By Sophie Olson
There is no better way to remember the “Forgotten War” than by putting a face and a name to one of the many individuals who offered their service to their country during the Korean War. This Eisenhower jacket from the Korean War era once belonged to Howard Thiel. Although Thiel never served overseas during the war, he was stationed with the U.S. Army at Fort Hood, Texas for two years from 1951-1953.
From one of the patches on his jacket, we can tell that Howard Thiel belonged to the 1st Armored Division. This division, nicknamed the “Old Ironsides”, was one of the first divisions in the Army to integrate black soldiers throughout its ranks. After nuclear warfare became a major concern in the 1950s, the 1st Armored Division was one of the first to participate in tests of the “Atomic Field Army” at Fort Hood.
Thiel married his wife, Rose Marie Seemann, in December, 1950, shortly after the war broke out. Their first daughter, Barbara, was born at the Fort Hood, Texas Army Hospital during Thiel’s time in service. When he returned to La Crosse with his family in 1954, Thiel started work at his father in law’s company, Seemann Lumber Co., managing lumberyards in Sparta and La Crosse.
Thiel continued to serve his community in many ways outside the military. He was a member and, at one time, president of the Jaycees (Junior Chamber of Commerce) in Sparta, receiving one of their highest honors, the distinguished service award, for answering over 50 fire alarms as a volunteer of Ervin Edwards’ Rural Fire Fighting Company. He was also a member of the Boy Scouts of America for over 14 years, receiving one of their highest honors shortly after his service in the military: the God and Country Award.
While Howard Thiel survived the war and lived a fulfilling life with his family and community, we cannot forget the more than 70 individuals from the La Crosse area who were not so fortunate. In remembering Howard Thiel, let us remember that he was able to live the life he did because of those who gave their lives in Korea.
This summer, La Crosse County Historical Society is conducting a survey of its military artifacts. In the process, stories like this one are researched and added to our data base. Watch for more stories of our region’s military contributions in weeks to come.
This article was originally featured in the La Crosse Tribune.