Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Lois E. Johnson
Moose Lake Star-Gazette 

Remembering a Hero: Clarence "Swede" Nelson


Provided Photo

Clarence "Swede" Nelson could still get into his in his World War II Eisenhower jacket and Anna could still wear her wedding suit years later.

The lusty, exhausting whistle of an incoming shell and its magnificent crash of a burst;

The whining growl of a convoy of trucks;

The thunderous boom of friendly artillery;

Stacccatoed machine-gun fire, a river of sound from German burp guns;

The washing-machine sound of the synchronized motors of German planes.

Those are all sounds that Clarence "Swede" Nelson of Moose Lake learned to identify when he fought in World War II.

"Dad was a member of the Eighth Field Artillery Observation Battalion," explained his son, Tom Nelson, in a recent interview in the Nelson home where his parents once lived.

Tom explained that his father was a forward radio observer who went ahead of the troops to listen and pick up sounds from the enemy.

"They got as close to the enemy as possible," Tom explained. "They picked up the sound waves and could triangulate the location of the enemy with transits. They would radio the location of the enemy back to the American troops so they could shell them."

Tom showed a book of Mathematical Algorithms that his dad carried with him in Europe to assist with locating the enemy. That book, photos and other memorabilia from that war are now family treasures.

Tom explained that his father was drafted into the army 1940 when he was in his later 20s.

"In those days, they had six-month enlistments," he said. "He served his six months and came home in November. He was home a couple of weeks when Pearl Harbor was attacked. He was recalled."

Swede Nelson was trained as a forward observer at Fort Sill in Oklahoma and later was stationed in Camp Sutton in North Carolina.

"He spent a year or a year and a half going from army post to post to get training," said Tom. "And then he was shipped to England to continue the training."

It wasn't until 1944 that Nelson actually saw combat.

"It was a few days after D-Day (June 6, 1944) when he came ashore on the Normandy beach with the artillery unit," said Tom. "The troops that had landed first had secured the beach so the rest of the invaders could come in with the tanks, trucks and artillery. It was all part of a major logistical exercise. Planning something like that takes a lot of skill."

The American troops spent the next months pushing through France, Belgium and into Germany.

"They liberated St. Lo from the Germans and then they were able to break through and race through northern France to Belgium," said Tom.

The troops continued pushing forward in September and October 1944 in the Siegfried Line Campaign, from Paris to the Rhine, Tom explained.

A photo that his dad had taken was of German Messerschmidt planes still under a canopy of camouflage fabric.

"They fled so fast that they just left the planes," he said his dad had told him. "The troops crossed the Rhine on pontoons. They set up their transits and determined that the German army was moving. They could see a dust cloud."

Nelson's squad came upon an empty castle that the Germans had occupied. The squad spent the next 10 days at the castle from Oct. 27 to November 8, 1944, said Tom.

"It had been shot up when the Germans occupied it," he added. "The turret was a good observation post for the American troops."

The troops explored the castle and found the wine cellar and library, where many valuable manuscripts were still on the shelves, said Tom.

"Dad's troops notified the Belgian authorities about the valuables and asked someone to come and remove them and store them for the family," Tom recalled.

"Dad and Mom went over there in 1965 and they went to see the castle. It was fully restored, and the family was living there again."

Tom said that the son of the older man told Nelson that his father had just died. His father had waited all those years to thank the people responsible for having the family treasures removed during the war.

"The son took Dad and Mom on a tour of the castle," Tom said. "Dad knew the castle better than the son did because he had been there before. They spent the day there. That was the one thing that stood out when they were in Germany."

Nelson spent Christmas 1944 in the Hurtgen Forest during the Battle of the Bulge, he added.

The Hurtgen Forest is located near the border of Germany and Belgium. The Battle of Hurtgen Forest was a series of fierce battles between American and German forces fought from September 19 through December 16, 1944.

Tom said that his father's unit made it as far as the Elbe River, where they met the Russians.

And then the war ended.

"Dad's unit stayed for a few months during occupation duty," he said. "There were a lot of Russian and Polish prisoners of war, and they loaded them on trucks to take them back home. As soon as the prisoners were loaded, they jumped off the trucks. Stalin saw any Russian that had been to the West during the war as a threat."

Tom said that, as his father started the trip back home, he went from Le Havre, France, to Southampton, England, on the Queen Mary. The luxury liner had been converted to a troop ship during the war. The Queen Mary is now docked permanently in Long Beach, California.

Nelson was discharged on Oct. 23, 1945, and returned to Moose Lake, where he returned to a career working for the Soo Line Railroad as a depot agent.

"Dad retired in 1975," said Tom. "He had worked for the Soo Line before he went in the army so he was the employee that had worked for the Soo Line the longest."

Nelson had won a medal during the war.

"I didn't realize it until years later that Dad was awarded the Bronze Star," said Tom. "He never made anything of it."

Nelson married a teacher, Anna, in early 1946, said Tom. The couple had two sons, Tom and Bob. Both live in Alaska but still own the house where they grew up. They often return for visits.

"My dad died in 2010 at the age of 97," Tom concluded. "Mom died in 2011."


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