what would eventually become Ill. Route 47, and where alert observers can still see evidence of the right-of-way. Some of the buildings at the Lisbon Center elevator, where there was a F&IU siding, still show evidence of being part of the old interurban line’s grain and freight shipping infrastructure.

F&IU Combine Car 102 pulling a line of boxcars south from Yorkville to Morris. (Dave Hanks collection)

A power substation was located at Walker’s Crossing (Walker Road and Route 47), and there were sidings at Lisbon Center, Kentland, and Central in Kendall County to service the new grain elevators built there.

The line’s operational history, however, was a brief one, coming as it did just as the nation and Illinois were beginning to rely on trucks and cars and the tax-supported roads they drove on.

In 1918, during World War I, Illinois voters had approved a $60 million bond issue to build new hard-surfaced roads designed to “get Illinois out of the mud.” Construction began on the hard road system in the 1920s, with every county in the state guaranteed at least one hard road link. At the same time, motor vehicles were being vastly improved and were becoming more and more affordable.

The combination of better roads, supported by motor fuel taxes (the interurban lines’ tracks were all privately-owned and financed) and better vehicles doomed the nation’s interurban system.

The Fox & Illinois Union’s decline really began even before the big highway bond issue passed with Sen. Evans’ death in March 1917. The senator’s son, Arthur, who wasn’t interested in maintaining it, sold the line to a cooperative of Kendall and Grundy County farmers in 1924, and they continued its operations.

A further blow struck on Jan. 31, 1925, when the AE&C abandoned service between Aurora and Yorkville, effectively cutting off the Fox & Illinois Union from Chicago passenger access, although it still maintained its valuable link with the CB&Q.

And then in 1927, planning on a brand new highway to be called Route 47 proposed to link Dwight with the Wisconsin state line through Yorkville began. Actual construction work on the section of highway between Yorkville and Morris, paralleling the Fox & Illinois Union’s tracks began in 1928, with paving completed in 1929.

That meant Kendall County farmers south of Yorkville had an all-weather road to get their crops to market down at the Illinois River and all those other goods from seed and fertilizer to lumber trucked back north to local elevators. It was clear that more than ever the F&IU was running on borrowed time.

F&IU Box Motor Car 7 after its conversion to gasoline power at the car barn on VanEmmon Road near downtown Yorkville. (Dave Hanks collection)

In February of 1931, the Illinois Commerce Commission permitted the farmer cooperative-owned line to abandon its unprofitable passenger service and it changed into a strictly freight line servicing the grain elevators located between Morris and Yorkville. In addition, the line was authorized to remove the overhead electrical wires that had powered the cars. The line’s two electric-powered freight-passenger combine cars were abandoned, but the power right-of-way was sold to the Public Service Company—now Commonwealth Edison—at a nice profit. Box Motor Car 7, the line’s freight car, was modified by adding a gasoline engine to power it, continuing freight service.

And then on Oct. 15, 1938—more than a decade after the AE&C had ceased operations—the line’s farmer shareholders finally voted to close it down for good, and the line’s tracks were pulled up and sold.

The era of the interurban was a relatively brief one, at least in historical terms. But during their few decades of operation, they provided a vital all-weather transportation service that moved people and freight all over Kendall County.

In this era of concerns about the environment and the climate, it may be worth pondering whether the demise of regular trolley service may have come too soon.


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Filed under Business, Farming, History, Illinois History, Kendall County, Local History, People in History, Technology, Transportation

The rise and fall of the interurban trolley: Another innovation lost in time

Somebody was asking about the long-ago interurban trolley system a few days back and I thought to refer them to a post on this blog, only to find I’ve never really done a post on the basic topic.

I was sure I’d done at least one, but I was apparently confusing this blog with the “Reflections” column I’ve been writing since the summer of 1980—and the “Epochs” column I wrote for the three years prior to that. After all, you write that much stuff you tend to forget what went where and when—because I have indeed written a number of columns on the local interurban systems over the years. Because for a little over 20 years, the interurban system was, as President Joe likes to put it, a BFD.

By late September 1900 residents living in and around Oswego had some new sights to see and marvel at as they awaited the century’s turn at midnight on Dec. 31, 1900.

The window in my great-great-grandmother’s tiny bedroom looked out on the east bank of the Fox River. By that time, virtually all of the trees along the Fox River had been harvested and used for one purpose or another, so her view was clear all the way across the valley, letting her clearly see the area’s latest transportation marvel—the new interurban trolley line running from Aurora south through Oswego to Yorkville. As she  put it in a letter to her daughter out in Kansas: “When I can’t sleep at night I can watch the Street cars run out my window over across the river.”

The arrow marks my great-grandmother’s house on what was then Water Street, just north of downtown Oswego. By then the banks of the Fox River had been denuded of the thick timber the settlers found when they arrived. That gave her a clear view across the river from her small first-floor bedroom. That’s the old Parker Sawmill and Furniture Factory to the right. (Photo by Irvin Haines in the collections of the Little White School Museum)

A group of investors had proposed building an interurban trolley line from Aurora south through Montgomery and Oswego to Yorkville in 1897. An early proposal to build a third-rail electric line was quickly discarded in favor of using overhead electric lines. As proposed, the line would run mostly on public rights-of-way using light rails and electrically-powered trolley cars.

In August 1897 representatives of the new (and optimistically named) Aurora, Yorkville & Morris Electric Railroad met with the Kendall County Board to start hammering out a trolley franchise. As proposed, the line would begin in downtown Aurora, run south on River Street through Montgomery and along the Fox River through the new Riverview amusement park then under construction just south of Montgomery before gently curving west to join the West River Road—now Ill. Route 31—for the run to the Oswego Bridge across the Fox River. There, the line would turn east, cross the river on the bridge and climb the bluff to Oswego’s Main Street, where it would turn south once more following Main Street towards Yorkville along what is now Ill. Route 71. At the Cowdrey Cemetery, the line would turn once again to follow the tracks of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy’s Fox River Branch Line between the tracks and today’s VanEmmon Road into downtown Yorkville. This line was never extended to Morris, although another interurban line would link Yorkville and Morris more than a decade later.

Among the issues that had to be hammered out between the county and the company was who would pay for improvements the line required, such as either strengthening or rebuilding the Oswego Bridge. In addition, the company pledged “that in every way possible the company would guard against frightening horses” or otherwise interfering with traffic on the roads alongside which the trolleys would run. In the end, the trolley company agreed to pay $3,500 towards the cost of a new, stronger box truss iron bridge to replace the existing 1867 tied arch structure at Oswego—with Oswego Township to pick up the rest of the tab—and the other issues were ironed out as well.

Residents of the towns the trolley would serve were, in general, enthusiastic about this new, all-weather transportation option. As Kendall County Record Publisher John R. Marshall noted in a Dec. 13, 1899 commentary: “With only four reliable trains a day, it was hard for one to come here and be so late getting into Chicago as is necessary with the regular passenger train. With the electric accommodations, one can go to Aurora and take an early morning train to Chicago.”

Construction began in the spring of 1900 and by June 27, the tracks were completed from Aurora to the west end of the Oswego Bridge.

“Operation of the electric road from the bridge will be commenced this Tuesday afternoon by a free ride of the town and village officials to Aurora and back,” the Record’s Oswego correspondent wrote. “Yorkville will have to wait about three months longer before enjoying such privilege.”

Interurban trolley car approaches the west end of the Oswego Bridge about 1903 enroute from Aurora to Yorkville. The tracks crossed the new iron box truss Fox River on the Oswego Bridge and then turned south along Main Street. (Little White School Museum collection)

Regular service began in early July from Aurora to the Oswego Bridge terminus. Use immediately proved enthusiastic and frequent. As Marshall wrote on Aug. 1: “That the Aurora and Yorkville electric road will be a great convenience and daily comfort is shown by the way it is used now between Oswego and Aurora. Every day parties drive up from about here [Yorkville] to Oswego and take the car there for Aurora, saving 12 miles’ drive.”

Work continued feverishly the rest of the summer and into the fall of 1900 on the new, stronger Oswego Bridge and the trestle at the east end of the bridge designed to carry the electric line up Washington Street over the CB&Q tracks to Main Street.

By late December, the Oswego Bridge and trestle, along with the tracks were finished and regular trolley service had begun, linking downtown Aurora through Montgomery and Oswego with downtown Yorkville. The first car arrived at the Kendall County seat at 10:45 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 22, 1900 to enthusiastic applause.

Passenger-baggage Combine Car 106 cresting the300-foot Washington Street trestle in Oswego getting ready to make its southbound morning stop at Washington and Main Street to drop off fresh bread and other freight on its way to Yorkville. Combine 106 made the first round trip every morning to deliver and pick up freight–including farmers’ milk on the way to Aurora dairies–and a few passengers along the route. (Little White School Museum collection)

“There were two cars down—one with the Aurora guests, the other empty to return with a number of the distinguished populace of Kendall’s capital,” the Record reported on Dec. 26. Welcoming the new arrivals was Record publisher Marshall, who had welcomed the first railroad train into Yorkville 30 years before.

The interurban, providing hourly service from Yorkville from 7 a.m. until 11 p.m. every day at affordable rates, was part of a vast interurban rail network that, it was said, allowed passengers to travel via trolley all the way from the Mississippi River—with transfers—all the way to New York City.

In an era of terrible roads, the interurban was a godsend, carrying passengers and freight, including farmers’ milk, to and from Aurora. Everything from fresh bakery bread to high school and college students to office workers to shoppers rode the trolley to and from Aurora daily. In addition, the amusement parks financed by the trolley companies to encourage weekend ridership drew thousands. Riverview Park—later renamed Fox River Park to differentiate it from its much larger cousin in Chicago—featured a variety of amusement rides from a rollercoaster to a huge carousel to a “shoot-the-chutes” into the Fox River. Boating on the Fox, annual summer Chautauquas that drew nationally-known speakers, and even professional baseball attracted huge crowds.

Riverview (later Fox River) Park, from the roof of the pavilion on the island looking towards shore, with boaters and strollers enjoying a summer afternoon with the huge dance hall/auditorium in the background. Although this postcard is postmarked 1911, the name of the park was changed to Fox River Park about 1905. The park was located directly across the river from modern Boulder Hill. The Western Electric plant later occupied the site. (Little White School Museum collection)

But a little more than a decade later, the line, eventually renamed the Aurora, Elgin & Chicago after several reorganizations, and others throughout the nation found themselves under assault from the ever-growing numbers of internal combustion automobiles and trucks. As cars and trucks became more affordable and much more dependable, the public also insisted on more and better roads. In response, Illinois officials proposed a $60 million bond issue in 1918 to “get Illinois out of the mud” by building a network of paved roads that would link every county in the state.

The $60 million cost of the project was of considerable concern to residents here in Kendall County, always conservative when it came to making public expenditures. But as a Record editorial pointed out on Oct. 16, 1918, the bonded indebtedness was to be paid through gasoline taxes.

“The $60 million bond issue for good roads has frightened many by its name,” the Record pointed out. “They don’t realize that this amount of money is to be raised by the users of automobiles and comes out of their tax as machine owners. Not a cent will be added to the personal or real estate taxes of a person. The good roads will be built and maintained by the auto owner. Vote for the issue.

Despite the nation being involved in World War I, the Nov. 2 bond issue ended up passing easily. Kendall County voters overwhelmingly approved it, 1,532-90.

The construction crew pouring concrete on Route 18–later Ill. Route 31 and U.S. Route 34–at the west end of the Oswego Bridge (just visible at upper right) in 1923 takes a break to chat with some local folks. Route 18 was built as part of the $60 million state bond issue that led to the end of the interurban system. (Photo by Dwight Young in the collections of the Little White School Museum)

The interurbans, with their privately-owned rights-of-way, tracks, and cars, quickly found themselves unable to compete with the combination of increasingly inexpensive, dependable motor vehicles and publicly financed hard-surfaced roads. And so, in the 1920s, one by one, the interurban lines closed down.

On Aug. 6, 1924, the Record reported that “Through an order from the Illinois Commerce Commission, the interurban line from the [Fox River] park south of Montgomery to Yorkville will be discontinued.”

In the event, the line carried on until Feb. 1, finally succumbing to the advance of transportation technology and the nation’s willingness to subsidize roads but not rails.

Today, there are scant reminders of the trolley era, but there are still a few bits of evidence it existed. There are still one or two old concrete culvert remnants along Ill. Route 31 and if you look closely between the road and the railroad tracks the next time you drive VanEmmon Road into Yorkville, you will see some of the last evidence of the old trolley line.

Ironically, as we attempt to deal with climate change and the problems emissions from our internal combustion cars and trucks cause, the old interurban trolley system looks like another pretty good idea lost in time.

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Filed under Aurora, Business, Fox River, History, Illinois History, Kendall County, Local History, Oswego, People in History, Technology, Transportation, travel

One Canadian who came “home” to enlist in the war against the Kaiser

Although World War I broke out in the summer of 1914, the U.S. did not officially enter the conflict until 1917.

But that didn’t stop hundreds of Americans from volunteering to serve for Great Britain, France, and the other allies against Germany years before their own country entered the war. From ambulance and truck drivers to hospital workers, combat pilots, doctors and nurses those determined to do their part in what was seen as a fight for freedom crossed the border into Canada or somehow made their way to Europe to volunteer their services.

Such well-known American authors as John Dos Passos and poet E.E. Cummings served with the he American Volunteer Motor Ambulance Corps, while hundreds more served with the French Foreign Legion and the Lafayette Escadrille, the famed French fighter squadron staffed almost entirely by Americans.

Less well-known, however, was that after the U.S. finally entered the war in 1917, young men and women from other countries decided to fight for the United States. In fact, one such individual came back to Oswego from Saskatchewan, Canada, to volunteer his services to his native country.

Map of a portion of east Oswego Township, 1903, with the Rink, formerly the Updike, farm highlighted. (Little White School Museum collection)

Ryburn Updike was born on the family farm a few miles east of Oswego at the southeast corner of Wolf’s Crossing and Harvey roads on Nov. 6, 1897. His father, Abner Updike, was well-known in the Oswego community, serving as an officer of the neighborhood Harvey Threshing Ring as well as acting as the manager of the East Oswego Pirates community baseball team. In 1900, Abner Updike was one of the promoters who were successful in acquiring a post office for Wolf’s Crossing where the old road to Naperville crossed the Elgin, Joliet & Eastern Railway tracks. It was a substantial economic boost for the tiny farming hamlet around Wolf’s Crossing.

But Abner Updike wasn’t quite as successful as he seemed. That was an era when farming was a fulltime job, but Updike wasn’t a fulltime farmer. He worked at least part of the time in Aurora at Ryburn (apparently his son’s namesake), Wolf & Parker’s hardware store and also had a route hauling milk from Wolf’s Crossing area dairy farms to the Palace Car Creamery in Aurora.

In 1902, the Updikes announced they were moving into Oswego. Unbeknownst to the rest of the community, it turned out Abner had lost the family farm. Fortunately, he was able to sell it to his brother-in-law, Henry Rink, and so was able to avoid the stigma of bankruptcy.

In Oswego, Abner entered politics and was elected village president. He went into business with Lew Gaylord, establishing the Updike & Gaylord hardware and harness store. He also began seriously investing in real estate, his first venture being developing the old Loucks Farm into Oswego’s first true subdivision, the Park Addition, so named because it was supposed to feature a city park.

Ryburn Updike

He built a stately new house on Garfield Street in the new addition—which still stands, by the way—and expanded his real estate ventures to include encouraging local residents to invest in land in the western U.S. and Canada by hosting rail tour groups to those areas.

And then the Panic of 1907—one of the nation’s periodic financial depressions—hit, causing Updike’s financial house of cards to come crashing down, a crisis he handled by quietly leaving town and leaving his wife and family to deal with the aftereffects. Indirectly, the Panic of 1907 not only led to Abner Updike’s downfall, but it also eventually led to the formation of the Federal Reserve System, helped along by yet another former Oswego farm boy.

His wife, Elizabeth “Lizzie” Armour Updike, left in debt and with no other means of support, left Oswego and moved to Elgin, where at some point prior to 1910, Abner rejoined her. His occupation on the 1910 U.S. Census for Elgin was listed as a traveling salesman for a cigar company.

Eventually, however, Abner apparently left again, and his wife, no shrinking violet, packed up seven of her children—daughter Alice Updike Shoger and son Albert opted to stay in Oswego—in a car and headed north to Canada, where she settled them in the small prairie farming community of Lockwood, Saskatchewan, Canada. There, she went to work as the local telephone operator, and raised all the children—including son Ryburn—who had accompanied her.

From 1911 to the day he decided to go back to his old Oswego home to enlist in 1917, Ryburn lived in Lockwood, Saskatchewan. In late May 1918, he left home and headed south to Kendall County, crossing into the U.S. on June 5. On June 21, he enlisted in the U.S. Army in Yorkville and was sent to Jefferson Barracks at St. Louis, Missouri for training. From there, he was transferred to Fort McKinley in Maine for more training, and was later transferred south to Virginia, where he was assigned to the Coastal Artillery Command. In late August he was assigned to the coastal artillery’s newly organized 15th Battery, 12th Anti-Aircraft Sector (battalion).

15th Anti-Aircraft Battery, 12th Sector, American Expeditionary Force. Ryburn Updike is standing, second from left.

On Oct. 7, Ryburn’s battery boarded a ship and sailed for France, arriving at Brest about a week later.

He served in combat at Sedan and other areas of France until the end of the fighting on Nov. 1, 1918. On Jan. 10, 1919, he arrived back in the U.S. and was transferred to Camp Grant near Rockford here in Illinois where he was demobilized and given his honorable discharge.

When he left Canada, he apparently had thoughts about remaining in Illinois after the war. After all, he had several relatives as well as friends from the old days living in the Oswego area. But something—perhaps encountering some remaining bitterness in Oswego over his father’s sudden fall from grace—led him to reconsider. As he wrote home in a letter to his mother from Camp McKinley, Maine where he trained before leaving for France: “I don’t think so much of Illinois as I thought I would. The friendship isn’t as deep as it looks.”

So after his discharge, he left the Fox Valley and headed back north of the border to his family’s new home in Lockwood, Saskatchewan, where he met his wife, raised his own family, and became a successful farmer. Ryburn’s aunts, uncles, and cousins continued to live in the Fox Valley—and some of his cousins still do to this day.

Thanks to information provided by Ryburn’s son, Dale Updike, the Little White School Museum has been able to preserve the story of how this Oswego farm boy found himself in Canada, but decided to fight for his native country when the call went out for volunteers to oppose tyranny.

For the next two weeks, Ryburn Updike, along with a couple hundred other U.S. servicemen and women, will be honored on the Wall of Honor during the museum’s annual “Remembering Our Veterans” exhibit. So stop on by and help recognize their service during regular exhibit hours, Monday, Thursday and Friday, 1 to 5:30 p.m.; and Saturday and Sunday, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. from Nov. 11-28. The museum, located at 72 Polk Street here in Oswego, is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Admission is free, but donations are always gratefully accepted.

For more information on the museum, the “Remembering Our Veterans” exhibit, and other events, exhibits, and activities there, visit their web site at

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Filed under Business, History, Illinois History, Kendall County, Local History, Military History, Oswego, People in History

A time to honor the nation’s veterans…

The Little White School Museum, here in Oswego, is once again hosting their “Remembering Our Veterans” exhibit to honor those who’ve served during the nation’s wars. This year’s exhibit, curated by Bob Stekl, the museum’s former volunteer assistant director, will run from Nov. 11-28, plus a special members-only Oswego Chamber of Commerce preview on Wednesday morning, Nov. 10.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the event had to be canceled last year, but this year’s exhibit will once again fill the museum’s main room with uniforms, equipment, souvenirs, photographs, and documents related to the military service of Oswego area residents.

A special exhibit-with-the-exhibit each year is the commemoration of the community’s residents who were killed in action from the Civil War through the present day. I thought explaining who these young men were and how they died might be a good way to memorialize their service, with Veterans Day—and the exhibit—nearly here. So here’s the honor roll of our community’s residents who gave their full measure to defending our nation:

Civil War

Seventeen year-old Alfred X. Murdock enlisted in the late summer of 1862 when Oswego businessman William F. Fowler recruited what eventually became Company A, 127th Illinois Volunteer Infantry. The company was comprised mostly of Oswego men and boys.

Alfred X. Murdock

The 127th participated in some of the fiercest combat in the western theatre of operations, including the Battle of Arkansas Post and the Siege of Vicksburg. Murdock was on hand for the surrender of Vicksburg on July 4, 1863. On the day of the surrender, Murdock wrote his parents in Oswego:

“This is the greatest day of the year, and we had ought to celebrate it with new vigor and honor….This is the hardest blow that has been struck for the Rebels. With Vicksburg in our hands Port Hudson must surly fall and then the Miss. River will be open… I hope this war will soon end and we can go home—what is left of us.”

By the end of the battle, the entire 127th Infantry, originally nearly 1,000 strong, only had 50 men fit for duty, the others either dead or recovering from wounds or sickness.

As the sick and wounded gradually filtered back, the 127th continued more hard campaigning through Mississippi and Tennessee, including the Chattanooga-Ringgold Campaign and the relief of Gen. Burnside, who was besieged by Gen. James Longstreet at Knoxville, Tenn.

In May 1864, the 127th was assigned to Sherman’s effort to capture Atlanta, fighting in the battle of Resaca, May 8-13. As the Atlanta campaign ground on the 127th saw much more action, including the Battle of Atlanta on July 22. Then on July 28, at a place outside Atlanta called Ezra Church, Confederate John Bell Hood assaulted the far right of the Union line, a position held by the 127th. By that time, there were only eight soldiers out of the original 109 in Company A fit for duty and in the desperate fighting, two were killed—Alfred X. Murdock and William Pooley. Murdock was buried on the battlefield, but later his body was removed and taken to Oswego where he is buried in the Oswego Township Cemetery.

William Pooley and his brother, John, were recruited by Capt. William Fowler when he formed Company A, 127th Illinois Volunteer Infantry in and around Oswego in August 1863. The brothers had immigrated from England with their parents and their nine siblings in 1855, settling at Oswego where the brothers’ grandparents had settled in 1841.

William Pooley

The Pooley brothers’ father, William, was a blacksmith, a trade his son, William, also followed, John farmed. When the pair enlisted, William was 23 and John was just 18.

The 127th Illinois saw hard soldiering starting shortly after the regiment’s formation. After being sworn into Federal service in September 1862, the regiment was detailed as prisoner-of-war guards at Camp Douglas near Chicago before being sent south to fight.

John Pooley died in a military hospital at Memphis, Tennessee on March 16, 1863 after participating in action in Mississippi and Arkansas.

William soldiered on as the 127th marched and fought with Sherman’s Army of the Tennessee throughout the middle South, surviving battles at Jackson, Mississippi, Champion’s Mill, and the siege of Vicksburg.

After Vicksburg fell on July 4, 1863, Sherman turned his attention towards the Confederate stronghold at Atlanta. From May to November, Sherman’s Union Army fought dozens of actions ranging from skirmishes to full-blown battles.

At the Battle of Ezra Church south of Atlanta on July 28, Confederate General John Bell Hood attempted to outflank the Union Army. The 127th Illinois formed the right end of the Union line, and Hood’s attack nearly overwhelmed the few soldiers still fit for duty. The timely arrival of reinforcements, led to the 127th position by 15 year-old Oswegoan Robinson Barr Murphy, saved the Union line from disaster.

But during the battle, William Pooley was killed, along with his fellow Oswegoan, Alfred X. Murdock. For his efforts to save the Union line, Murphy was awarded the Medal of Honor, the only Kendall County resident ever to have earned the honor.

Johann Wilhelm Schoger was the first child born to Georg Michael Schoger, Jr. and his second wife, Eva Maria Brunner on April 15, 1841 in the village of Marktlustenau in the Crailsheim District, Kingdom of Wuerttemberg, Germany.  George Michael had 13 sons, 10 of whom were named Johann and all of whom therefore went by their middle names. 

William Shoger

The family farmed in and around Marktlustenau. In 1854, at age 13, Johann Wilhelm emigrated to the United States with two older brothers, John Frederick, 20, and John Andrew, 17, to Oswego, Illinois. They made the crossing together with three cousins as a scouting party to meet Brunner relatives living in the Oswego area. Once in Kendall County, they searched for likely places for their father to locate, and selected land on the border of Bristol and Oswego townships, just west of the village.

Their reports of good land to be had led to the arrival in 1856 of nine remaining members of the Georg Michael Schoger Jr. family. Upon arrival, most of the family Anglicized their names, with Johann Wilhelm Schoger becoming William Shoger.

After the Civil War broke out, William traveled to Joliet and on May 14, 1861 enlisted for a three-year hitch in Company K, 20th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment. At his enlistment, he was described as 5 feet, 9 inches tall with dark hair, blue eyes, and a fair complexion.

The 20th Illinois saw some of the fiercest combat of the war, including fights in Missouri, the campaigns to capture Forts Henry and Donelson in Mississippi, the Battle of Shiloh, and the grueling Vicksburg campaign. William was killed in action May 12, 1863 along with two of his friends at the Battle of Raymond as Gen. U.S. Grant tightened the noose around the fortress city of Vicksburg. Reported his friend, Andrew Brown in his 1894 history of Company K, “Comrades [Israel] Waters, Shoger and [David] Barrows were at my right [at the Battle of Raymond]. They were all shot through the head and, when killed, lay touching each other.” Brown helped bury the three near where they fell on the Raymond battlefield. Later, William’s family erected a monument to his memory in the Oswego Township Cemetery. In addition, they sponsored a stained glass window in his memory when the new German Evangelical Church–now the Church of the Good Shepherd United Methodist–was built in Oswego in 1896.

World War I

Pvt. Archie Lewis Lake served in the 97th Company, 6th Regiment, 2nd U.S. Marine Division. He was killed in action during the Aisne-Marne Offensive in France on July 19, 1918.

Archie Lake was born in Oswego on Aug. 5, 1893. His father, Archibald “Archie” Lake was a barber in Oswego, whose mother was a member of the prominent Fox family in Oswego. Throughout his childhood, as his father moved to find better business opportunities, Archie frequently visited his Oswego relatives. In addition, the family occasionally lived in Oswego. In 1905, the elder Archie Lake was serving as Oswego Township Clerk as well as working in the Figge Barbershop in town. The family moved to LaGrange in August 1907, and that’s where Archie Lake was living when he enlisted in the U.S. Army during World War I.

During the Aisne-Marne Offensive the U.S. 2nd Division, including the Marine Brigade, was attached to the French XX Corps to conduct a counterattack near Soissons about 75 miles northeast of Paris in mid-July 1918. The 6th Regiment was held in reserve when the initial assault waves went over the top on July 18. The next day, July 19, the 6th Marines advanced alone from Vierzy toward Tigny, but it was stopped short of the objective by intense artillery and machine gun fire. It was during this assault that 24 year-old Archie Lake was killed in action.

6th Marine casualties were estimated at 50–70%. First Lt. Clifton B. Cates (a future commandant of the Marine Corps) reported only about two dozen of more than 400 men survived and added “… There is no one on my left, and only a few on my right. I will hold.”

Regimental losses during the Aisne-Marne Offensive numbered 1,431; July 19, 1918 was the single costliest day of fighting in the history of the 6th Marine Regiment.

Pvt. Archie Lake was buried in the Oise-Aisne American Cemetery in Fere-en-Tardenois, France. After the war, a memorial marker was placed in the Oswego Township Cemetery by his family.

World War II

Frank Clauser was born in Oswego in 1912. He grew up in Oswego and attended Oswego High School, where he excelled in football. He joined the U.S. Army Air Corps in April 1942, and moved up through the ranks to staff sergeant.

Sgt. Frank Clauser

After basic and advanced training, Clauser was assigned to the newly activated 438th Bomb Squadron, part of the 319th Bomb Group. Clauser was trained, and when the 438th received its B-26 Marauder aircraft, he became an engineer-gunner. Designed and built by the Martin Aircraft Corporation, the B-26 was a medium bomber with a range of 1,100 miles and a top speed of 310 mph carrying a bomb load of 5,200 lbs. It was also armed with 11 .50 cal. machine guns.

The men of the 319th Bomb Group trained with their B-26’s as low-level raiders, and then flew their aircraft to England in September 1942 before flying on to North Africa to operate against Italian and German forces.

In February of 1943 the 438th was re-trained to bomb from medium levels and then went into action against Italian targets across the Mediterranean. On Aug. 22, 1943, the 438th was assigned to attack railroad marshaling yards at Salerno, just down the coast from Naples, Italy.

The B-26 Invader’s crew consisted of Lt. William Brown, pilot; co-pilot 2nd Lt. Richard Lobdell, navigator/bombardier 2nd Lt. Charles McVaughan; radio operator and waist gunner Staff Sgt. Alfred Conz,; tailgunner Staff Sgt. Sidney Gibbs, and engineer and turret gunner Staff Sgt. Frank Clauser. During the raid, Sgt. Clauser’s plane was attacked by several German fighters and shot down. According to an eyewitness account, the plane crashed into the Mediterranean and there were no survivors.

Sgt. Clauser’s name is inscribed on The Wall of the Missing in the North Africa American Cemetery in Tunisia, along with the names of 3,723 other missing U.S. servicemen.

Kay Ivan Fugate was born November 16, 1917 in North Dakota to Ivan and Sylvia (Shoger) Fugate. He grew up on the Fugates’ North Dakota farm, but maintained close ties to his relatives, the extended Shoger family living in and around Oswego. As a child, he traveled to Oswego frequently to visit, particularly with his grandmother, Mary (Stacy) Shoger, who continued to live in Oswego after her husband, William’s, death in 1912.

Kay Ivan Fugate

Fugate enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1940 at Aurora, Illinois, and was eventually stationed aboard the battleship USS Nevada.

Launched in 1914, the Nevada was a leap forward in battleship technology for the U.S. Navy. In fact, four of her new features would be included on almost every subsequent US battleship: triple gun turrets, oil in place of coal for fuel, and geared steam turbines for greater range and speed. Serving briefly during World War I protecting convoys to England, the Nevada was assigned to the Pacific Fleet and was based at Pearl Harbor.

When the Japanese attacked the Pearl Harbor fleet base on Dec. 7, 1941, the Nevada was the only U.S. battleship to get underway. Although she managed to get away from “Battleship Row,” the Nevada was hit by at least one torpedo and six bombs. Her crew beached her to keep her from sinking and blocking Pearl Harbor’s main ship channel. Seaman First Class Kay Fugate was one of 69 killed and 109 wounded in action aboard the Nevada during the Japanese attack.

The Kendall County Record reported from Oswego in their Jan. 28, 1942 edition that: “Mrs. Mary Shoger received a message telling of the death of her grandson, Kay Fugate, 24 years old, who was killed in action at Pearl Harbor. He enlisted two years ago in Aurora.”

Kay Fugate is buried in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Honolulu, Hawaii.

The Nevada was raised, repaired, and returned to fight to the end of World War II. She was sunk after the war in July 1946 as part of Operation Crossroads, the atomic bomb tests at Bikini Atoll in the Pacific.

Elwyn Holdiman was born on the farm his father was renting in Oswego Township on Jan. 22, 1920. He attended Squires School, a rural one-room school at the intersection of Douglas Road and U.S. Route 34 just east of Oswego, and also worked for various farmers around the Oswego area. On Jan. 21, 1942, the Kendall County Record’s “Oswego” news column reported that: ?Oswego men selected for induction from the local draft included Cecil E. Carlson, Paul T. Krug, John Lewis, Elwyn Holdiman, and Charles Sleezer.”

Elwyn Holdiman

After basic training, Pvt. Holdiman was assigned to the tank corps and was trained as a gunner on the M-4 Sherman Tank, the standard U.S. tank of World War II.

He was sent to Company C, in the 17th Tank Battalion, part of the brand new 7th Armored Division, activated at Camp Polk, Louisiana, under command of Gen. Lindsay Silvester on March 1, 1942. The division trained in Louisiana and Texas through early November 1942 and then underwent desert training in California. Then it was back east for more training at Ft. Benning, Georgia. Along the way, Pvt. Holdiman was promoted to Corporal Holdiman.

On June 6, 1944, the day the Allies waded ashore on the beaches at Normandy, Elwyn Holdiman and the rest of the men of the 7th Armored Division were embarking on the SS Queen Mary in New York harbor for a fast trip across the Atlantic to England. After final training in England, they boarded landing craft for Normandy, and landed on Omaha and Utah Beaches, Aug. 13-14. There, they were assigned to Gen. George S. Patton’s newly activated U.S. Third Army. The division drove through Nogent-le-Rotrou to take Chartres on Aug. 18, then on Verdun, and finally across the Moselle River.

In late September, the 7th Armored Division was tasked with supporting Operation Market Garden, the combined arms invasion of the Netherlands recounted in the movie, “A Bridge Too Far.” From Sept. 29 to Oct. 6, they fought in the Battle for Overloon and from Oct. 7-26 were in action around Griendtsveen and patrolling around Ell-Weert-Meijel-Deurne, before they were engaged in the Battle of the Canals starting Oct. 27.

In a tank battle on Oct. 29 against German armored forces a couple miles from Heusden west of the Asten/Meijel Road, Cpl. Holdiman’s Sherman tank was destroyed by enemy fire, killing him in action. His parents, Albert and Hazel Holdiman, were first notified that he was missing in action before they finally learned he had ben killed. The family erected a marker in the memory of his sacrifice in Lincoln Memorial Park.

Donald A. Johnson, was born in 1923. During his boyhood he lived in Oswego with his grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. John Van Ault, where he attended Oswego schools before moving to Aurora, where he finished his junior year of high school. The lanky 6-footer enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps on Sept. 2, 1941 in Chicago, exactly three months before Pearl Harbor.

Donald A. Johnson

Johnson was assigned as a crew chief aboard a C-87 Consolidated Liberator Express, a transport modification of the Consolidated B-24 Liberator bomber in the 77th Transport Squadron, 22nd Transportation Group. The 22nd Transportation Group flew cargo “over the hump” across the Himalaya Mountains from western India to eastern China in support of Chinese forces fighting Japanese invaders.

The C-87 was an ill-fated stop-gap aircraft designed to allow the U.S. Army Air Forces to fly cargo at high altitudes. On the bomber assembly lines, C-87’s were created by eliminating the B-24’s defensive machine gun armament, replacing the nose bombardier position with a hinged door, adding a cargo door to the side, and reinforcing the floor to handle up to 12,000 lbs. of cargo. The resulting changes in the aircraft’s balance made it difficult to fly. Other problems included a clumsy flight control layout, frequent engine problems, hydraulic leaks, and frequent electrical power losses in the cockpit during takeoffs and landings. The C-87 was withdrawn as soon as sufficient C-54 and C-46 cargo aircraft were available.

On August 9, 1943, Johnson’s C-87 was reported missing on a flight returning west from Yangkai, China to Jorhat, India.

On Aug. 25, 1943, the Kendall County Record reported in its “Oswego” news column: “Pfc. Donald A. Johnson, an Air Corps mechanic, is reported missing in action while on a flight from India to China [sic]. Donald is an Oswego boy, having been brought up by his grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. John VanAult, and attending the Oswego school and East Aurora high school.”

Nothing further was heard of the plane or its five-man crew, including pilot, Capt. Tom Perry, co-pilot, First Lt. John T. Tennison, navigator, Second Lt. John W. Funk, radio operator, Staff Sgt. Alvin J. Lenox, and Johnson, the plane’s crew chief. After the war, and as a service member declared missing in action, his name was inscribed on the “Tablets of the Missing” at Manila American Cemetery, Manila, Philippines.

On Oct. 3, 2008, independent crashed aircraft investigator Clayton Kuhles tracked down the crash site. He found the C-87 had crashed into a forested mountainside at an altitude of 8,018 feet. Kuhles said the wreck is located a four-day hike southeast of Donli, Arunachal Pradesh, India. Kuhles interviewed an elderly resident of Donli who said he reached the site five days after the 1943 crash–it was still smoldering–and buried the crew next to their crashed aircraft.

Stuart Amos Parkhurst was born Feb. 13, 1923 in Oswego to Clarence and Lillian (Shoger) Parkhurst. He was active in school and Presbyterian Church activities in Oswego. In November 1939, he was chosen by his high school classmates to represent the community as “Oswego Boy Mayor,” during the annual Aurora Christmas Parade. He graduated from Oswego High School in 1941.

Stuart Amos Parkhurst

He was drafted into the U.S. Army on January 21,1943 and was eventually assigned to headquarters company, 2nd Battalion, 345th Infantry Regiment, 87th “Golden Acorn” Infantry Division, where he rose to the rank of sergeant.

The regiment sailed for England aboard the Queen Elizabeth, leaving New York harbor at 6:30 a.m. on Oct. 17, 1944. On Oct. 22, the ship anchored in the Clyde River, Scotland and the 345th disembarked, traveling by train to their billet, a 20 square mile area of England’s Midlands in the villages of Biddulph, Stone, Leek, and Peover Hall.

The regiment enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner Nov. 23, but that night the 345th moved out by train to Southampton, then marching to the docks the morning of their arrival. Within two days they arrived at St. Saens near Rouen, France greeted by rain, cold, fog, and mud.

On the morning of Dec. 15, the 345th relieved the 346th Infantry’s 1st and 2nd battalions in the vicinity of Rimling, France on the German border. The regiment’s 1st and 3rd Battalions attacked German positions that afternoon and the next day, taking heavy enemy fire. Parkhurst’s 2nd Battalion was placed in regimental reserve.

On Sunday, Dec. 17, the 2nd Battalion relieved 3rd Battalion and advanced on a densely wooded area west of Medelsheim, Germany. The initial advance went well, despite the failure of promised tank support to appear. But then, shortly before noon, the battalion ran into German machine guns supported by two tanks. Tank and machine gun fire swept the entire battalion, including the unit’s headquarters. Maj. Anthony Airoldt, battalion executive officer and Capt. Clarence Patten, battalion intelligence officer, were seriously wounded. It’s probable the heavy fire sweeping the headquarters area seriously wounded Sgt. Parkhurst—exactly two months after he had left New York aboard the Queen Elizabeth. The day was forever after known as “Bloody Sunday” to the men of the 345th Infantry.

Sgt. Parkhurst died of his wounds two days later and his body was buried in the Limey Temporary Military Cemetery at Toul, France. In 1948, at the request of his family, his body was home to Illinois, where he was buried with full military honors at the Camp Butler National Cemetery near Springfield, on Aug. 11, 1948.

From the April 24, 1946 Kendall County Record:

Second Lt. Paul Ellsworth Zwoyer Jr., 22, of Oswego, a member of the crew of a B-29 Superfortress who has been listed as missing in action for more than a year, was killed when his bomber was shot down April 15, 1945 over Toyko, according to official word received from the War department by his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Paul E. Zwoyer Sr., of Oswego and his wife Mrs. Mary C. Zwoyer of Chicago.

Paul Ellsworth Zwoyer Jr.

Describing the action in which the Oswego flier lost his life, the War department letter to his wife says: “The records concerning your husband show he was a crew member of a B-29 Superfortress bomber which took off from Isley Field, Saipan, Marianas Islands, enroute to Tokyo, Japan.  The aircraft was on a night raid in which radio silence was maintained unless an emergency occurred.  No radio contact was made with the aircraft.  Two B-29 aircraft were seen to go down over the target as a result of accurate anti-aircraft fire and night fighter opposition.  One aircraft was seen to explode in midair just on the bomb run and the other was on fire and crashed after bombs away.  It is presumed that his aircraft was one of the two as no message was received from it.”

 Lt. Zwoyer, whose father is a war veteran and active in the American Legion in Kendall County, was born July 18, 1923. He graduated from Yorkville High School in 1941.  At the time of his enlistment in Company E of the 129th Infantry at Plattville, he was attending the Illinois Institute of Technology.

Missing Aircraft Report

B29 #42-65344, “Ball of Fire,” with Japanese Report information

Crash time: April 13, 1945

Crash position: Ajiki town Yaguchi Imba-gun, Chiba-pref (Now Ajiki Yaguchi, Sakaemachi, Imba-gun, Chiba-pref)

Affiliation: 879 bombing party, 499th Bomb Group, 73rd Bomb Wing, Air Force

Attack target: The Tokyo Army Factory

Cause of crash: Fighter

Nickname: Ball of Fire

Pilot RUBINSTEIN, Douglas H. first lieutenant

Copilot ZWOYER, Paul E. Jr., Second lieutenant

CROOK, Raw W., first lieutenant

WOLFE, Jack P. first lieutenant

HARTLEY, David B., first lieutenant

RYAN, John J., Second grade staff sergeant

McNAMARA, Alfred J. Second grade staff sergeant

GRAHAN, Arnold C., Technical staff sergeant

WALLACE, William T., Technical staff sergeant

TOOEY, Harold K., staff sergeant

NYATROM, George W., Second grade staff sergeant

A total of 327 B-29 bombers participated in the Friday, April 13, 1945 raid on the Tokyo Army Factory. Seven U.S. aircraft were shot down on the raid. “Ball of Fire” was attacked at about 11 p.m. over Matsudo—City, Chiba—prefecture by fighters of the 53rd Squadron, Japanese Army Air Force. “Ball of Fire” exploded in midair in an area over Ajiki town Yaguchi’s Tonegwa shore. Staff Sgt. Alfred McNamara was the only survivor. He was captured by Japanese military police and was sent to the Tokyo arm prison. He was reportedly killed in the firebombing raid of Tokyo by U.S. bombers on May 25, 1945.


Oswego resident E4 (Corporal) Hans Wolfgang “John” Brunner, a German national, was killed in action on March 29, 1968 at Pleiku, Vietnam by a grenade.

Hans Wolfgang “John” Brunner

Born Dec. 24, 1944 in Herford, West Germany, he immigrated to the U.S. with his family in 1957 and graduated from West Aurora High in 1963. He married Patricia Kifowit June 3, 1967 and the couple moved to Oswego.

Brunner was drafted into the U.S. Army, leaving for duty just 10 days after his marriage. He served with B Company, 3rd Battalion, 6th Artillery Regiment, First Field Force.

The South Vietnamese air base at Pleiku was under construction by U.S. military personnel when it was attacked by the Viet Cong on Feb. 6, 1965, which led to the commitment of U.S. ground forces to Vietnam. The 3rd Battalion, 6th Artillery was deployed to the Republic of Vietnam in 1966 as part of the initial U.S. build-up. The battalion, equipped with M108 Self-Propelled Howitzers, was based at Camp Saint Barbara (later called Artillery Hill) outside of Pleiku. Its task, along with other Army units assigned to Pleiku, was to support and protect the air base from Viet Cong attacks.

The Pleiku Air Base dispatched forward air controller missions, coordinated with South Vietnamese forces, and was a base for U.S.  special operations forces in the Central Highlands. Units from the Army, Navy, and Marines were stationed there with the Air Force, which operated and maintained the base.

E4 Brunner earned a posthumous Purple Heart, plus the Good Conduct Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal, the Vietnam Campaign ribbon, and the Marksman Badge with Rifle Bar.

PFC Fred Heriaud was Kendall County’s first Vietnam War casualty, dying in battle on November 17, 1965 during the fierce Battle of the Ia Drang Valley.

Fred Heriaud

PFC Heriaud was born December 4, 1943, and lived with his family on various farms in the Yorkville and Oswego areas. He graduated from Yorkville High School. When he was drafted into the U.S. Army, his family was living on a farm at the northeast corner of the current intersection of Orchard Road and U.S. Route 34 in Bristol Township, where his siblings attended Oswego schools. He was drafted into the U.S. Army and was sent to Vietnam, arriving on August 16, 1965.

Assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division, Airmobile, he was among the troops airlifted into Landing Zone X-Ray in the Ia Drang River Valley in mid-November 1965, where U.S. forces encountered an entire regiment and elements of two additional regiments of the regular People’s Army of North Vietnam.

The battle, one of the first using the new air mobile tactics developed by the U.S. Army, was commemorated in Lt. Gen. Howard G. Moore’s book, We Were Soldiers Once – And Young, the inspiration for the 2002 motion picture, “We Were Soldiers,” starring Mel Gibson.

PFC Heriaud was killed by mortar fire on the third day of intense fighting at Landing Zone X-Ray as he lay next to his buddy, Brian Ripley.

His body was recovered and sent back to the U.S. for burial. A funeral service was held December 4, 1965—he would have been 22 the day of his funeral—at the Church of the Good Shepherd United Methodist in downtown Oswego. Burial at the Oswego Township Cemetery, with full military honors provided by Oswego American Legion Post 675, followed the service.

Robert Charles Rogers grew up in Wheatland Township, and attended Oswego School District schools, graduating with the Oswego High School Class of 1966.

Robert C. Rogers

He was drafted April 10, 1968, and was assigned to the 11th Light Infantry Brigade in Vietnam on Sept. 9, 1968.

Beginning in early 1967, the brigade had trained extensively in jungle operations in preparation for its role in Vietnam. To stress realism in the Vietnam-oriented tactical training, the brigade conducted live-fire operations in the rugged terrain of the Koolau Mountains on the island of Oahu.

After arriving in Vietnam and prior to joining the Americal Division, intensive training was conducted for a month. In late January 1968, upon completion of this training, the 11th Infantry Brigade moved from Landing Zone Carentan to their permanent base camp at Landing Zone Bronco, near Duc Pho.

SP4 Rogers was killed in action by mortar fire on March 19, 1969 in Quang Ngai Province, Vietnam during Phase I of Operation Iron Mountain, one of 348 U.S. servicemen to die during that phase of the operation.

The Army described the goal of Iron Mountain as conducting “unilateral and combined operations with ARVN [Army of the Republic of Vietnam] and provincial forces to find, fix and destroy enemy main force and local force units” in the area for which the 11th Light Infantry Brigade was responsible, as well as to “interdict enemy supply and communication lines” while supporting the Government of Vietnam’s Pacification and Revolutionary Development Program.

SP4 Rogers’ body was recovered and returned to the U.S. where his funeral was held on Monday, March 31, 1969, at the Wheatland United Presbyterian “Scotch” Church in Wheatland Township. He is buried in the church cemetery, just a few miles from his boyhood home.

Two of the World War II killed in action, Frank Clauser and Elwyn Holdiman, turn out to have been cousins of mine, related through my maternal grandmother. And I went to grade and high school with one of the Vietnam casualties, Bobby Rogers, who lived just across the field from our farm out in Wheatland Township.

Which really tends to bring home the effect war has on what was at the time a small farming community.

As we observe this year’s Veterans Day and take in the “Remembering Our Veterans” exhibit at the Little White School Museum it will be an excellent time to again revisit General William T. Sherman’s warning about war made in a speech to Michigan Military Academy cadets in 1879. It ought to be engraved in the halls of Congress: “You don’t know the horrible aspects of war. I’ve been through two wars and I know. I’ve seen cities and homes in ashes. I’ve seen thousands of men lying on the ground, their dead faces looking up at the skies. I tell you, war is Hell!”

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