Carlton man fell on the fields of France in WWI
Veterans Day on November 11 started out commemorating the armistice, or cessation of fighting, that went into effect at 11 a.m. on November 11, 1918, bringing an end to WWI, or "The Great War" as it was called. The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the end of "the war to end all wars," is still the time of remembrance for fallen heroes. One of the fallen heroes of "The Great War" was Oscar Evald Nicholson of Carlton, Minnesota. Born on June 17, 1888, he was 30 years old when he was killed in action in France on July 18, 1918.
A true soldier, Nicholson enlisted in the Marines and went first to Parris Island, South Carolina, a Marine Corps recruit depot. From there he went to France, where he was a member of the 66th company, Fifth Regiment U.S. Marines. His company fought successfully at the battles of the Marne and at Bois de Belleau on June 2 and 13, 1918, and received two Croix-de-Guerre decorations, one of the most cherished military decorations for bravery in action.
Next, his company went to Soissons on July 18 and 19. On the first day of the Soissons offensive, Oscar's section was ordered to go "over the top" and charge the enemy. A shell burst over him, and together with two other men, he was killed instantly. A splinter of the shell struck Oscar on top and in front of the left shoulder and went on downward through the heart. According to a newspaper story, a companion said that Oscar threw his hands straight up and cried, "God in heaven, help me, I am dying!" Then he fell dead.
Who was Oscar Nicholson of Carlton? He came from a large family. His father, Gustav Enoch Nicholson, came to America from Smaland, Sweden, in 1880 and worked as section foreman for the Northern Pacific Railroad in Fond du Lac, Minnesota. In 1883, Enoch, as he was called, went to Brainerd to marry Inga Schultz, sister of John E. Schultz of Carlton. The couple lived in Kimberly, Minnesota, for five years and then moved to Carlton, where Enoch worked on the Carlton section of the railroad. They had eight children: Amelia, Oscar, Esther, Ida, George, Herbert, William and Ruth. Oscar was described as athletic and "one of the kindest natured, best behaved, most gentlemanly of Carlton boys."
Oscar wrote his family many letters, which the Carlton County Vidette published in a column called "From the Firing Line." On April 20, 1918, Oscar wrote, "Just a few lines to let you know that I am well and O.K., and hope this finds you all at home the same. Have been receiving mail from you and home regular every now and then. We just arrived into our rest camp last night and so will have more time to write and answer some of the letters I received. Don't know how long we will be here, but a few days or more to get cleaned up, as we sure was a tough looking outfit when we got out of the front lines. Hope we are luck all along as we were so far."
Another letter written "Somewhere in France, May 4, 1918" to Oscar's sister Amelia states, "Suppose you have been waiting for this letter as I am a little late this time on account of being pretty busy and not much chance to write, as we are back on the lines again and so are back to business, but I am getting along fine and not much trouble so far. Have been receiving your mail regularly also The Vidette, which I was glad to get as home news is very interesting, and newspapers, especially on the front, are very scarce and we don't know much about how things are going on." Only four days before he was killed, Oscar wrote his mother a card expressing sincere wishes for the health of his parents and brothers and sisters, and only three days before that he wrote them another letter.
Then the letters stopped. On September 4, 1918, Enoch Nicholson received this message from the War Department: "Deeply regret to inform you cablegram from abroad states that Private Oscar E. Nicholson of the Marine Corps, was killed in action July 18. Remains will be interred abroad until end of war. Accept my sympathy in your great loss. Your son nobly gave his life in service to his country."
The Carlton County Vidette reported his death a few days later, saying, "No words can suffice to express the sorrow of this community at his loss, no human expressions can alleviate the grief of his mother, father, sisters and brothers." The newspaper added that Nicholson "... had made the supreme sacrifice for his country, for our homes and our country, and has done his bit, his all, for the defense of the flag and the republic."
Oscar received a victory medal by order of the major general commandant with a ribbon, battle clasps and stars containing the Aisne defense clasp, L'Aisne Marne battle clasps, defense sector clasp and three bronze stars. This medal was sent to his parents after his death.
While the Nicholson family waited for their son's remains to be sent home, Oscar's father suddenly died at work. He was at the depot in Carlton checking rails as they were being unloaded by his crew when he swooned, fell over and died. The funeral was held at Carlton's Swedish Lutheran Church on July 9, 1920.
In May 1921, Oscar Nicholson's body arrived in Carlton, shipped from his burial place at the military cemetery of St. Pierre-Aigle, Aisne, in France. A funeral was held at the Swedish Lutheran Church on May 22, 1921, with the American Legion of Cloquet providing military honors. Both father and son are buried in the Carlton cemetery. Today the Carlton Veterans of Foreign Wars Post bears Oscar Nicholson's name as a tribute to this boy who faced and suffered death for the honor and integrity of Carlton County as one of its contingent of defenders.
World War I program, exhibit open Saturday
The Carlton County Historical Society will open a new exhibit called "A Call to Arms: Carlton County in World War I" with a program by Dr. Alexis Pogorelskin at its museum in Cloquet at 1 p.m. Saturday, April 8. Roughly 10 million soldiers lost their lives in World War I, along with seven million civilians.
Since it was 100 years ago that the U.S. entered WWI on April 6, 1917, the exhibit opening and program commemorates that event. Pogorelskin, history professor and former head of UMD's history department, will discuss how WWI started in Europe in 1914, why the U.S. entered the war in 1917, and the consequences of the war after the armistice in 1918. Visitors will be able to view the new exhibit, which focuses on Carlton County's involvement in the war, before and after the 1pm program.
After the program, refreshments will be served. Admission is $2 for adults, $1 for children under 12, and free admission for children under 5 and Carlton County Historical Society members . The museum is handicapped accessible. For more information, call 218-879-1938.
POETRY SIDEBAR, start with italicized introduction, headline the poem.
Just months before his death in 1918, English poet Wilfred Owen wrote the following, "This book is not about heroes. English Poetry is not yet fit to speak of them. Nor is it about deeds, or lands, nor anything about glory, honour, might, majesty, dominion, or power, except War. Above all I am not concerned with Poetry. My subject is War, and the pity of War." Following is one of his most famous poems, which describes the horrors of the poisonous gasses used in World War I. Chemical weapons ranging from disabling tear gas to lethal gases including chlorine, phosgene and mustard gas were used in this first global war of the 20th century.
Dulce et Decorum Est
By Wilfred Owen
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.
Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime.—
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.*
*Latin phrase "Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori" is from the Roman poet Horace: "It is sweet and fitting to die for one's country."