War Games in Pierz

Helpful Hesch family researchers, Marlys and Larry, have led us to another fascinating story from Morrison County’s history. The story includes a bit of a puzzle.

Marlys sent us an email regarding a picture Larry had found in the Spokane Daily Chronicle dated August 15, 1940. The photo showed four boys from Pierz, guns drawn, assisting three soldiers in “battle.” The caption mentioned U.S. Army maneuvers taking place at Camp Ripley. None of the soldiers or boys were identified in the photos. (That’s the puzzle.)

The photo had gone out on the AP, so I figured it might show up in one of our local papers, along with some sort of explanation about the Army maneuvers. While several of the local papers carried some news of what was going on in August 1940, the Little Falls Daily Transcript had the most detailed coverage and it also carried the same photo Larry found in the Spokane Daily Chronicle.

Here’s the Transcript version of the photo, which ran August 16, 1940:

Local boys from Pierz, MN, assisting members of the Kansas National Guard (137th Infantry) during U.S. Army war games hosted by Camp Ripley, August 16, 1940, Little Falls Daily Transcript.
Local boys from Pierz, MN, assisting members of the Kansas National Guard (137th Infantry) during U.S. Army war games hosted by Camp Ripley, August 16, 1940, Little Falls Daily Transcript.

Here’s a closer view of the photo. Can you identify any of the boys or soldiers?

Local boys from Pierz, MN, assisting members of the Kansas National Guard (137th Infantry) during U.S. Army war games hosted by Camp Ripley, August 16, 1940, Little Falls Daily Transcript.
Local boys from Pierz, MN, assisting members of the Kansas National Guard (137th Infantry) during U.S. Army war games hosted by Camp Ripley, August 16, 1940, Little Falls Daily Transcript.

According to the Transcript, which had almost daily coverage of the maneuvers, Camp Ripley hosted the “Fourth army sham warfare exhibition,” which took place from August 12 through August 16, 1940.  (LFDT, August 6, 1940) Over 45,000 troops from Minnesota, Nebraska, Missouri, Kansas and Arkansas were split into Red and Blue armies and “war” was declared at midnight on August 12, 1940. Ground, air, tank and cavalry troops were involved in the maneuvers, which took place over 45 miles of territory between Onamia/Mille Lacs Lake and Morrison County. The goal was to see which army would take Camp Ripley first.

County residents, including the boys pictured above, were supportive of the war games, enduring air raid sirens in Little Falls and allowing the armies “trespass rights” to their land.

The Red Army was victorious, with the “war” officially concluding at 11:27 a.m. on August 16, 1940.

While there is a sense of fun and excitement communicated within the articles about the war games, it’s surreal to see these articles mixed in with reports concerning World War II.

When Marlys passed this information on to us, she really wanted to have those young boys in the photo identified. Do you recognize any of them? If so, leave a comment or send us an email and let us know who they are.

– Mary

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[Info included in this post was taken from issues of the Little Falls Daily Transcript dated from August 6, 1940 through August 17, 1940.]

Update – Sept. 21, 2012 – We got a call today from a man who was able to identify one of the boys in the Pierz war games photos. The blond boy in the middle of the action is Mel Grell. Thanks for your assistance, Earl!

3 Replies to “War Games in Pierz”

  1. That’s a fabulous shot, Marlys. Hopefully, someone will come across this post and be able to identify people in the shot, including the soldiers, who aren’t as clear in our newspaper photo as the kids because of their hats and guns. (The MHS pic is definitely clearer.)

    -Mary

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