By James E. Horn, November 7, 2015
There are thousands of stories paying tribute to the millions of Americans who have fought in battles to preserve and to protect our freedom and liberty, and that of others.
Clarence Christianson was born of Scandinavian parents someplace in Minnesota a long time ago. His parents had come from an area along the German border and Chris spoke Danish, English, and passable German. He is not alive to tell his story now, and was reluctant to tell it when he was alive. Over the too few years that I knew him, I collected bits and pieces of information from him.
I first knew Chris when he and my mother, a Police Matron in Minneapolis, hooked up. He met her when he was doing a 30-day sentence for something to do with excessive alcohol consumption. He was a trustee and cleaned the jail.
He was a neat, clean, and a very decent man, about six feet tall, about 220 pounds. He labored in a foundries and he and my mother dated off and on for a decade, but never married although I wished that they had. He couldn’t stay sober, and went off periodically on a “drunk” that could last for days or weeks. Then, after a stay in a VA hospital, a jail, or the Lord knows where, he’d pick himself up and get back to work and do well until his next drinking bout. He always got his job back. That was because when he was sober, he was one of the best workers. My mother repeatedly took him back, but refused to marry him until and unless he could stay sober for more than a year. It never happened.
When Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941, Chris rushed to join the Army, and became what an Army Ranger scout. He was at Normandy, but I’ve since forgotten which beach, Omaha, I think. He ended the war holding a silver Star, a Bronze star with clusters, a Purple Heart, a POW medal, and others. He was a man of great strength, endurance and courage.
Over the years, I would ask Chris things about the war, and as I studied history in school and did school reports, I used Chris for references and thus learned a part of his story. I longed to learn more, but he was not very forthcoming.
He was one of the Rangers that scaled cliffs and when he got to the top, most of his platoon was gone, nearly all wounded or killed. He was assigned to another platoon, one which had parachuted into and lost many of its men at Cherbourg. They went behind German lines where they sabotaged things, captured and interrogated German prisoners (Chris’ German language skills played an important part here) on the spot, collecting and reporting tactical intelligence. Chris’ Platoon commander was a very angry Second Lieutenant whose men had apparently been shot while hanging in trees, and he didn’t keep prisoners. He didn’t have the luxury of manpower to “escort” prisoners to internment facilities, etc., He and his men moved around a lot and quickly, and if a man left the unit, he’d never be able to catch up. After he got what he wanted from Germans they picked up and interrogated, the second Lieutenant cut their throats. Chris refused to tell me the name of the Second Lieutenant. Chris felt guilty about this and I suspect that his inability to forgive himself for his involvement in these deeds was a part of his need to forget via the bottle, to obliterate terrible, horrific memories. Nowadays, people would call it PTSD.
Chris and his platoon fought their way across France. During the battle of the Bulge, Chris and another man were assigned to blow up a bridge. Their duty was to let all allied troops across but when the Germans showed up they were to blow the bridge, and then retreat. A German 88 tank came on them quickly, and while blowing the bridge, they got shot. Chris’ wound was not serious but his partner was hit badly, with three bullet holes in his shoulder and upper chest. Chris carried him on his back into a river where they swam to safety, and then Chris carried his comrade on his back for 2-1/2 days, evading German patrols while seeking allied lines. They were within a hundred or two hundred yards of American forces when a German patrol captured them.
Chris told me that the Germans that captured them were regular Wermacht infantry and they treated both men’s wounds and then moved them back where Chris was interred in a POW camp. The other man went to a hospital where he was treated and then interred in another camp. Chris was treated with respect and dignity by the Germans until the war ended. Of course, Chris never divulged what he was involved with in the days immediately after D-day.
When Chris mustered out of the army, he went to a line where a paymaster calculated his back pay, etc., counted out the money, and then passed the money to the next in line — a Red Cross representative who had receipts for Red Cross packages that Chris had received. He deducted money to pay (handsomely) for those Red Cross packages and what money was left was then given to Chris. Chris resented this and this is one of the reasons (I have other reasons as well) why I do not look upon the Red Cross favorably even though they provide something of a service, but it always seems for a hefty fee.
After the war, Chris returned to Minneapolis and tried to pick up his life, but fell into the bottle and was moved into and out of VA hospitals, jails, AAA programs, whatever wherever for about ten years until he met my mother. My mother loved him, and so did I. My mother’s sister served as a WAC in North Africa, a brother served with Patton’s 3rd Army in Europe, and another served in the Pacific with the Navy. They all respected Chris.
I, a war baby without a father looked on Chris as a father figure, a wonderful, caring and wise mentor, and a man to be greatly respected and admired. Chris passed away in a VA hospital (liver failure?) about forty years ago. I think of him often, and cherish the few precious memories that I have of this genuine, HERO.
God Bless you, Chris, and everyone who did so much for us.
An eloquent and great tribute to a man who was like a father to you. Thanks Jim.