Some gave all, all gave some
By ANDREW MCGINN
Walking through the Highland Twp. Cemetery with John Mosher is like getting a crash course in the people’s history of Churdan.
He stopped last week at a wide, grey stone bearing the name Ferguson.
“This is Charles H. Ferguson,” Mosher explained, resting his hand on the cold granite, a bronze star staked into the ground at the stone’s base denoting Ferguson as a veteran of the Union Army. “Then there’s a Charles Ferguson, and he was in World War I. And then there was David Ferguson, who was in Vietnam.”
Walking on, he paused a few minutes later at the flat, bronze marker of a World War II veteran.
“Here’s a boy,” Mosher said, pointing down with a smile on his face, “who knew how to drink.”
Walk from one end of the cemetery to the other and you’ll hear stories about guys named Stick and Sam the Key Man, and about veterans of World War I he remembers as a boy from his paper route, all of whom smoked King Edward cigars.
Many of them are on the cusp of being forgotten completely, save for those occasions when someone like Mosher comes across their burial plot in the town cemetery by sheer happenstance.
Mosher, 65, and the other members of the Churdan American Legion hope to give all 170 or more veterans at rest in the Highland Twp. Cemetery a degree of immortality, etching their names onto a single, imposing veterans’ memorial they want to see erected in the cemetery.
“I don’t know how else to keep them remembered,” said Mosher, a veteran himself who grew up in a house facing the cemetery.
The proposed memorial — expected to be 16 to 17 feet in length, if Legionnaires in Churdan can raise the $20,000 needed to make it reality — will be two-sided in order to accommodate the men and women who have yet to even recite the oath of enlistment.
“We hate to say for future wars, but someday, they’ll be able to put names on the back,” Mosher said.
Churdan already has Freedom Park, the centerpiece of which is a monument inscribed with 11 names — those from Churdan killed in the two world wars.
But for every Edward English — the Churdan boy for whom the Legion post is named, killed when his submarine, the USS Scorpion, hit a Japanese mine in 1944 — there were 10 Clare Hunters, local men who answered the nation’s call but were fortunate enough to return home.
The proposed memorial will honor all who served who are buried in the Highland Twp. Cemetery.
Hunter, for the record, isn’t there yet.
“That’s our last World War II veteran. He’s still alive,” Mosher said with palpable pride as he pointed to Hunter’s stone-in-waiting.
Churdan’s most well-known World War II veteran, Paul Trost, isn’t buried far from there.
A German prisoner of war, Trost was captured on Dec. 19, 1944, during the Battle of the Bulge.
He went on to become a longtime teacher and coach in the community.
But even if names like Duane E. Simons or George Rees — local veterans of the Civil War and World War I, respectively — no longer register on a personal level, seeing each era’s roll call is as inspiring as it is impressive.
“I never would’ve thought that many people were in that war from that small of town,” Mosher said, referring to the more than six dozen World War II veterans whose names will be inscribed on the memorial.
Charles H. Ferguson will be listed as one of Churdan’s 14 Civil War veterans, although he wasn’t a Civil War veteran in the traditional sense.
True, the bronze star staked into the ground near his gravestone identifies him as a member of GAR, the Grand Army of the Republic, the fraternal organization for veterans of the Union Army between 1861 and 1865.
But on deeper examination, Ferguson served on the western front as part of the Indian Wars.
Enlisting in the Army on May 6, 1864, at age 16, Ferguson joined Company M of the Seventh Iowa Cavalry in the Army’s fight against the Plains Indians.
Of the 1,592 men in the Seventh Iowa Cavalry, 53 were killed in action.
Ferguson was mustered out of the service on June 22, 1866, in Sioux City.
He lived to be 90.
“That’s one of my biggest concerns,” Mosher said, “is forgetting somebody.”
He spent several days this past summer walking the cemetery grounds, logging each veteran.
Although he now lives in The Villages, Fla., Mosher returns home every Memorial Day, and was back again last week just before Veterans Day to talk to donors.
“I’m going to get it done,” Mosher vowed, “one way or another.”
Mosher, who owned Central Iowa Pool and Spa in Des Moines before his retirement, would seem to be uniquely qualified to head up the project.
You might even say he was born to do it, given that Doc Lohr was paid to deliver Mosher on Nov. 24, 1952, with a .25-caliber Japanese rifle that his dad, Roy Mosher, brought back from World War II as a trophy.
Years later, the Lohr family returned the rifle, John Mosher said.
A recipient of two Bronze Stars during his service in the South Pacific, once spending 218 straight days on the front line, Roy Mosher will be inscribed on the veterans’ memorial.
He died in 2007 at age 90.
John Mosher and his three brothers — there were seven kids in all — all served in the military, with older brothers David and Duane serving in Vietnam.
“It was kind of a mandatory thing in our house,” Mosher said.
He enlisted in the Marines, wanting to go to Vietnam, serving from 1971 to 1973.
Oldest brother David was in his 19th year of service as a Navy corpsman when he was killed in a jeep accident in 1985 at Camp Pendleton in California.
He was just a year shy of retirement.
David Mosher will be inscribed on the memorial as well.
One veteran John Mosher hoped to find in the cemetery — but couldn’t — was Sam Vader, known around town as Sam the Key Man, a lifelong locksmith and a bachelor who rode an Indian motorcycle and would conveniently show up at the Mosher home right at dinner time.
Vader died in 1992 at age 82, a veteran of World War II.
Mosher found out later he donated his body to science.
Admittedly, he never did learn what Sam the Key Man did in the war, and he might never know.
The same goes for dozens of others.
But Mosher has little doubt they served their country, and their community, well.
“I bet there are a lot of heroes in here,” he said.
How to donate
Mail donations for the Churdan veterans’ memorial to the Churdan American Legion, P.O. Box 245, Churdan, IA 50050.