#4 Plows and Pitchforks/ Entre arados - Memorial Day

Plows and Pitchforks/ Entre arados - 4

May 25, 2013

By Matt Bernau

It’s Memorial Day weekend in the United States. Most families will be spending the three days off at the campground, lake, or grilling in their cookie-cutter backyards. Some of those celebrants, in the midst of their family picnics and barbecue sauce mishaps will pause to remember the life sacrifices made by those soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and their families both presently and in the past.

I traveled to New Zealand as part of a college course in international agriculture. One thing that struck me about New Zealand was the number of monuments honoring veterans of WWI. Walking near old gun placements that covered the main channel between the North and South Islands to deter submarines of the Axis powers reminded me that WWI and II were truly global conflicts.

When I was 12, my grandfather put me in the seat of his orange Allis Chalmers HD-11 track-loader and told me to push gravel into the hopper that fed the gravel crusher. I made quite a mess that first time, instead of raising the bucket a little as I went up the hill, I lowered it, digging deep in front of me, and then I panicked. I pushed the bucket lower and almost buried the machine before we got started. Here is a picture of the same model from http://www.tractorshed.com/photoads/upload/83176_opt.jpg

My grandpa had grown up on an Iowa farm, helping to raise horses, mules, cattle, hogs and chickens in addition to crops. He joined the army in 1944 and they were going to send him to Germany to be a spy because he spoke fluent German. Except the government bureaucracy machine screwed up his orders and he was sent to the Pacific, serving as a Sergeant with the Combat Engineers. The Combat Engineers taught him how to operate heavy earthmoving equipment, including bulldozers, scrapers, and road graders. 

I tried from time to time to get him to tell me about his service in WWII. Once in a while, he would divulge some anecdote or story. He said that he was on a Landing Ship Tank someplace in the South Pacific during a typhoon. They had problems with bulldozers breaking loose from their chains in the hold and sliding back and forth. A couple of guys got crushed between the machines when they tried to lash them back down. Another interesting thing he told me was that the enemy didn’t really care about tanks and guns, but when a bulldozer hit the beach, they would shoot at it with everything they had.

Interestingly, the U.S. military also used Allis Chalmers equipment, which may explain why we owned one. Here is a picture of HD-10’s lying in wait for the D-Day Invasion:

Spring 1944 photo of Allis-Chalmers Co. HD10W Tractors at the Engineer Depot, Thatcham, England in preparation for the D-Day invasion, 6 June 1944

After the war, my Grandpa and his new bride started farming in Southern Minnesota and also began a construction business. When we remember our veterans this weekend, with all the hype and glory sold by Hollywood regarding wars and rumors of war, we should not forget the life stories of those who served.

This is an example of how technology and people modified and trained to fight wars and protect society can just as quickly be used to advance peace. A love for family and the humble work of farming, building, manufacturing and customer service is also the legacy left by our veterans and their families, not only in America, but all over the world. We should also remember that legacy while war movies blare on television and steaks sizzle on the grill this summer and beyond. 

I can be reached at mmbernau@gmail.com & twitter @veritzombie.  


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