Like all family historians, I am drawn to cemeteries. Unlike my second cousin who finds my interest rather ghoulish, a stop to 'visit the relatives' brings a sense of peace and having taken on the responsibility of being my family's "Keeper of Everything," I can't help but feel joy having had the chance to get to know them. So it was with Milton beginning the day I convinced my husband to stop at the small cemetery on the outskirts of Kempster in Langlade county, Wisconsin.
Kempster, a small community of less than 1,700, is home to many of my paternal grandfather's nieces and nephews and their families. Both my grandmother Alma Polar Space and great-aunt Leona Polar Belott, taught in the Kempster schools at one time or another during their long teaching careers. Kempster is also one my favorite 'back way' trips to Elcho during our summertime ice cream road trips. My acquaintance with Milton Black began with a stop at the cemetery on one of these return trip from the Elcho Ice Cream Shop. The cemetery, located north of the intersection of county roads J and B with a view of pretty Sunfish Lake, has always been on my to-visit list but as any genealogist will tell you, making a request for a cemetery visit when traveling with family members, timing is everything. On this day, my husband was agreeable to a stop to wander among the stones. Success!
Set apart from the rest of the markers stands a red granite monument with a large Flag of the USA. While the cement mortar is need of repair, the artificial flowers and flag show recent visits to this particular marker. The placque reads:
August 27, 1924
January 23, 1945
The dates are similar to those of my uncle Earle Bergeron and I surmise that they more than likely knew each other as they would have attended Antigo High School, Earle being two years ahead of Milton. Earle, born in June 25, 1922, enlisted in the Army Air Corps in July 1940 immediately following graduation and became one of the Flying Sergeants who flew "The Hump" in the China Burma India theater during WWII. He died on April 23, 1943, when the C-47 he piloted crashed on take-off.
Looking at the dates we wonder if Milton died during the Battle of the Bulge. I take a couple of photographs of the memorial and file it away as the perfect post for an upcoming Tombstone Tuesday.
It isn't until weeks later, sitting at the film reader at the Antigo Public Library looking at Milton's obituary in the March 5, 1945 edition of the Antigo Daily Journal that I learn how much he and Uncle Earle had in common :
Sgt. Milton R. Black, 19, son of Robert R. Black, of Kempster, was killed in action Jan. 23 over Burma, the war department has notified his father.
Sgt. Black was an aerial engineer for a troop carrier squadron of the 10th air force which operates against the Japanese throughout the India-Burma theater. He had been credited with 25 combat missions and 275 combat hours, and had been awarded the air medal for meritorious achievement in aerial flight.
The Kempster airman was born Aug. 27, 1925 in Green Bay. He attended the Kempster school and was graduated from Antigo high school in 1942. Enlisting in the service in December 1942, Sgt. Black received his training at St. Petersburg, Fla., Gulfport, Miss., Buffalo, N.Y., Kansas City, Mo., and Love field, Tex. He went overseas June 19, 1944.
Sgt. Black's mother died April 28, 1942. Besides his father, he is survived by two brothers, Maurice of Kempster, and Pvt. Milo Black, who is stationed at Amarillo field, Tex., and one sister, Mrs. Vernon Keen, Koepenick.
Three days later a photo of Milton Black with a revised reprint of the complete obituary was run on the front page of the Journal; ironically, adjacent to the photo is a sub-headline: "Success Reported Against Japanese On Many Fronts."
A search of Ancestry.com listing of WWI, WWII, and Korean War Casualty Listings shows the family indicated their wish to have Milton buried in Honolulu, Hawaii in the National Memorial Cemetery of Pacific, Territory of Hawaii; resting in Plot P, Row O, Grave 800. This record reveals Milton served with the 9th Squadron, 3rd Combat Cargo Group. His list of awards includes the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster and the Purple Heart.
A further check of Ancestry.com U.S. World War II Army Enlistment Records, 1938-1946 shows Milton enlisted on December 10, 1942, in Milwaukee, WI. His enlistment record lists his civil occupation as "semiskilled mechanics and repair[men]". His height was recorded as 65 and weight 145.
I locate the obituary of Milton's mother Ida Sievert Black in the April 29, 1943, issue of the Antigo Daily Journal and discover another sibling, Robert, who died in 1928 at the age of six months.
I find myself thinking about how much these two young men had in common and the stories and experiences they would have shared had Earle and Milton lived to attend a high school reunion.
I think about how young they were when they went off to war, never to return, and am reminded of the quote by Henry David Thoreau: The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.
Copyright (c) 2010 Cindy Bergeron Scherwinski