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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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062922frontardennelson.jpg

World War Two Veteran Arden Nelson To Turn 100

Issue Date: July 5, 2022

A song popular on country music stations these days cautions, "Don't blink...100 years goes faster than you think." Peshtigo native Arden "Arde" D. Nelson can testify personally to the truth of those words. Still healthy and alert, he will be looking back on a century of memories when he celebrates his 100th birthday on Saturday, July 2 in the family home at 329 Brown Ave., where he continues to live on his own, and care for himself.

Arde said if he was to give advice to anyone, it would be to "enjoy life when you can....Don't worry about what would have or could have been, but take more time being in the present and as active mentally and physically as possible."

When asked if he would do it all over again, Nelson confidently replied, "I would."

And he has done a lot, seen a lot, learned a lot.

With so much life experience, he is concerned about the politics of today. He says America is split right now, with the two parties focusing more on fighting each other than representing the people. He feels the elected officials of today care more about the party itself than about the people of the United States as a whole.

Arde has seen a lot in his lifetime, been a lot of places, done a lot of things. And he remains very active and involved in the world, spending three to four hours each day communicating with others on his HAM radio.

He was born July 2, 1922 in Peshtigo to Oscar and Olga (Anderson) Nelson, and grew up during the Great Depression. He lived on Peck Ave. with his parents and grandfather, Christ Nelson, who came here from Norway. He graduated from Peshtigo High School in 1940, and joined the Army Air Corps in August of 1942.

He and his wife, the former Elaine Nyquist of Marinette, had been married for 70 years when she passed away in March of 2015 in a Green Bay nursing home, where she had lived since developing dementia 10 years earlier. Together they had two sons: 75 year old Keith of Peshtigo and 64 year old Kevin of Appleton who works at Amcor as a Chemical Engineer, with the official title of Senior Research Fellow.

The family continues with eight grandchildren and eight great grandchildren.

Nelson's family has a long history in Peshtigo. His paternal grandmother, Agnes Anderson, was a survivor of the Peshtigo Fire of 1871, quite possibly the last living survivor. Her parents and older sister lived on Depot Street in Peshtigo at the time of the fire. They survived by getting safely to the Peshtigo River. Afterwards, they went back to Norway for two years, and then returned to Peshtigo. His maternal great-grandfather, Lars Hansen, and five or six others were instrumental in starting the Christ Lutheran Church in Peshtigo.

Arde's own house was the first built on Brown Ave. 72 years ago in 1950. Built by himself, his father, grandpa and father-in-law with plaster from Coleman. Arde mainly helped mix the mud for the blocks to be laid.

His father, Oscar Nelson, was born on a farm just outside of Peshtigo. He worked at Thompson's Boat Factory. Arde's mother, Olga Anderson, was born on the Anderson Farm. He regrets not asking how his parents met, but theorizes that Oscar met Olga on his way to work at the boat factory, since he passed her family's farm on his way to work every day.

When World War One started Arde's father, Oscar, went to the Philadelphia Navy Yard, where he worked until he was drafted in 1918. Oscar was stationed in Kansas as a Board Leader and quickly became a First Sergeant. He never fought overseas, but he met Major General Leonard Wood who he said "had more experience than General Pershing since politicians got Pershing into his position."

Oscar was employed seasonally at Thompson's Boat Factory in Peshtigo, and also worked elsewhere in Racine and Milwaukee. He even started his own boat factory in Shawano where the family, including young Arde, lived for a couple years until it burned down. Arde was five at the time.

Oscar then relocated his family to Courtland, New York, where they spent the next 10 years. The Nelsons came back to Peshtigo in time for Arde's sophomore year of high school. Throughout his high school career, Arde was in band, played tennis and was part of the boxing and football teams for a short period of time. During his junior and senior years of high school, Arde worked at the boat shop with his dad seasonally, earning 25 cents per hour.

The war had started a year before Arde graduated high school in 1940, but America did not get into it right away. He remembers the teachers telling students about current events including the sinking of a German battleship by Ajax in South America.

As a teenager in 1941 Arde hitchhiked to Marinette with his buddy Bob Steffen and then tried to get a ride home, with no luck. Only one car passed them as they walked all the way back to Peshtigo, arriving at nearly midnight.

He also hung out with Harold Fritz, John Stillman and John Behnke Jr. Once a summer they would take a day off to go golfing in the Upper Peninsula where it was free with their membership.

Later these school chums all worked together in the wax room at Badger Mills, where he was employed for 43 years before he retired in 1984.

Arde met his future wife, Elaine Nyquist, in 1941, when he was out in Marinette with Duncan Godshall in Duncan's dad's car. The boys went to the roller rink to pick her up and gave her a ride home. Arde said at that point, he knew he wanted to be with her, so he went back to the roller rink the next Thursday and the two started skating together. Soon enough, they went to the Crivitz Prom and then the Marinette Prom.

On Dec. 7, 1941, the day of the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor, Arde was shopping for a new car in Menominee. He didn't end up getting a car that day, but eventually bought a 1931 Chevy from a guy at the mill for $49. Arde said everyone knew that America would get pulled into the war, but they thought it would be by Germany, not by Japan.

While out at a fair a few months later, Arde saw an Army recruiter. Excited to serve his country, he voluntarily enlisted into the military. He said he had always marveled at the idea of flying and had built model planes since he was a child. Once he'd passed the entry exam, he joined the Army Air Corps. In August of 1942 in Antigo, Arde was sworn in, but he didn't get orders until March of 1943.

Arde had basic training from March to July of 1943 in San Antonio, Texas at the San Antonio Aviation Cadet Center (now Lackland). He went there with two guys who graduated with Elaine, Rolley Grill and Bud Boren. They both got commissions and Arde didn't. Boren was receiving schooling to be a doctor so he could have been exempt, but he chose to serve, Arde said. One of them flew a B-17 and the other flew a P-51. Unfortunately, both were killed.

Arde said when he was classified as a pilot, he went to pre-flight training, but felt he was at a disadvantage since he wasn't college educated. However, he was able to pick up Morse Code at a rate of 15 words per minute while some college students weren't, and they were eliminated. Arde comments that people who have a musical background, like himself, have an easier time learning Morse Code.

In Ballinger, TX, Arde learned to fly. He soloed in a PT-19 in seven hours. He had just gotten 13 total hours in when he did something the instructor didn't like, and he was eliminated. He says in retrospect that being eliminated "...probably saved my life." Pilots at that time would conduct 1,000 airplane raids with 10 people per B-24, which had an 8 to 15% casualty rate and led to the deaths of about 1,500 people in one raid only.

In order to decide what to do with Arde, he had to take the General Classification Test (GCT) and received a fantastic score, which allowed him to choose whatever he wanted. He went to school in Gulfport, Mississippi to become an Aviation Mechanic, and then suddenly the whole barracks was told they were going to ship out. They got everything together the next day and rode 30 miles to Keesler Field, MS and stayed there until the following March studying B-24 mechanics. They never did get sent overseas.

From there, Arde went to where the B-24's were being made in Willow Run, Mich., where they produced one B-24 every hour, 19,000 of them in all. Arde said this is more than any other type of airplane ever made and today only two of them are still flying.

He spent 20 months in Boise, Idaho working on B-24 engines. Arde said after their work was done, pilots would practice navigation and meeting up over the Pacific Ocean, sometimes with targets and gunners.

Throughout his years in the Army Air Corps, he and Elaine Nyquist remained sweethearts. One day in 1945, when he was home on leave, Arde and Elaine had a particularly hard time saying their goodbyes. She didn't want him to leave again as they had to wait a long time to call each other for the short three minutes they were allowed per phone call. The only other way to communicate was by postcards or letters that would arrive in Idaho from Wisconsin in three days.

When Arde asked, "Then why don't you come with me?" Elaine said yes, and bid her farewells to her parents. They both got on the 虠" passenger train headed back to Idaho, and were married the next Saturday - March 25, 1945 in the base chapel. They had a couple of good friends with a car, allowing them to travel together to places like Yellowstone and Sun Valley.

While in Idaho, he worked in Preventive Maintenance fixing engine number three. Every 25 hours they washed up the B-24's and changed two spark plugs. Every 50 hours they checked it again. At 100 hours they changed all the spark plugs (24 per engine) in all four engines. However, if one came back damaged, feather merchants (civilians on base) would take care of it.

He recounts once when he was bowling two Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPS) offered to give him a ride in a B-26 that pulled a toe target on a cable which a gunner would shoot at. He wanted the experience, but turned them down, because he was a married man.

When news of the Allies' victory in Europe (V-E Day) reached Arde in Idaho he was overjoyed, because his brother, Kurtis Nelson, had just gone overseas prior to the invasion. A week after D-Day he got wounded. For his service in the 1st Army, Kurtis got the Combat Infantry Badge, which he got paid for for life.

V-J Day came in August of 1945, but Arde wasn't discharged until March 1946. He was taking machinist classes at Boise State when he was discharged. Because the discharge interrupted his schooling, he never graduated from the machinist courses. He proudly ended his military career as a Corporal of the Army Air Corps and returned to Peshtigo. In total, he was in the Army Air Corps for parts of five years. The United States Air Force was created in 1947, after the end of the war. Their uniform was based on greyhound bus drivers, Nelson said.

Of the many names on the World War Two memorial plaque in the Peshtigo Riverside Cemetery, Nelson is able to recognize 18 as friends, co-workers, classmates or neighbors. Many of the other names were familiar, but he had never personally met any of them.

He went to work at Badger Mills after his service and was there for 43 years. He retired in 1984 and has now been retired for nearly 39 years.

Arde was part of the Civil Air Patrol and got most of his hours as as pilot there. His cousin from Racine, who was a commercial pilot, would come up and visit, and this is where Arde had the opportunity to fly a twin.

In 1984, the "Voyager," flown by Jeanna Yaeger and Dick Rutan non-stop around the world, premiered at EAA in Oshkosh before their historic trip. Nelson said he made sure to leave a handprint on the wing tips so his fingerprints could circumnavigate the world as well. Arde mentioned that he helped the designer, Bert Rutan, get another one of his airplanes out of the mud when it was stuck.

Around 37 years ago, after he had retired, Arde acquired a scanner to listen in on the Police Departments, Fire Departments and Emergency Rescue Squad updates. One day he heard the Good Morning Net at 8 a.m. coming from Sturgeon Bay. He was so interested that he looked into getting a HAM radio. He took the test to get his HAM radio license in the Marinette-Menominee area, and started talking to people all over the world.

When he made contact with someone, they would send him a card for confirmation and he would do the same. These cards usually had the name of their location and their unique call sign. Arde's call sign is KA9WAR. He usually spends three to four hours a day on his HAM radio, but said he doesn't send cards anymore since the Log Book of the World instantly confirms the connections he makes.

During the celebration of the sesquicentennial of the Peshtigo Fire, the Marinette and Menominee Amateur Radio Club had a booth just outside of the Peshtigo Elementary Learning Center where they received 900+ calls from over 64 countries.

He explained that the best time to listen to Asia is 6 a.m. while Europe is 7 a.m. From 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. on most days he talks to HAM operators in Door County.

Then he gets on with his daily business, caring for himself and the home he has lived in for so many, many years.


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