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Voyageur's Best Features of 2004

Art Aho

He was of the ‘Greatest Generation’
 
The story of Art Aho
 
by Sandy Nistler and Mel Johnson  |  June 8, 2004
 

Art Aho was born on March 24, 1917, the seventh of ten brothers and sisters. He graduated right here from good ole McGregor High School!

On February 4, 1941 Art went with his Pa to Aitkin to volunteer for the Army. Art and his Pa came home with a brand new ‘41 Ford V-8 that day!

A farewell party was planned for Art but had to be cancelled because of a blizzard. But the night before he left for the Army all of the neighbors came over to bid him farewell!

Art was taken to Aitkin by his Pa to ride the bus to Fort Snelling, MN. Art said his Pa wasn’t very happy he enlisted in the Army. He felt he should have been deferred for farm work. But now he was on his way, not knowing if he ever would return to his beautiful homeland. The unknown was about to really happen!

Art entered into the U.S. Army February 21, 1941 in Fort Snelling, MN. He was assigned to A Battery 41st Field Artillery Battalion 3rd Infantry Division. He was sent to Fort Lewis, Washington for his basic training. While he was in Fort Lewis, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The first bombs fell on Pearl Harbor just before 8 o’clock in the morning, Hawaii time. The attack lasted about two hours and dealt a “crippling blow” to our forces. President Roosevelt declared December 7, 1941, “a date which will live in infamy”. Infamy meant dishonor or disgrace. In December 1941 America had declared war on Germany, Italy and Japan. Prime Minister Churchill of England and President Roosevelt had many important meetings, and their plan was to knock out Germany first and concentrate on Japan later. Germany was considered the bigger evil at that time. In late 1941 allied defeats in Europe came to a halt as Russia took the offensive on the Eastern Front.

After basic training in Fort Lewis, Art moved with the 3rd Division (which, by the way, is the same 3rd Division that took over Baghdad in Iraq) to Fort Ord, California. While in California the most significant change the 3rd Division experienced was becoming an amphibious unit, a specialized force capable of organizing on the water. At the appropriate time they would begin a fight from a beach landing and move to different objectives farther inland. These skills were practiced in California staging areas and would be used later in Anzio and Southern France, which Art would be a part of. These landings had become one of the most effective tactics used during World War II.

From California they went by troop train to Camp Pichett, Virginia in October 1942. This was their staging area to load their ships for their first invasion overseas in Fedella, North Africa where the British were fighting the Germans. The French were still on the side of the Germans, who were controlling the French. Three days after invading Africa the battle was successful enough to get the job done. Then they moved to Arzu, Africa where they were trained more. They were drawn into battle with the 34th Division, which was a Minnesota based National Guard, to fight the famous General (Desert Fox) Rommel. They captured the German soldiers but General Rommel escaped back to Germany. They then made an amphibous landing in Sicily and were there about a month when the battle ended on the island. They were called to help clear the beach head in Southern Italy. Here in Sicily, Art was operating a radio car when Germans shelled his A Battery (a battery consists of 4 guns). One of the shells killed a telephone operator from the gun section. One shell landed in front of the radio car and Art ducked and his hand hit a tree branch that had been cut by an axe. When he fell it cut his hand. Art was offered the Purple Heart for that, but turned it down. They won the battle in Sicily and then went and helped American forces (the 36th Infantry Division, which was from Texas) to hold the beach head in Naples and then crossed the Volturno River. They made their next landing in Anzio, Italy.

They fought there for three months until they broke through to Rome. In Anzio, Art dug a fresh foxhole under a tree because the Germans were shelling there again. Another soldier and Art decided to move to another location where the switchboard was. They had just moved about 50 yards from the foxhole and a shell burst on a tree and shrapnel fell in the foxhole where Art would have been. He had moved just in the nick of time!

Another time while in Naples they were practicing with their Bazooka guns to take out a tank. They were all lined up practicing when one exploded right next to Art. It killed the battery commander and knocked the arm off of the man that was firing the gun. It exploded right in his hands and he later died from his injuries. Art was wounded and got shrapnel in his left leg and ended up in the hospital for three weeks.

While in Italy, being shelled by Germans, Art was in charge of the switchboard. He moved the switchboard in time and saved it and for this was rewarded the Bronze Star in Venafro, Italy November 8, 1943.

Later, Art had to go and fix a telephone line to Field Artillery guns. While going there, the Germans were shooting artillery shells at them. While ducking to the ground, he lost his wrist watch, which he had received from his fiance´ Mary Oja. After about a week, an Italian fellow came to the switchboard looking for a pair of shoes. He pulled out his billfold and there was Art’s watch! Art’s buddy grabbed it right away knowing it was an American watch. Art knew it was his watch. He surely didn’t want to lose the watch from his lovely wife-to-be back home! Just a touch of normal life to offset the death and destruction he lived with.

From Anzio they traveled to Southern France, the Vosges, the Colmar Pocket, Crossing the Rhine and Wars End Salzburg, Austria. Art’s 3rd Division got credit for taking Hitler’s hideout called “Benchasgaten”, although Hitler escaped.

While in Salzburg after the war in Germany ended May 8, 1945, Art and his buddies were eating dinner. They were passing something around that looked like a sealed red ink bottle. They passed it around and Art left the table. More people sat down to eat and when Art got back to the house he learned that the ink bottle, which turned out to be a “booby trap” hand grenade, blew his buddy Frank’s arm off and splattered his face! No one died, but two were wounded.

When Art received his Bronze Star in Venafro, Italy he saw Audie Murphy, the famous movie star, decorated. Audie received the highest award – the Medal of Honor for his services in World War II.

Art was discharged honorably on July 29, 1945. On August 12, 1945, they had a “welcome home” party for Art. After service for his country he married Mary Oja and worked for Puget Sound Power and City Light in Seattle, Washington. In 1946 their daughter Sandy was born. Five years later they moved back to the family farm in Tamarack and Art took over his father’s dairy farm. He retired from farming in 1985, but still lives on the farm today. He has three grandchildren, Tia Hayes, Shawn and Bryan Nistler and four great grandchildren.

Mel Johnson noted that Tom Brokaw wrote a book called the The Greatest Generation. He then went on to add that Art Aho was a very significant member of the ‘Greatest Generation.’

This article first appeared in the June 8, 2004 issue of the Voyageur Press.