Wednesday, November 11, 2015

World War II Veteran and Civil War Student

I had the privilege to enjoy a lively discussion over dinner at Remington's Restaurant with World War II veteran Chester (Chet) F. Rohn. We were seated together so we might talk about our mutual interests in the Civil War.

Mr. Chester F. Rohn
World War II Veteran
and Civil War Enthusiast
Mr. Rohn is a proud member of the Color Guard of The Iron Brigade Association of the Civil War Round Table of Milwaukee. He recalled the many meetings he attended especially those presented by Ed Bearss. During a visit to Vicksburg, Chet heard Ed's distinct voice through a fog-shrouded battlefield. After Ed was finished speaking, Chet shouted "Is that Ed Bearss?" I mentioned that Mr. Bearrs was going to speak at the Dallas round table in December and urged him to attend.[1]

Chet's favorite battlefields are Vicksburg, Shiloh, and Antietam. He is understandably proud of the Iron Brigade, which fought in the Second Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Mine Run, Overland, Richmond-Petersburg, and Appomattox campaigns.  He talked about the intense battle in the Miller Cornfield at Antietam that Captain Benjamin Cook described as "...the most deadly fire of the war. Rifles are shot to pieces in the hands of the soldiers, canteens and haversacks are riddled with bullets, the dead and wounded go down in scores."

Our conversation turned to Chet's participation in World War II where he was in the 11th Armor Division of General George Patton's Third Army. He was part of the division that came to the relief of the 101st Airborne Division and other units in the Battle of the Bulge. Mr. Rohn, then a twenty-year old soldier, said that it was the coldest weather he had experienced. Considering Chet's Wisconsin roots, it must have been bitter. He was in a foxhole by himself and was ordered not to shoot unless attacked so he would not reveal his position.

Perhaps Rohn's most difficult wartime experience occurred during the liberation of the Mauthausen concentration camp. As he traveled to the camp, he noted the bodies of men dressed in striped pajamas and that they were not soldiers. He soon learned that these corpses were victims of the Holocaust. He recalled meeting the walking skeletons of the camp and his shock at the horrors that Germany inflicted on these people. He said that the military made the local residents visit the camp to see the monstrous behavior that existed near their homes.

Mr. Rohn shares his experiences with students to inform them about the sacrifices made by their great grand parents to defeat the Germans and preserve democracy. Chet brought the war to life for these students and put a face on pages in a history book. I hope these young people will treasure Chet's stories. Thank you Chester Rohn for your service to this country; and for a delightful evening. 

[1] Mr. Bearss, Chm. Emeritus National Park Service, Author will be speaking at Civil War Round Table of Dallas on December 9, 2015. He will talk about The Petersburg Campaign: The Eastern Battles. The Round Table meets at JJ’s Restaurant, Northlake Shopping Center, 10233 E. NW HWY at Ferndale: Ste 434 (NE Quadrant), 214.221.4659, Dinner: 6PM, Program: 7PM

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