By Alan R. Koenig of Hector
Months after V-E Day, bomb craters pockmarked the detention camp’s environs. With apprehension, a young private from Minnesota wondered if die-hards would attack that evening as intelligence expected. After all, rabid nationalists wanted to liberate detainees, many of whom were kindred spirits. The camp commandant ordered his GIs to assume defensive positions. Sure enough, at 11 p.m. the lights went out, so the Americans launched flares. Milo Ziemann, who had spoken low-German since childhood, expected a fire-fight.
Milo had grown up on a farm near Fernando, about five miles south of Stewart. Most people in the area traced their ancestry to Germany; in 1868 Milo’s grandfather had emigrated from Stettin on the Baltic. Born in December 1924 to William and Anna (Brede) Ziemann, Milo spoke plattdeutsch before he learned English while attending the first six grades at District # 59 School just west of Fernando (the building still stands). Studying intensively for a month in the fall and a month in the spring at the Lutheran church-school in Fernando, Milo earned an 8th grade certificate, and his confirmation class of 1939 was the last to study in German. As the Great Depression ended, Milo was lucky to be making $ 15 a month working for Reinhard Draeger, who farmed just east of the Fernando church.
As Milo milked cows and toiled, he also rented land. In 1944, he married Agnes Henke, first cousin to Milburn Henke, the first US soldier to arrive via troop ship to Ireland. By 1945, Milo was milking 32 cows and tilling 240 acres; Agnes had given birth to a son, Delmar. WWII was winding down but the nation still needed troops. Three of Milo’s six siblings were male, but one had died at 23 and another had four kids. The third was deemed unfit for service so the McLeod County Selective Service drafted Milo.
Knowing of his impending induction, Milo auctioned off much of his equipment and on May 14, 1945, he boarded a Twin Cities-bound train in Glencoe. The Army received him at Fort Snelling, along with tens of thousands of other young men over the years. From Snelling he left for Jefferson Barracks, Missouri, for official induction. After that, he left for basic training at Camp Fannin, an infantry replacement training center at Tyler, Texas (about 80 miles east of Dallas).
That June a severe frost in Minnesota froze even the roots of the corn Milo had planted; kindly neighbors replanted his land with soybeans. In the fourth week of basic training, poison ivy nearly prostrated Milo. While his company trained on the machine gun range, Milo’s captain noticed his pain, so he spent time in the hospital and finished his 16 weeks of training with another company. When he graduated, he took 10 days furlough and visited family and friends. After that, he returned to Camp Fannin before boarding a train for Ft. Ord, Calif.
Meanwhile, atomic bombs forced Japan into an armistice before a formal surrender. Having been in California about a week that August, Private Ziemann and his comrades got inoculations for the Pacific Theater of Operations (PTO). On Friday night Milo’s commander restricted his men to Fort Ord since they expected to leave for Japan on Monday, but the Army needed 1,500 troops in Europe; the orders changed.
Milo boarded a train for a 5-day trip to a debarkation point at Camp Shanks, NY, but a hurricane kept their ship in the harbor. Early in October, they boarded the General A. E. Anderson, a troop transport commissioned in 1943. Authorities told Milo the ship was 350 feet long and had a 40-foot draft (Wikipedia claims it was well over 600 feet long and had a 25-foot draft).
Having left at 11 p.m., Anderson was still in sight of the Statue of Liberty when battering waves washed over her deck. Seriously seasick, Milo lay in a berth just two cabins from the engine room as waves lifted the propellers out of the water, where they raced in the air and shook the ship. Seasick troops ran to the latrine, which was next to the engine room. Many slipped on the vomit there, inducing more regurgitation. Milo ate nothing until the fourth day, when he had an apple on deck.
Eight days later, Anderson reached Le Havre. The boys had little time to enjoy France before boarding boxcars bound for a former German horse cavalry camp at Amberg, not far from Czech lands. Having few if any amenities in the packed boxcars, they built coal and wood fires by the door for warmth as the weather was unusually cold and 10 inches of snow lay on the ground. During their 3-day journey, the train stopped periodically at military bases so the troops could visit the latrine and eat Army chow.
At Amberg, personnel specialists examined their records and assigned them to units. They spent a week there, eating on tables in horse stalls. Finally, Milo was assigned to a U.S. Prisoner-of-War camp at Fürth (near Nuremberg), and then the Army transferred him to Oberursel, 3 or 4 miles northwest of Frankfort. The previous April, US troops had occupied a Durchgangslager der Luftwaffe (Dulag--Transit Camp of the Air Force) through which allied airmen had passed after capture. Designed for interrogation and intelligence gathering, the Dulag served the same role for the U.S. The Yanks named it for Gen. Edwin Sibert, the senior intelligence officer for the U.S. Zone. Several mobile field interrogation units moved there, and in September 1946, the Army officially named the Oberursel intelligence center Camp King, after Col. Charles B. King, M.I., killed while escorting German POWs at Normandy on June 22, 1944. Camp King served as an interrogation center and strove to de-nazify big-wigs such as Grand Admiral Karl Doenitz, Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, test pilot Hanna Reitsch and others.
Arriving at Oberursel, Milo slept for a few days in a bombed-out hotel not far from an Army camp where they ate. Troops with education and clerical skills worked in offices, but Milo served in 10-foot high guard towers with his firearm. After the lights went out during the aforementioned suspected attack, GIs found a tree branch had short-circuited power lines; the attack never happened. Nonetheless, the reaction force stayed until 3 a.m. before returning to Camp Sibert’s barracks.
The allies rounded-up many suspects, incarcerating them while awaiting trial or a detention period. Many stayed in Milo’s POW camp, but he does not recall if it had a specific name; he presumed it shared a name with Camp Sibert and was likely a satellite facility. Milo stood guard, translated when the primary linguist was off duty, escorted prisoners exercising around buildings near the camp, and did other jobs. Generally working with the German rank-and-file, Milo nevertheless encountered men who had intimate contact with Der Fuhrer, such as Dr. Theodor G. Morell, who kept Hitler medicated. At 5’ 5”, overweight, malodorous and having bags under his eyes, Morell was no Aryan superman, and Milo snapped a photo of him.
Sometimes, Milo and his team apprehended Germans, thus he was issued a special card to get gas, food and lodging all over Germany. On at least one occasion, his team travelled to the Polish border to snatch men by surprise at night. On the way back, they dined in Army mess halls, taking care to put detainees in a corner and surrounding them to prevent escapes, not that any tried. To avoid preemptive attacks on these teams, they got orders in sealed envelopes to apprehend 2 or 3 POWs in various towns. The guard carried a .45 caliber pistol, but the driver carried no weapon. Suspects claimed they had been drafted, and they noted that after the WWI Armistice, the Allies had not sent food to Germany, which they had blockaded. Many Germans had starved and the war had bankrupted the nation. Profiteers appeared, many of whom came from the east, and many Germans associated them with Bolsheviks. After suffering hunger and economic hardship brought on by the Treaty of Versailles, Adolf Hitler’s promises enticed many. As one might expect, no one justified the death camps.
WWII damaged much of Germany, and food was scarce. Allied aircraft strafed and killed horses in Europe, but rarely did equines go to waste. Ten or 15 German families descended on the carcasses and gleaned everything usable. The Third Reich had drafted farmers’ horses, but they took pictures of them and if they survived the war, the farmers got them back through their local governments.
Every Friday night, Milo’s mess hall served food to whoever showed up. The GIs also provided food and music from 7 to 11 p.m. Hungry German women attended and put sandwiches in purses for the next day. Displaced Person camps were everywhere, and one was near Milo’s camp. Once a month, the allies put the camp occupants on trucks and checked them for venereal disease. On one occasion, Milo translated for 15 or 20 women. Troops rounded up one crying girl so quickly that she was only partially clothed; Milo told her not to worry and covered her with makeshift clothing.
While Milo served in occupied Germany, doctors operated on his mother twice for cancer and expected she would only live 30 days. The Red Cross got involved and the Army discharged Milo so he might be at her deathbed. He flew from Wiesbaden to Paris, but heavy fog grounded flights for 2 days. Once skies cleared, they flew to the Azores, and then to Bermuda, a trip that took all day. Once they arrived, the pilots slept. Meanwhile, the troops explored Bermuda, where horses provided transportation. During the evening, they left for Washington, D.C., but the forecast was bad. Tired, Milo laid on the floor and slept until the plane hit an air pocket and plummeted 200 feet. After 45 minutes, they passed through the storm and landed. Milo and his companions stayed at Ft. Eustis, Va., and visited attractions before he boarded a train for Ft. Sheridan, Ill., about 20 miles north of Chicago, where he was discharged on June 30, 1946.
He boarded a train for the Twin Cities and then one to Glencoe. Milo explained his situation to the conductor, who told the engineer to make an unscheduled stop in Stewart. Walking a short distance to the municipal liquor store, Milo got a ride home from the manager; citizens catered to servicemen. Milo’s mother lived until December 6 that year.
Milo returned to farming and he accumulated enough wealth to fly his three children and five grandchildren to Germany. Milo’s travels encompassed 24 nations and all 50 states. Coming from a long-lived family, Milo hopes to continue experiencing life for some time to come.
Interesting Animal Adventures
Having a life-long interest in agriculture, Milo Ziemann attended and hosted numerous threshing shows from 1970-1976, which, among other things, featured a well groomed horse team of two equines, which made the rounds at his shows. During the first few years, 3,500 people attended. Besides agricultural heritage, animal husbandry fascinated Milo, and for many years he raised elk, which grazed around his farm-place until the crops came up. Then he’d put them in with his cattle, where “they grazed side-by-side and ate the same fodder.” From about October to November, cautious observers gave his bull elk a wide berth.
Perhaps it is fitting that a frequent visitor to Buffalo Lake would take an interest in bison, and Milo’s proved quite tame; locals often drove around his pasture to see them, and “one even licked Mrs. Klitzke’s face.”
Sidney Yaeger, who lived near Preston Lake, bought buffalo from Milo for his herd, which locals enjoyed viewing there for decades. The government said he could not cross-breed animals, but he proved them wrong. He crossed a bison and a Guernsey cow to produce beefalo. Other bison crosses involved Angus and Brahmin cattle; a half Scot-highlander-bison mix produced a remarkable specimen that sported 7-color, 6-inch long hair, which protected them from mosquitoes. Another exotic creature was Milo’s caricul, which looked like a sheep with spiral horns. Complementing the results of these genetic experiments were tame and wild deer.
During the 1960s, Milo also kept bears in cages, but sometimes they’d frolic in his grove like dogs and even ate jelly beans. Suitably impressed, a Fairfax man purchased a bear from Milo. On another occasion, a hunter killed a raccoon and then found her two kits with eyes still closed. Milo raised the kits but later someone stole the procyon lotori. He also fed wild turkey, which often laid blank eggs and could be problematic as they might chase people, yet sometimes they chased cars of people of whom he was not fond. He wasn’t sure how they sensed that. Obviously they didn’t hold grudges against him even though he led gobblers by the neck.