No Ordinary Joes

No Ordinary Joes by Larry Colton

Book Review by Maggie Elice Turner

History is getting older and older every day, and we must decide what deserves a place in the records books and what events can be skimmed over.  Americans of the “Greatest Generation” are aging along with history, and fading into it faster than we are able to count.  The importance of preserving their legacy and stories was not lost with Larry Colton and his book No Ordinary Joes.  Colton opens his book with a quote from President Kennedy regarding his pride for having been in the Navy; a sentiment also worn like a badge of honor by those in the submarine service.  Colton chronicled four men, Bob Palmer, Chuck Vervalin, Tim McCoy, and Gordy Cox who served aboard the USS Grenadier submarine during WWII.  Unlike other veteran narratives, he wanted to document a mini-biography of their pre and post war lives.  Colton does a good job of dividing the book into by giving each man a chapter related to the topic and then unifying the story again.  

Prior to the war, each man had been ordinary in terms of being a victim of the Depression Era, struggling to make ends meet, and seeking out a way to improve their home lives.  This motivated them all to join the Navy more so than patriotic duty.  Specifically, joining the Navy could provide them something domestic society couldn’t; a steady income and “three hots and a cot.” After successful completion of sub school, each of the men were assigned to different submarines before coming together on the USS Grenadier.  On the 6th war patrol, 23 April 1943, the sub was attacked by a Japanese aircraft with a torpedo sending them 300 feet to the ocean floor suffering with the bow pointed up at a 20 degree angle; a damaged propeller; a fire in the maneuvering room, water coming in the engine room and a smashed radio.  After 15 hours under water, the sub was able to surface and were eventually taken prisoners.

Many things in life can make a man extraordinary, but none more than becoming an American Hero after coming out of a POW camp alive.  The gruesome details of the torture at the hands of the Japanese bring the realities of war to life and one can’t help but feel their own anger towards the enemy.  Colton’s book continues up to 60 years after the war to a point readers see an ordinary picture of the men- ones that sill wear the badge of POW and Hero, but also an depiction of men facing domestic problems like every other ordinary man does partly from their upbringing and experience during the war.

The Cherry Harvest

The Cherry Harvest by Lucy Sanna

I enjoy reading historical fiction because I like to feel that I’m right there with the characters.  A friend recommended this book for me because it takes place in Wisconsin, as well as for my interest in WWII and most likely because of my fascination with the TV show Hogan’s Heroes.  So to read a book about German POWs in Wisconsin was something I would definitely try, and didn’t put it off and pushed it ahead of the books I had already started.  

What intrigues me about historical fiction is being so immersed in the story that I then want to go and find out more about the historical topic, which is what I was hoping for when I turned the first page of The Cherry Harvest.  I was rather disappointed.  

I don’t like to be too harsh of a critic because this was a nice story.  It just wasn’t the story I was looking for.  

There was a lot of sex in this book.  I wanted to read about the German POWs (or PWs as they referred to them in the book) and what it was like to have them in Wisconsin while America as still deep in the war with Nazi Germany.

Instead what I got was a story about a farm family who badly needed labor and with all the men in the area drafted into the war, including their son, they turned to the US Army to allow them the use of German PWs.  The community was not happy about this and afraid to have the Germans around dangerous, potentially deadly farm equipment.   That’s it.  I feel like the two Germans characters stay in the background and walk in and out of the book at certain times.  The setting of the Germans is central to the plot, but it doesn’t go into detail about them and their experiences specifically.  The family’s teenage daughter is tutored by one of the prisoners who proves to be intelligent and well spoken in English.  Immediately, you expect the daughter Katie to fall in love with him.  She doesn’t.  It’s the mother who does even though she resisted feelings for him because her son was risking his life fighting the Germans.  The mother, Charlotte, is not a likable character, and she ends up being the downfall of the family as a whole.

The story focused mostly about Katie falling in love with a Senator’s son who is profiting from the war and her desire to leave rural northern Wisconsin to go to college in Madison and study literature like her father attempted to do.  So the Cherry Harvest was more of a coming of age love story.  It was a good story if I were looking for a romance novel, but I wasn’t.    

I looked up another review of this book and found that the author used this non-fiction book called Stalag Wisconsin so I have already begun reading this book and the first 50 pages are already giving me what I am looking for.  

Here is the link to an article about the factual information about German Prisoners of War in Wisconsin and mentions the Stalag Wisconsin book as well.


Revolutionary War Soldier in Wisconsin

I love to travel, but there’s no feeling better than coming home.  You know where everything is; no getting lost; a greater sense of pride.  Of all the places I’ve traveled to, I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else but Milwaukee.  

Oddly enough, I didn’t know much about the history of my hometown until I took an elective course in college.  It wasn’t taught in my high school at all.  My professor had us reading selections out of several different books. (As a side note, this class changed the direction of my college career.  I finished my paralegal degree, but knew that I belonged in the realm of History and went on to pursue that)  It gave me the idea that I wanted to write my own textbook on the history of Wisconsin and introduce it into the school system as part of the mandatory curriculum.  

It’s a rather ambitious task that I always think about but don’t really act on.  

A view of downtown Milwaukee looking Northwest.
A view of downtown Milwaukee looking Northwest.

It’s no secret that I want noted local historian John Gurda’s job.  As the result of a charity auction, I was able to have lunch with him and a guest of my choice at Karl Ratzsch’s restaurant.  Gurda has written so many books on the history of Milwaukee.  I even have one autographed from when he was assisting former Mayor Frank P. Zeidler at a book signing.  I think he beat me to the idea of a textbook.  He probably wouldn’t refer to it that way, but the way his book The Making of Milwaukee set up, it reminds me of what I would picture being assigned in school. 

So since my book will probably never be published (let alone written), I’d like to tell you little tid-bits about my favorite local items here and on Milwaukee Mondays.  

This falls into the category of little known facts.

During the Revolutionary War era, Wisconsin was part of the Michigan territory.  We weren’t part of the major 13 colonies, but still owned by the British as the French Territory began beyond the Mississippi River.  British troops were sent our way in order to try and make friends and allies with the natives and fir traders.  No battles took place in Wisconsin. 

Yet we have, buried here, a Revolutionary War Soldier by the name of Nathan Hatch who was drummer boy that had three separate tours of duty for the Massachusetts regiment.  After the war, he married and moved west to Wisconsin where he purchased some land near Capital Drive.  He died at the age of 90, and he is buried in Oak Hills Cemetery in Brookfield.  The original stone is said to still be there with a flag pole next to his grave.  


All information was obtained through college lecture and historical markers and not any written source of which I can site.  

Star Spangled Banner

This is my first official “Military Monday” post after the most reorganization and redesign of my blog.

This week it concerns the War of 1812 in America.

July 4th is coming up this week.  Independence Day.  It’s one of my favorite holidays, not just because of the numerous fireworks and red white and blue, but because it’s the best flag waving day of the year.  I’ve always been a very patriotic person and, in my opinion, most historians are.

This year the Star Spangled Banner turned 200 years old.  THE flag which is the Star Spangled Banner was sewn to a massive size of 30 by 42 feet in 1814 by Mary Pickersgill at her home in Baltimore, Maryland.  It was commissioned by General George Armistead the year before.  According to Smithsonian magazine, she was paid $405.90 for the flag.  The house in which she operated her flag business is now a museum.

The first time I saw the Star Spangled Banner I was unsure of what I was looking at.  It was my first in-depth visit to Washington DC in 2005.  I was at the Smithsonian Museum of American History, specifically to see Kermit the Frog when I saw the exhibit for the flag.  That’s what I thought it was initially.  A flag exhibit.  Then I read on the plaque on the wall that I was about to enter a (darkened) room that contained the actual flag that was raised over Ft. McHenry after a long night’s battle between the British and the Americans.  The very one that Francis Scott Key eyed from an 8 mile distance (Key, a lawyer, was detained on a British ship during the battle) as he began to develop  a poem that would become our National Anthem.

Being in the presence of this flag  was an event that actually made me gasp and cover my mouth in awe… much like you see on TV for dramatic effect. This unconscious reaction was very much real, as well as the tears that flowed from my eyes once they gazed upon the flag.  I was so moved and deeply touched by this historical artifact.  I was glad the room was dark because I couldn’t stop crying for a while.

I like U.S. history because I am so close to where it happened that I can go and see places for real, and not just read about them in books and watch documentaries about them.  So the following year in 2006, when I returned again to Washington DC, I also planned a trip to Baltimore to visit Ft. McHenry and the Flag House in order to complete my tour of Star Spangled Flag history.  Here is a photograph of me standing in front of the display at the flag house museum.  This representation on the outside of the building shows how big the flag was.  I’m a short 4’10” standing next to it.  I’m 2 stripes tall !!

Flag House

Of special note on the features of this particular version of the flag, it is the only one that has a red stripe below the blue field of stars as well as 15 stars and 15 stripes.  200 years later, the flag is terribly threadbare, but that doesn’t account for missing star on the blue field.  One of the stars was intentionally cut out sometime after the war and presented to General Armistead’s family.  Where it is now, is still a mystery.  History says that it may have been presented to Abraham Lincoln at some point.  The “V” that was attached to the flag, post Mary Pickersgill’s stitching of the original flag is also homage to the success of the defense of Ft. McHenry that night.

The flag was still flying in celebration of the nation’s 100th birthday in 1876 in Philadelphia.  It became weak, however, and had to have a special backing attached to it in 1914.  Since then, after it’s donation to the Smithsonian, almost 2 million stitches have been added to hold it together.  Up until the Autumn of 2006 when the Smithsonian Museum of American History closed for renovation, the flag was still hanging.  Now it is in a temperature and light controlled room on a special tilted platform.  No photography is allowed of this National Treasure.  However, within the museum’s other exhibits, there is a tiny picture frame holding 3 pieces of the dyed wool from the flag.  Touching that frame (carefully so security doesn’t see you) is the closest I’ll ever get to it.

The Star Spangled Banner is an automatic “must see” when ever I’m in DC.  And yes, I still cry when I see it.Flag Scraps


Ragged Old Flag


I was feeling rather patriotic today and decided to spin my playlist of that genre to take me through at least 2 hours of work up to lunch time. This included all 66 tracks of Fife and Drum songs on Frederick Fennell’s “The Spirit of ’76/Ruffles and Flourishes” cd. (The cd also has bugle calls, drum solos, marches everything you’d expect to see in a parade or when Union soldiers come marching over the hill) At one point my co-worker turned around and asked when exactly the Calvary was going to show up. I took the hint to turn the volume down a notch.

All the songs are truly fantastic and could easily keep me posting lyrics after lyrics for the entire set (see scroll box below for my Patriotic mix list), but I chose to share “The Ragged Old Flag” by Johnny Cash for the reason that it sounded very much like a poem and because the story takes you through the early history of America.

I walked through a county courthouse square
On a park bench, an old man was sittin’ there.
I said, “Your old court house is kinda run down,
He said, “Naw, it’ll do for our little town”.
I said, “Your old flag pole is leaned a little bit,
And that’s a ragged old flag you got hangin’ on it”.
He said, “Have a seat”, and I sat down,
“Is this the first time you’ve been to our little town”
I said, “I think it is”
He said “I don’t like to brag, but we’re kinda proud of
That Ragged Old Flag
“You see, we got a little hole in that flag there,
When Washington took it across the Delaware.
And It got powder burned the night Francis Scott Key sat watching it,
Writing “Say Can You See”
It got a rip in New Orleans, with Packingham & Jackson
Tugging at it’s seams.
And It almost fell at the Alamo
Beside the Texas flag,
But she waved on though.
She got cut with a sword at Chancellorsville,
And she got cut again at Shiloh Hill.
There was Robert E. Lee and Beauregard and Bragg,
And the south wind blew hard on
That Ragged Old Flag

“On Flanders Field in World War I,
She got a big hole from a Bertha Gun,
She turned blood red in World War II
She hung limp, and low, a time or two,
She was in Korea, Vietnam, She went where she was sent
By her Uncle Sam.
She waved from our ships upon the briny foam
And now they’ve about quit wavin’ back here at home
In her own good land here She’s been abused,
She’s been burned, dishonored, denied an’ refused,
And the government for which she stands
Has been scandalized throughout out the land.
And she’s getting thread bare, and she’s wearin’ thin,
But she’s in good shape, for the shape she’s in.
Cause she’s been through the fire before
And I believe she can take a whole lot more.

“So we raise her up every morning
And we bring her down slow every night,
We don’t let her touch the ground,
And we fold her up right.
On second thought
I *do* like to brag
Cause I’m mighty proud of
That Ragged Old Flag”

Patriotic America- Through the Years- Maggie’s Compilation

I tried my best to put them in chronological order

“Star Spangled Banner” by Ricochet
“Johnny Freedom” by Johnny Horton
“George Washington” by Oscar Brand from the CD Presidential Campaign Songs
“Presidents’ Birthday” by Heywood Banks (awesome song and now I know all the Presidents in order by first name!)
“Ruffles and Flourishes” Instrumental from the Alan Menken Lincoln Soundtrack
“Thomas Jefferson” by Oscar Brand
“Hail to the Chief”
“Millard Fillmore” by Oscar Brand
“Battle of New Orleans” by Johnny Horton
“Martin Van Buren” by Oscar Brand
“Recruiting Bugle” Instrumental from the Alan Menken Lincoln Soundtrack
“The Girl I Left Behind Me” Instrumental from the Alan Menken Lincoln Soundtrack
“Lookout Mountain” by Brother Phelps
“Gettysburg Address” spoken word from the Alan Menken Lincoln Soundtrack
“Johnny Reb” by Johnny Horton
“Goodbye Reb” by Grandpa Jones
“Good Old Rebel” by Hans Olson on The Wild West soundtrack by John McEuen
“Billy Yank & Johnny Reb” by Grandpa Jones
“Are You From Dixie?” by Grandpa Jones
“Rally Round the Flag”
“Where the Stars & Stripes & Eagles Fly” by Aaron Tippin
“Over There” by Jimmy Cagney from the Yankee Doodle Dandy Soundtrack
“Sink the Bismarck” by Johnny Horton
“How About a Cheer for the Navy” by All Soldier Chorus from the movie This is the Army
“Remember Pearl Harbor” from the Soundtrack Remember Pearl Harbor, Classic Songs of WWII
“Der Fuehrer’s Face” from the Soundtrack Remember Pearl Harbor, Classic Songs of WWII
“Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition” by Ivan Dixon
“Washington Post March”
“Waking Up in the USA” by Dale McBride
“American Eagles/With My Head Up In the Sky” by All Soldier Chorus from the movie This is the Army
“Point of Light” by Randy Travis
“Ragged Old Flag” by Johnny Cash
“Are You Proud of America?” by
“Taps” spoken story by John Wayne
“Song of the Presidents” by Oscar Brand
Images of the rare cds

V. A. P.

V.A.P     (Volunteerism Always Pays)

I can’t take credit for the title as, long ago, it was a program Wal*Mart offered.  If you were to put in 40 hours at a qualified 501(c)(3) corporation, Wal*Mart would present them a check for $200.   I had used it twice beginning in 2003 and 2004 for the Milwaukee County Historical Society when I staffed the reception desk and pay desk at the craft fair as well as once for the Milwaukee Public Museum when I was a docent in the Pioneer House (now closed due to lack of fire code renovations).

My desire to volunteer started in my childhood years.  I wasn’t the kind to sell lemonade or help out at garage sales.  Although we did organize a quick car wash one time so that we could get some money for the soda machine at the Laundromat.  Maybe I was in 4th or 5th grade at the time.  The Greenfield Library had a summer reading program for young children.  They were looking for kids to help run special events.  I rode my bike up to the library, so proud, because first I was going alone…. I knew the way (straight out my back patio and upForest Home Avenue), and I was going to be in the library when it was closed; before anyone else was coming in.  How exciting and special.  My job was to count the number of people that came in for the event.  I was given some type of clicker thing and then I had to hand out coloring book pages to the kids when they were all seated. 

When I interned at the White House we were to complete two voluteer outings.  I chose to help out at a food kitchen for the homeless.  I loved it becaue I had food service expeience as a prep cook so I was really useful to them.  It made me feel good to be a favorite temporary employee to the regular workers.  To get into the story of how I lost my watch in a pot of raw fish is too long to get into now.  The 2nd job I took was to help the local USO chapter stuff care packages for the soldiers.  We had huge assembly lines and each person had one item to put into a pouch.  Ours was bathroom items.  I want to do more with the USO, but in Milwaukee they don’t have extensive weekend hours except for special events. 

I love to volunteer and hopefully for all the right reasons.  I do like to help people, and that feels good.  However, I also approach volunteering from another perspective.  It’s a chance to try a job that you might not be very good at, but want to do, thus you couldn’t make a living at it.  I want to make a difference (a little recognition is nice) and see the results.

Now that I’m a college graduate, but not looking to change careers just yet, I figured the best way to put my degree to work would be to find some type of vocation in my chosen field.  History is a hard field to break into unless you also have the credentials to teach or run a museum.  The importance of networking was always compelled by college instructors, as without it, we were never going to get anywhere.  So I began to ask around City Hall if anyone knew of any place looking for help. I wasn’t getting a response…. Not even from the Office of Historic Preservation.  I really really wanted the position offered at the Milwaukee Public Library. They needed volunteers for archiving newspaper clippings.  I KNOW it was a job that I could do, but they wouldn’t let me help because “it would take years and years of working before you could work alone the weekends”.  Not even with the good word from the City Archivist could I get it.   I won’t give up hope though. 

I started searching online to find volunteer opportunities.  It is also a tiring process because sometimes the list is so large that it is almost impossible to figure out where you want to go and what you will do when you get there. WashingtonCountyhad a nice set up where you could select your interests.  It just happened that everything I wanted to do was an hour drive north west.  I picked out a few jobs: Sewer (storm drain) stenciling, Building the Ice Age Trail, farm work.  Anyone who has spent any length of time with me has at some time heard me go on and on about how I’ve always wanted to be a farmer and how much I love cows and animals so I really hoped that this would work out for me, but I didn’t want to limit myself. 

I have the gear to stencil the environmental messages on the storm drains, but haven’t yet begun that project.  I don’t think it is organized very well.  They didn’t really give me a set location to go to, and I’m afraid that I’ll get arrested for graffiti or hit by a car.  Besides that the weather is getting too cold for it.  I need a partner for this one.

I have one last opportunity this year to help construct a new vein of the Ice Age trail.  I didn’t help last time because I had a bridal shower to go to. Here we would do a lot of brush clearing, etc to carve out a path. 

Next I went to look around one farm called Blue Lotus.  To call it a farm is an abstract use of the term.  Unless because it had a barn it qualifies, but it didn’t provide a home to any animals nor did they grow anything.  It was more of a nature retreat place for the cognitively challenged, at risk youth, seniors, etc.  The volunteers provide a service similar to land custodian to be there in case any guest needed assistance to make sure everything was running smoothly.  It had a nice man made lake, a nature trail, an in ground pool, recreation center and of course the barn.  The barn was really neat, but then I’m a push over for any kind of barn.  It was actually partitioned off into 3 sections.  I decided that this just wasn’t the place for me to work.  I’m not always good with people, which is why I wanted to be with the animals and plants. 

The second farm is where I ended up and the reason why now I call myself a weekend farmer.  This is an organic farm called Wellspring and is run solely by 2 women- one in her late 50s and the other my age- and any volunteers they can get.  I was really really nervous because of my lack of experience. I stressed that I grew up in an apartment and had never even mowed grass before, but they didn’t care.   Libby, the lady my age was super nice and made me feel comfortable.  It’s my nature not to be very open or to simply shrink and shy away from participating in many things.  Maybe I’m growing up or something, but I just kept talking almost non stop.  I wonder if that was the secret that I was missing all these years.  Besides talking I did do a lot of working.


My very first day on the farm I was to start clearing the growth of brush and weeds from under the apple trees.  I had a quick introduction to how to use the grim reaper type scythe  and then I was left alone to do it.  It was really hot that first day.  The leaves on the trees didn’t do much to shade me from the noon sun.  I’m not a celestial worshiper and hate being outside in the heat, but I didn’t let it deter me.  I tried to turn it into a positive and told myself it was healthy for me to get Vitamin D from the sun and to be sweating was to lose weight.  I stopped a few times to cool down when I was feeling queasy (and to take these pictures).  In about an hour’s time I had one side of the orchard cleared out.  They weren’t expecting me to do so much.  What is nice is that they do provide a variety of things to do.  Next I helped Libby pick up apples that had fallen from the trees on a different side of the farm.  It was shadier and slow paced, offering more time for conversation as we sorted the rotten apples into a separate bucket from the good ones. 

I decided to ask Libby the one thing that I had always wondered- does she find people like me crazy who want to do this kind of work for free?  I don’t recall getting a concrete yes or no answer from her, but she did indicate that she thought everyone should have the opportunity to spend time, if not on a farm, then in nature because it was good for the soul.  Some people preferred to help the beauty of nature (that’s me) while others simply use it for pleasure.  Then we talked about how she had told her family that she wanted to become a career volunteer.  I got the feeling she wasn’t making more than minimum wage on the farm from the owner. So halfway though this story I can tell you that I’m not crazy for wanting to volunteer my time.

We took the over ripe apples to the chicken coop, and that’s where I got acquainted with Floppy.  Floppy is a chicken who is lucky enough to have the only name in the flock and whose crown no longer stands up.  I held Floppy for a while before going back to work, and thankfully she didn’t squirm away nor peck my face as she kept getting closer and closer.  The reflection in my sunglasses must have intrigued her.

Next we took some pruning sheers and loppers to the back end of the farm.  A natural path needed to be cut back and cleared some so that it could be used this fall for a Hayride during the harvest fest.  It wasn’t too strenuous as we were just cutting branches to make sure they wouldn’t whack any guest in the face that was riding on the wagon.


My first 4 hours went by really fast.  As a reward for my work I was sent along my way with an arm load of produce.  I had enough apples for me to make an apple coffee cake and multi colored tomatoes which I used in a seasonal pasta salad.

The next week Libby was gone for the day, but Mary Ann had several things lined up.  I worked 6 hours and didn’t get much of a break.  The one reprieve I had was from the sun.  There was a steady rain that morning so I sat on the porch with a crate of grapes.  I pulled them off the stems and then helped make grape juice.

The hard work for the day would be clearing out around their 4 compost piles.  They were becoming too overgrown to access.  Beyond, not having done this kind of work before, I’m also not familiar with the physical appearance of the vegetables so I’m always afraid to chop anything down for fear that it is the wrong thing.  Libby seemed to be nonchalant about it because it’ll just grow back next year.  I also didn’t know the etiquette of food sprouting from a compost pile such as the gourds and beans I came upon.  After, that was done; Mary Ann helped me to grab some hay to build new walls around the piles.  It reminded me of Big Bird’s nest on Sesame Street. 


Then it was back to the orchard for more apple picking before my day would end.  This time I was sent home with a container full of cream of bean soup. 

I haven’t been back a 3rd time yet because my calendar has been busy, but I told them as long as they wanted me to come back I would.  I still have that feeling inside that I’m not doing a good job and that they are just saying it to be nice.  I’m really good when someone points and says do this and that, and I try to take the initiative to do it competently with a minuscule amount of questions, but I’m still afraid that I’m doing it wrong.