Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Long time passing: Loren E. Nussbaum

Marine PFC Loren Nussbaum died in combat in the Marshall Islands on Feb. 20, 1944. His body was returned to Lucas County in November of 1947.

I drive often along what now is Lucas County S23 as it sweeps, curves and rolls north from Oakley in Liberty Township down through the White Breast Creek valley then up, over and down again, finally to Lacona tucked among the hills just across the line in Warren County.

The lane west to Mount Zion Cemetery, once a through road, is a left turn just north of the White Breast bridge, but drive straight on up the hill and at its crest you'll see a pond to your left. Glance west up a short lane north of the pond and you'll see what once was home to the family of Ferman and Chloe Charity (West) Nussbaum and their five children, Etha, Wilma, Norma, Corwin and Loren.

Loren, the youngest,  was born there on Sept. 24, 1920, on his mother's side part of my Grandmother Jessie's big and complex family. Loren's grandmother, Eva (Prentiss) West, and Jessie were half-sisters, although that "half" was never considered significant and all the Wests had a special place in Grandmother's heart.

Loren grew up on that farm, graduated from Lacona High School and continued his education at the Chillicothe (Missouri) Business College before accepting a job at the munitions plant near Burlington as World War II approached. Then, as hundreds of thousands of young men did, he enlisted: On Jan. 18, 1942, in the U.S. Marine Corps.

After completing basic training at Camp Elliott, San Diego, Loren spent 20 months on Pago Pago, British Samoa, and in the Wallis Islands. His unit returned to Hawaii for six weeks during late 1943, then joined the great effort to wrest the central Pacific Marshall Islands from Japanese control.

The week-long battle to capture Enewetak Atol, some 44 islets around a central lagoon at the northern end of the Marshalls and site of a Japanese airfield, began during mid-February 1944. It was there on Feb, 20 that Loren died in combat.

His family was told much later that he had been wounded in the right forearm, but refused to be evacuated. As the battle continued, his company commander was wounded and while Loren was attempting to aid in his rescue, he was caught in crossfire and died instantly.

Of course Loren's family knew none of this as they waited in Lucas County for news. It was not until late March, more than a month later, that the Nussbaums learned of Loren's death.

The Chariton Leader reported on 4 April 1944, "Priv. (f.c.) Loren E. Nussbaum of the United States Marine Corps 'was killed in action in performance of his duty and services to his country,' his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Ferman E. Nussbaum of Route 2, Lacona, were informed last week by Lt. Gen. A. A. Vandgrift.

"Private Nussbaum was serving in the Pacific theater. His parents were asked not to reveal the place of his death, or his unit.

"The message that Private Nussbaum had died in action was the first news his parents had of him in three months."

We are accustomed now, after the dawn of the 21st century, to the prompt return of the bodies of our war dead, allowing at least some degree of closure. But that was not the case during World War II, and Loren and his comrades were buried in temporary graves on Japtan, one of the Enewetak islets.

Brownie Coldiron, now of Oregon, served on Enewetak after it was firmly in U.S. control and recalled in an online account of his World War II service visting the temporary cemetery. Visitors were not encouraged, so Coldiron swam to Japtan from the islet where he was stationed, then walked through lush jungle vegetation into a clearing and "there before me was row upon row of head markers on graves. There were literally acre after acre of rows of graves ...."

After the war ended, the United States began the work of gathering the remains of its dead from temporary resting places in obscure locations around the globe and bringing them home. Loren's body, sealed in a brown steel coffin, was among the first returned to the United States, arriving in San Francisco with 2,038 others from the Pacific theater aboard the transport ship Honda Knot during late October 1947.

After considerable ceremony in San Francisco, Loren's remains were shipped to a distribution center in Kansas City, then arrived in Chariton by train at midnight on Nov. 7, 1947. He was the first of Lucas County's war dead to come home.

Funeral services were held on Sunday afternoon, Nov. 9, at the Methodist Church.

Veterans of the great war, now returned to civilian life, rallied to honor Loren and support his family. The Rev. J.T. Bloom, a former army chaplain who had been called to serve First Christian Church, officiated, along with the Rev. W.E. Samp, the Methodist pastor. Music was provided by a quartet of veterans: Don Fuller, Bob Elgin, George Dunshee and William Dunshee. Former Marines served as pall bearers: Rex Benway, Raymond Logue, Waldo Brown, Vernard Oxenreider, Orval Arnold and Leck Young.

At Chariton Cemetery, atop a gentle rise in its southwest quadrant, American Legionaires Leo Hoegh (later governor of Iowa), W.L. Frank and Victor Lindquist assisted in the graveside rites as a color guard and firing squad stood by.

And in that manner, Loren came home.

My dad remembered attending Loren's funeral along with other family members, but as often happens, it was the odd detail that stood out after 50 years had passed. Entering the church behind the distinguished county judge of that day (whose name I've forgotten), Dad watched as the judge took off his hat and began to reach across Loren's coffin to hang it on a rack in the church foyer. A member of the Marine honor guard grabbed the judge's wrist, told him to hold onto his hat and move along.


Alexa said...

Thank you for mentioning my grandfather, Brownie Coldiron. I enjoyed reading your post.


Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for posting Loren's story. My husband, Todd Miller, is currently serving in Afghanistan, in the Marine Corp. He is distantly related to Loren. Loren's grandfather was John Nussbaum 1838-1915. John had a sister, Elizabeth Nussbaum-Mack who left Iowa with her husband Franklin Mack and her other brother William Nussbaum for Siskiyou County, California. Elizabeth was husband's gr, gr, gr grandmother on his father's side. We honor Loren's sacrifice.
Semper Fi,
Shelley Miller

Frank D. Myers said...

We'll remember Todd in thought and prayer here in Lucas County. Tell him, when he gets home, it's about time to come all the way "home" --- to Lucas County --- for a vist!

Anonymous said...

Thank you Frank! Todd just got home from Afghanistan!
I was wondering if Ferman and Chloe were buried next to Loren? I have been trying to find death dates of them for our family tree.

Frank D. Myers said...

Hi Shelley --- Glad to hear Todd's home safe and sound! Yes, Chloe and Ferman are buried with Loren in the Chariton Cemetery. Chloe Charity (West) Nussbaum, born 17 September 1885 in Pleasant Township, Lucas County, died in Chariton on 19 October 1954. Fermanm, born 27 May 1883 in Liberty Township, died during late April, 1957, at Methodist Hospital in Des Moines. Frustratingly, his obit doesn't state the day or date, although his funeral was held on April 23. I'll see if I can find out!

Anonymous said...

Thanks Frank!