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September 21, 2010     The Ortonville Independent
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September 21, 2010

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Arlo Robertson "Missing, but we found him." Ado Robertson's story begins with a name on a list that was submitted to the Ortonville Independent by Harlan 'JR' Parker, a veteran whose story was published in this series previously. The list was an honor roll of Big Stone County veterans who had been killed in action, wounded, captured, or died of injuries while in the service. The list was published in the Independent shortly after the end of WWlI. "Lt. Arlo Robertson - Artichoke" appeared as a single entry under the heading, "Missing in Action." "Robertson" and "Artichoke" pointed us to the one person who might help. We were sure Ado had to be related to a classmate, Don Harvey Robertson, who was also from Artichoke Town- ship. We got his email address from another classmate, Duane Hanson, and made contact with Don. "Ado was my cousin. He was a navigator, or maybe a bombardier. His plane went down in the Adriatic near Yugoslavia. They never recovered his body. The plane sunk and he was lost in the wreckage. His father's name was Ivan and his mother was Hazel." Now we had something to go on. Arlo was in the Air Corps, so there had to be an MACR (Missing in Action Crew Report) in the government archives. Every plane shot down in WWII had such a report filed. All we needed to do was go to the website, enter Arlo's name, and we'd have ac- cess to more information on him and his aircraft. The search turned out to be a dead end. There was no MACR withTkrlo's name on it. Next, we tried a search-of enlistment records. Nothirtg. lZ~Air: Corps casualty list was next. Nothing. Searches in service records, family records, Air Corps records all turned up nothing. Perhaps Arlo's records were destroyed in the 1973 fire at the National Personnel Records Center (St. Louis, MO). Over 16 million records were lost in that fire, and if Arlo's was among them, there would be no chance of finding anything per- taining to his service. No duplicates or microfilm had been made of the records held at St. Louis. Some time later, in a conversation with Bob Pflueger, we asked if he knew of Ado Robertson. "Yes, he was killed - went down in the Adriatic near Yugoslavia." Bob's wife, Lois,joined us later and she remembered Arlo, too. "We were friends from school. I went to his memorial service. It was a me- morial service, not a funeral, because his body was never recovered." Then Bob remembered a name - a Mrs. Nichols. "She's related to Ado. Maybe she has some information." Another lead. Maybe this would be the one. Mrs. Valina Nichols did remember Arlo, but could offer nothing more to what we already knew. She suggested that, perhaps, Eileen Nolting had something. "She lives in Big Stone. Mrs. Oliver Nolting. She was a Robertson. You might give her a call." In the meantime, we had received another email from Don Robertson. "His family went to the Artichoke Lutheran Chui'ch. I think there is a memorial stone there. The cemetery is right, next to the red schoolhouse. The church is gone now, but the cemetery is still there." Well, that was something more to go on. If we found the marker, maybe it would have his unit number engraved on it, as was often the case with mili- tary markers. Twenty minutes later we were at the cemetery. The church was gone and so was the school, but, per- haps we would find Arlo's marker, which would give us a little more in- formation There was no marker for Arlo at the Artichoke Lutheran Church Cemetery. Maybe Don gave us the wrong cemetery. There were two other Lutheran churches nearby, Drywood and Long Lake. Both were within a few miles of where we were standing at the moment, so the decision was .......~ y~y the articles.) easy. First, we drove to the Drywood church. The church, itself, had been recently removed to Morris, but the cemetery was still there. It took less than an hour to check all the head- stones. No Arlo. This left Long Lake Lutheran Church, which we remembered as being somewhere south of Drywood. We weren't sure just where, but we knew if we drove around the sections long enough, we would find it. While driving south we spotted a church in the distance and, at the same time, we came upon a pickup dragging a dead tree behind it, so we stopped and flagged the driver down. It was Mr. Glimsdal. "Is that the Long Lake church over there?" pointing to the structure in the distance. "Yep, sure is. Lookin' for some- one?" "I'm looking for Arlo Robertson - know the name?" "I've lived here all my life and I know there were lots of Robertsons on the other side of the lake, but I don't recall an Arlo. I'll come with you and help you look." Thanks to Mr. Glimsdal, our search time was reduced to half. The results, however, were the same. No Arlo. "You might try Drywood, "I've already been there - no luck." "Yah, they took the church away last month. They built the new structure in 1960, but I guess everybody moved away, so they closed it. It was the best. They really had good lutefisk and meatball suppers there in the fall." "I bet the services were really good too, eh?" "Well, we didn't go there, but, yah, I'm sure the services were good, too. Lotta people went there once." "Probably more than once, I sup- pose." "Well, yah, of course. You know what I mean." We both laughed. Then Mr. Glims- dal said, "Say, you might try the Wal- dum Cemetery. You go north until the first left on the township road and go about a mile and a half. It's right there. You can't miss it." Mr. Glimsdal evidently didn't know our record of not being able to find places you couldn't miss. But, at least, my wife wasn't along, so I wouldn't have to suffer the humiliation of not being able to find a place you couldn't miss and the constant reminder, "Why don't you just stop and ask someone!" The Waldum Cemetery was where it .was supposed to be, according to Mr. Glimsdal. It is a small cemetery and it didn't take long to check every head- stone.Arlo wasn't there. On to plan B. Call Mrs. Nolting. Lorraine Nolting remembered Ado well. "He was a relative. I'm a Robertson. I have a book, the Robert- son Family History. I'll look and see what I can find. I'll call you back in a little bit." Within the hour, Lorraine called back. "I have something here. He was in the Air Force. He was killed on Jan- uary 29, 1945. He was born October 30, 1925. His parents were Ivan and Hazel Robertson. They moved to Cal- ifornia during the war. There were good paying jobs there at defense plants. I think that's why they moved to California." Now we had more information to proceed with our search. All we had to do was check the MACR's for 1/29/45 and we could find, by process of elimination, more about Ado Robertson. The data base showed sev- eral aircraft being downed on 1/29/45. We could eliminate all the fighters and transport planes because we knew Arlo was on a bomber. Narrowing in on the European Theater reduced the possi- bilities even further. We knew Ado must have been in the 15th Air Force because he went down in the Adriatic, which meant he was flying out of Italy where the 15th was headquartered. The list of possibilities was now re- duced to just two, a B-24 and an A-20. We did the search on both. Nothing again. No Arlo. Now what7 We contracted with a professional researcher and posted a 'help' message on the 15th Air Force bulletin board. While waiting for responses from our contracted researcher and the 15th bulletin board, we continued to search other data bases. One in particular, a database devoted to the B-24, listed every aircraft of that design shot down during the war. We noticed that there were quite a few downed on January 20, 1945. Not the 29th, but the 20th. The count for that day was ten downed B-24s. We wondered if, perhaps, whoever typed up the Robertson family history may have struck the "9" key instead of the "0" key on the typewriter. The two keys are adjacent on the top row, so there was, at least, a remote possibil- ity that happened. Given that possibility, we contacted our researcher and the 15th AF bulletin board to let them know our thinking. Very shortly thereafter, the researcher contacted us. "I have an Arlo Robert- son. He's from Kansas." "Kansas? It's doubtful that this is the Ado we're looking for, but it's worth checking out. How many Arlo Robertsons could there have been in the Air Force in WWlI?" A check back at the 15th bulletin board showed they had an Ado Rober- son, too. Their Arlo was from Kansas. "Same guy," we're thinking. With some hope that maybe it wasn't the same Ado the 15th had found, we searched and came across a memorial record for the Kansas A_rlo. He was in England, in the Air Force, but evi- dently on a ground crew. He was killed in a ground accident. Not our Arlo, for sure. Days pass and another check at the 15th bulletin board showed three dif- ferent posts saying they can only find a V.A. Robertson who went down on the 20th of January. We had seen this entry before, but passed it. We were looking for an Arlo, not a V.A. Robert- son. Then we thought maybe the family records at the church might give us a lead. The church was gone, but the records had to be held somewhere Another call to Lorraine Nolting. We needed to be sure we had checked the right cemetery and she would be able to confirm that. "Can you tell me where the Lutheran cemetery out at Artichoke is located?" "Yes, it's right by the red school- house on the west side of the lake. The cemetery is right next to it. The church isn't there anymore. It was closed in the 1940's and moved to Appleton. They joined with another church there." We thanked Mrs. Nolting again and continue our search. We look in the Appleton directory. There are three Lutheran churches in Appleton. The logic is simple: call the one on top and work your way down. We call the first church on the list and the secretary puts us on hold for a minute or so. The pastor, Pastor Tim Renstrom, comes to the phone. He is very friendly and helpful. "No, the Ar- tichoke church didn't join our church. I think it was the Faith Lutheran, but that's closed now, too." "Do you know where the church records may have been placed?" "There was a fire in the church. I think the records may have been lost. But I may know someone who knows. Let me check and I'll call you back." We hang up the phone in the dol- drums. Another fire! This may have been the last chance to find out any- thing at all about Ado. In less than an hour, Pastor Tim called back. "There's a Mrs. Kohlman. She was a member of that church. I've told her you will be call- ing her." I thanked Pastor Tim and called Mrs. Kohlman. She was waiting. "Yes, I knew Arlo. I rode the school bus with him. He was a very nice fellow." "The church you went to - it was by the red schoolhouse, right?" "Yes, that's the one. But you might check the Long Lake Lutheran Church on the east side, just south of Drywood Church. I think they may have gone there." "We've already done that. There were no markers for Arlo at either cemetery. I checked at Drywood and Waldum, too." After a little more pleasant conver- sation about the lutefisk suppers they used to have at the Drywood church, we said goodbyes, but before hanging up, Mrs. Kohlman said, in passing, "I have a book here on World War II vet- erans - you know, they named streets here in Appleton after the ones who were killed then. I think Arlo may be in the book." We thanked Mrs. Kohlman again and told her we'd call back in a day or so to see if she had found anything. We kept busy with research on other stories, but kept returning to Arlo's in hopes of finding something. We posted more 'help' messages at differ- ent forums. One of the forums, His- tory of the 485th Bomb Group, looked like it may hold possibilities because the 485th flew mainly B-24s and its base was near the Adriatic. We went back through the list we had made be- fore of ten B-24s downed on January 20, 1945. One of the aircraft in the list showed that it went down in the Adri- atic. We didn't pursue the research on that one because the Robertson Family History showed that he was killed on January 29th. The next day, we called Mrs. Kohlman back to see what, if anything, she had found. "Yes, he's in the book. Just a minute. I'll go get it and be right back." In less than a minute, Mrs. Kohlman was back. "He's right here on page 26. Ado Robertson. Son of Mr. and Mrs. Ivan Robertson - her name was Hazel, I think. He was declared missing in ac- tion over the Adriatic. It says he was a top turret gunner. "Does it give a date when he was de- clared missing?" "Yes, it says Jan. 20, 1945. He got an Air Medal and he had completed 15 missions." Mrs. Kohlman had just become our new best friend! January 20th was the key. Our list of ten aircraft downed on January 20th showed only one lost over the Adriatic Sea. This had to be Arlo's B-24. If it was, we could find more information. An MACR (Miss- ing Air Crew Report) could be very de- tailed, depending on the circumstances. We thanked Mrs. Kohlman for find- ing the information, then asked about the book she had. "The VFW or the Legion put it together, I think. They still have some for sale in Appleton." This was good news, too. We would drive to Appleton tomorrow and buy our own copy of the book. We thanked Mrs. Kohlman again and hung up, ex- uberant with our good fortune in hav- ing connected with Pastor Tim. The next day, on a whim, we decided to call the Recorder's Office at the County Courthouse. We had thought about doing this before, but had recon- sidered, thinking that such information would be personal information not available to the public. Besides that, there would be no military information archived there. Karol Scherer answered; and we asked, "Is it legal for you to give me information from someone's birth cer- tificate?" "Yes, we can give you information. We can't give you the birth certificate, but we can give you information that appears on the birth record." "Do you have time to look up Arlo Robertson? His birthday is October 30, 1925. He was from Artichoke Township." 'Tll have to go back to the records. Hang on. I'll be back soon." While Karol was searching records, we wondered why we were asking for the information in the first place. But Karol was looking and we would wait it out. Very shortly, she returned to the phone. "I can't find an Arlo Robert- son. This didn't surprise me. Ado had been elusive from the beginning; so this was nothing new. We had half- way expected it anyway. Karol continued, "But there is a Vir- gil Robertson. He was born on Oct. 30. "REALLY! From Artichoke Town- ship7" "Yes, Artichoke. Mother, Hazel - delivered by his father... 3:23 a.m. Father's name.., it looks like an "E". It's hard to make out. Oh, and the baby's middle name is Arlo. Virgil Ado Robertson." It was a breathless moment. Karol had given us the reason we had not been able to find any military records for Arlo Robertson. His name was Vir- gil, but he had preferred to go by his middle name. The military service would put aside that preference and file his records by his first name, Virgil. We thanked Karol and hung up the phone. In our mind, we thanked the County for keeping records. This was, indeed, a gratifying moment. The next day we drove to Appleton to buy a copy of the book Mrs. Kohlman had told us about. It was a booklet, not a book, and it cost $2. The title is Appleton, Minnesota - Home of Honored Veterans. We returned to our car, settled behind the steering wheel and opened the booklet to page 26. There it was, just above his photo: Staff Sgt. Virgil Ado Robertson. Be- neath, it told us, "... born October 30, 1925, the youngest son of Mr. and Mrs. Eiven Robertson". There was no doubt we had found the soldier we were look- ing for. The photo was of Arlo standing by the family house, probably taken in California where the family had moved. The photo was fuzzy. It prob- ably was a Kodak snapshot that had been blown up, causing the sharpness to blur. Arlo was in uniform. Maybe this photo was taken after he had corn- pleted boot camp or advanced gunnery training. Arlo was a handsome man. He had a nice smile. He looked like a man one would have enjoyed meeting and having some conversation with. Mrs. Kohlman knew him as Arlo. She had ridden the bus to school with Ado. She knew Ado, and, perhaps didn't even see the 'Virgil' on page 26 as she read it to us on the telephone. Mrs. Nichols knew Arlo and Mrs. Nolting's Robertson Family History knew Ado. Bob and Lois Pflueger knew Ado. Don Robertson, his cousin knew Arlo. Not one remembered Arlo's first name was Virgil. All but one of the above were surprised when we called back to tell them Arlo's real first name was Virgil. The one person who wasn't surprised simply re- sponded, "Ohhhh... yeahhhh, I re- member that now." Arriving home, we set about imme- diately to get the MACR for Arlo's air- craft. We entered 'Virgil Robertson' in the search box for the MACR list on the 15th Air Force home page, and, al- most immediately, it responded with "B-24, serial number 42-52718, Janu- ary 20, 1945." It was the aircraft we think of Bob's last mission for ihe 97tl had chosen as the most likely candidate Fighter Squadron. Bob dedicated par from the list of ten that were downed of his final hours to thoughts of Ark on Jan. 20. One more click and the re- Robertson and that day, 65 years ago. quest for the report was completed. (To be continued in next week', The next order of business was to in- paper) form the bulletin boards where we had posted help messages that we had Job training i ~[I 1 found Ado. We explained why we had not found him and why they wouldn't available for find him either. His name was Virgil, older veterans not Ado. It turned out that the V.A. Robertson that two forum members Many of the nation's veterans are had found was the Arlo we were look- unemployed and require job training to ing for. find work. More than 15 percent of the Then we looked at our forum mes- low-income older adults served by Ex- sage box - two messages. The first perience Works this year, in fact, are was from E.J. Whiting. The header veterans of the U.S. armed services. said, "Have information on Ado "As the economy continues to fal- Robertson." We immediately thought, ter, many older veterans are finding it "Well, here comes Kansas Ado again." necessary to find work - either because Our assumption was wrong. We they were laid off or because savings opened the message. It began, "Hi, have disappeared," said Teri Stepaniak, I'm Jerry Whiting, 485th Bomb Group Minnesota state director for Experi- Historian. I gave two presentations at ence Works. "Unfortunately, the Ortonville a few years ago. Ann Lund- search for employment is much more berg was my contact person there." difficult for older individuals, because Jerry's dad, Wayne, lived on a farm they often lack the technical skills near Milbank, later moving to Sioux needed to compete in today's job mar- Falls, South Dakota. It was here that ket." Jerry was born and raised. Jerry be- In recognition of Veteran's Day, Ex- came very familiar with the Ortonville perience Works reminds job seekers area, having more than a few relatives that services are available to older vet- living here. Also, as the historian for erans through the Senior Community the 485th, he had a thorough knowl- Service Employinent Program edge of the planes and men who flew (SCSEP). Through the SCSEP, quail- with the group. Our help post had fled participants receive self assess- stated Ado was from Artichoke Town- ments, technical and skills training, ship. Jerry put it together and found assistance with the job search process our Arlo. Jerry said in his message, and placement in an appropriate train- "Send your telephone number if you ing assignment with a local community want to talk about it." servxce agency. Participants earn the We messaged Jerry back, "Send me minimum wage while acquiring the your telephone number. I owe you and skills and tools they need to transition we'll spend my dime." Jerry sent his from community service assignments phone number and we called him. to employment with a local employer Jerry was very helpful and offered to "As a 20-year Army veteran, I real- send the mission report for the 485th ize how important it is for our older on January 20. He also noted that his veterans to get the training and support father, Wayne Whiting, was in the they need to overcome barriers and same bomb group, but in a different continue to be a vital part of the work- squadron. He had flown the same mis- force," said Dr. Charles Toftoy, a board sion as Arlo on January 20th, 1945. member for Experience Works. "We Jerry also mentioned that he had will continue to identify ways to ex- conversations with Bob Pflueger dur- pand our services to veterans through ing his trips back to do presentations at Experience Works programs." the Big Stone County Museum. When Funded by the U.S. Department of Bob told Jerry of his duty with the 97th Labor, the SCSEP is free to partici- Fighter Squadron, Jerry wondered if, pants who are 55 and older and meet perhaps, Bob had flown cover for his low-income criteria. Experience dad during the war. Bob said he would Works, formerly known as Green check his flight log, and when he did, Thumb, serves the needs of older sure enough, he had flown cover for workers in Minnesota, Puerto Rico and Wayne Whiting on at least one occa- 29 other states. sion, perhaps more. Jerry couldn't re- For more information about Experi- member for sure. ence Works or to see if services are We told Jerry we would contact Bob available in your community, log on to Pflueger and ask him if he would check or call 800- his log book for mission dates. We 842-4982. would do this for Ado as well as Jerry. Openings set for Perhaps Bob had flown cover for Arlo and Wayne Whiting on Jan. 20. E MT classes A day or so later, we called Bob and told him of the conversation we had . The Ortonville Ambulance Service will be offering an EMT-B class be- had with Jerry Whiting. Bob recog- nized the name immediately. We asked ginning on Jan. 4, 2011 and will run Bob if he had his flight log with him. through March 29, 2011. The classes "We'd like to find out if you flew cover will be held at the Ortonville Ambu- forArlo and Wayne on Jan. 20." lance Service garage located on 1st "No, it's in storage. Our daughter is street in Ortonville. Classes will be coming this weekend. I'll have her dig Tuesday and Wednesday evenings it out and I'll call you back." from 6 p.m.-10 p.m. This was not to be. Bob passed away There will also be two Saturday in the night, Friday, Oct. 6. But, even classes which will tentatively take though Bob was not able to call back, place on Jan. 29 and Feb. 19 and will he made sure the information we had run for eight hours each. The cost of asked for would be there for us. the class will be $750 which includes His daughter, Ann, answered the course time, books and the practical phone. She knew about Arlo's story as exam fee. There will be an additional told to her by Bob and Lois. "In his cost of $70 once the course is corn- last hours he asked me to get the log pleted to take the National Registry book from storage. He wanted to look Exam. The class will be taught through up his mission on a certain date. I have North Memorial Ambulance Service. the log book right here." If anyone is interested in taking the "Would you please look up Jan .20, class or has any questions please con- 1945?" It took but a few moments, tact Christi Boyle-director of the Or- Then Ann read the entry. "Escort B- tonville Service by Dec. 1 at 24s to Linz." 320-839-3978 and leave a message or Bob had been with Ado on Arlo's contact by email at ambulance@citvo- last mission. 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