Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Around the Top of the World: Days 20 and 21 - Iceland's East Fjords

Here's another installment in the report of my tour around the North from Svalbard to Alaska's Bering Strait.

These two days found me continuing my guided Ring Road tour around Iceland.  On the morning of Day 20 our first stop was the town of Höfn.  It was a clear, calm, misty morning along the east coast.  We parked on the end of a peninsula at the start of a trail simply called the "Nature Trail" (Iceland has a habit of severely over-simplifying its place names in general - for example the name of the largest glacier on the whole continent of Europe is simply called 'Water Glacier').

The "Nature Trail" followed this beautiful coast (where the photo above was shot), but also has appeal if the weather is murky, because arranged along the trail is a miniature correctly-scaled version of our solar system.  The Sun is the size of a beach ball,

Mercury is the size of the head of a pin, 

and Neptune stands on its pedestal at the other end of the Trail, 2.8 km away.  Pluto is there too, but apparently the trail doesn't go to it, since it has been downgraded to a 'minor planet'.  The walk is intended to give the visitor the experience of the vastness of our little corner of space.  

There is a very similar trail in and west of Madison, Wisconsin, that I visited in 2019.  In downtown Madison the trek starts with a 'Sun' the size of a two-story building.  Most people bike the route, which follows the paved 'Southwest Commuter Trail' and then the Military Ridge State Trail.  Pluto is 23 miles away.  I only hiked from the sun to somewhere between Saturn and Neptune before my route took me southward.

The morning mist on the calm sea made everything seem surreal.

But there's almost nowhere along Iceland's rugged coast that isn't pretty stunning to see.

We moved on to visit a number of waterfalls, and the crypto-tourism hot-spot of Lagarfljót - a deep, murky, sixteen-mile-long lake where Iceland's version of the Loch Ness Monster lurks.  I covered the waterfalls in a YouTube video posted here earlier, and the lake monster is ... well ... look closer at the headline photo:

Or maybe not?  That isn't even the lake where the 'worm' has been officially declared to exist:

But in this post, I'm going in a different direction.

In fact, the rest of the material is all just 'stopping and smelling the flowers' on a tiny patch of tundra on a knoll near the town of Djúpivogur, where that distinctive glass sculpture stands, and where I had the chance to just sit and enjoy an hour of serenity.

Friday, November 11, 2022

Veterans Day tribute to my Grandpa Dutch


George Gustav “Dutch” Auler was born on December 21, 1899. When the US entered the Great War in early 1917, he was only 17 years of age. The war in Europe was the dominant subject of conversation, and Grandpa decided to enlist in the army even before the US formally declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917. Grandpa enlisted on March 3rd, lying about his age to get in. He was 17 years, two months, and thirteen days old.  His father, Jacob Auler had just passed away less than a month before, on February 4th.  How that affected the young man's decision, we can only speculate, but the drastically new dynamic at home surely must have had some impact.

At the time the US Army had only 127,151 soldiers in uniform. Compare that with the German army’s 11 million. The US needed lots more bodies in uniform fast. So since not nearly enough people were enlisting fast enough, a new draft was enacted into law on May 18, 1917.

The draft had a shady history in the US. There had last been conscription in the Civil War, but it had loopholes that allowed rich people to pay somebody to take their place. That’s how my great Grandmother’s brother, Lewis G. Butzow, newly immigrated from Germany, joined the civil war. He wasn’t even a citizen yet. But a kick-start in this new country in the form of $250 cash from some rich man seemed like it was too good for him to pass up. He served honorably. But let’s get back to the current story.

The US was ramping up its war infrastructure at a frantic pace, opening and expanding boot camps around the country. Grandpa Dutch was called into the army in one of the first waves of call-ups, on June 20th, 1917, and after a short stop at Camp Douglas in Wisconsin he was sent to boot camp at Camp McArthur in Waco, TX. Here, in his own handwriting, is an autobiographical sketch of the events:

He left this bio unfinished. We have a photo of Grandpa Dutch and three colleagues/friends taken at Renne right around the 22nd of March 1918. The caption is in his own handwriting.

So where was he during the war? Grandpa rarely talked about the war, but he kept photos such as the one above, and was given (and kept) two history books about his unit. It is on the inside front cover of one of these that his incomplete bio above is written. The history books tell us that he was in the midst of the action on the western front–a trench-warfare line that stretched all the way across France. But best of all, we have a few of his letters, sent from the front lines to his sister Marie. And Marie saved them.

These letters provide no explicit detail of his activities. The censors did not allow that. But he describes being at 5 different ‘Fronts’. He talks about friends who were wounded, and how his best friend in the army was killed. And he talks explicitly about the conditions he was facing, such as ten-days of hard marching with a hole in one of his boots. I’m including two of the letters here; and I’ll let his own words speak for themselves. One letter was written just two weeks before he was wounded (we don’t know what the wound was), and just five weeks before the end of the war, 104 years ago today. The other letter describes his decorations and plans to return home in May of 1919. I’ve supplied a page-by page transcription, since his handwriting is sometimes a bit tough to read.

Oct. 3, 1918
Somewhere in France.

Dear Sis:-

Received two letters here lately from you and I was indeed enjoyed with their contents. One of the letters had a couple of pictures enclosed of Gertie and (Walter?) and the other of you and a trio of (Jackties?). They were very good and would like to get more of their kind. Please have Paul and the rest of the family including you line up and have their picture taken in front of the house

if possible. Would also like to have some news from some of my relatives.

Knew about Harry Barnes some time ago. Many things are happening over here and I also see many things but I cannot tell you about. Some of the happenings that I have to hold back would may (make) the people at home very happy and the others would make them very sad.

Everything is the same with me. We have changed fronts again and this one makes the 5th one we were at. 4 of them

will stand in History of the world forever. I have now seen much of France and am satisfied. We are pushing the Huns back continually and have them very near their own country. Many prisoners are being taken and by conversing with them and looking them over a fellow can get a pretty good idea of how they are fixed.

I am feeling good and working hard. By the way things look the end is very

near.  Don’t forget to write often and send some pictures.

Best regards from

Your Bro

George G. Auler

“Batt A” 121st F.A

A.E.F A.P.O 734

Censored By

Capt. B.O. Reynolds


Just as I was about to mail this letter I received two more letters, one from you and the other from Mrs. Nugent & Lily.  They writing to me surprised me very much and I am answering their letter immediately.  I really thing (think) a lot of my mail is being lost somehow or other for I only receive letters once in a great while.  And when the (they) do come they make me very happy.

You say a girl friend told you that it had been 2 weeks before her brother changed clothes.  Just an idea

of how I’m fixed. I hate to tell you but just for fun. Remember I belong to a storm division. We’ve been on 5 different fronts in 135 days. I have not changed clothes for about 75 days. Made hikes of 10 days through rain & mud with a hole in one of my shoes. Did not change socks for about 25 days. We sleep any place we can. Shell craters, old trenches & dugouts. Field mice & rats are abundant over here. That’s enough I guess.

Best regards to Mr Kenny and Mr O’brien. Am writing to Miss Lily Nugent immediately.

(End-of-letter) – Here’s the second one:

Gondrecourt, France
March 30, 1919

Dear Sis:-

I received your letter of many questions today. I will answer it immediately or rather the questions.

We shall sail for America the early part of May and I expect to be home by May 25.

I sent beaucoupe postals from the place I spent my 7 day furlough. I expect to go on another leave soon. I also sent a Battery picture and Book of A.E.F. cartoons. Let me no (know) when you get them.

We, the 57 Brigade, which is the 119th, 120th, 121st, and 147th F.A. has not been in Germany and

are a very far away from there. We were suppose to go to Coblentz to me (meet?) our 32nd Infantry but that has been changed and they are going to join us at Le Mans and then we shall probably go to Brest.

The boat that we came over on was the largest steamship and still is. It was the German ship Vaterland renamed Leviathan. We expect to go back on the same ship.

I met Clem Gill in the Hospital. He was not wounded but gassed very badly. He is back with his Regiment. Nearly every fellow that was at the Chateau-Thierry front was gassed a little including Battery A & myself.

Nick Gill’s Battery has just joined its Regiment and they have never been to the front.  They were at an Officers training school.  He was over here before I went on leave and visited me.  He is billeted about 2 miles away from were (where) I am.  We are still in the same rotten Barracks.

I never heard anything about Uncle Arthur’s death.  I heard something about that American cemetery and probably be able to see his grave before I leave France.

I’ll let you no (know) when I leave France by letter.  Don’t forget to save some of Schlitz’s beer.  The stuff in brown bottles.

I wear two gold service

stripes on my left arm and one wound stripe on my right arm. I also wear a red arrow with a cross on my left shoulder, the insignia of the 32nd Division. We are supposed to wear a citation cord over a four queue (?) but as yet they were not issued to us. This cord is for being cited at the front, and the 32nd Division was cited 9 times. I am in good health and spirits and hope they are all the same at home.

Your Brother
George G Auler

Censored by
FH Steinpatz (?)

* * *

After the War, Grandpa returned home and lived with his widowed mother and three siblings for about four years.

Sometime around 1920 or 1921, while hanging around the Riverside Roller-Skating Rink watching the girls skate, he met his future wife, Ivis Uecke.  She had come with girlfriends, but that day George accompanied her home on the streetcar.  Ivis had lost her mother in 1918 and her father passed away in March 1921, and her living situation was difficult, so George 'rescued' her by marrying her.  They appear to have eloped, because they were married in Waukegan, Illinois, just across the state line, on March 28, 1922, when Ivis was 19 years old.  Their one and only child, Muriel, arrived ten months later.

George worked for the Grand Trunk Railway system, and that work took the family to South Bend, Indiana for two years.  When they returned to Milwaukee in 1925, George eventually found work at Nash-Kelvinator, which in 1954 became part of American Motors, where he was a foreman up until his retirement.

Grandpa also played semi-pro baseball for several American Legion sponsored teams, and later in life, he was an avid bowler.

1925 team photo, Alonzo Cudworth Post (#23), Milwaukee.  George is in the back, a head above the others.  Annotation of names is in his own handwriting.

In 1928 George and Ivis bought and moved into a newly built house at 4485 N. Morris Blvd. in the new suburb of Shorewood on the north side of Milwaukee.  They lived there until they retired, some 35 years later.  As a child, I remember visiting this home nearly every summer from 1952 through 1965.  The street was lined with beautiful mature stately elm trees, all of which were killed by Dutch Elm Disease starting right around the time of my last visit in the mid-1960s.  The Milwaukee Journal/Sentinel reports that “The number of Milwaukee County elm trees that met the chainsaw soared from 11 in 1956 to 689 in 1960, 6,789 in 1965, and a historic peak of 19,618 in 1968, when the disease was reported in “epidemic proportions.”

Four generations.  Grandpa Dutch with his mother, daughter, and me at my baptism in late 1948.

At some point during his working career, George suffered a serious infection in one of his arms, which grew so bad that he almost had to have the whole arm amputated.  The hand never fully recovered, and although it remained functional, he said he had almost no feeling in that hand.

George and Ivis retired in the early 1960's and bought a lake-front home on Lake Nagawicka, town of Nashotah, in NW Waukesha County, Wisconsin, where they lived until 1972.  I well remember the vacations at their lake home, boating and fishing and just hanging out on the pier.  This is how I best remember Grandpa Dutch and Grandma Ivis.

On the lake-side patio Edgewood Ct., Lake Nagawicka, circa 1964

In 1972 they sold the lake house and moved into an apartment at 123 E. Chateau Place, Whitefish Bay, WI.  There, in 1976, while changing a tire on his car, the spare began to roll away down the driveway, and George chased it, either falling or simply over-exerting.  He fell ill and died of kidney failure not long after.