LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Helmer Hovick: My Family Link To World War I

Helmer Hovick. Source: Slope Saga
Helmer Hovick. Source: Slope Saga

On this 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, the remembrance of my family link to the war takes me back in time. My Grandma Lilly’s brother, Helmer Hovick, a true Norwegian bachelor farmer who lived in the Dakotas in the years before the war, was a World War I doughboy. He served as a courier.

When he returned from France, he herded sheep for a living, and in his last years, he resided in Miles City, Mont. In 1960, he traveled to Europe with his sister and nephew, to Norway. On this trip, they also visited Verdun, France, where he had served. My aunt tells that Helmer never spoke of the war.

(Source: Slope Saga)

I wish I could say I remember him, but I really don’t. I was young and not paying attention. But I do remember the World War I veterans in the color guard at parades in Rhame, N.D., all those years ago. Men who returned home and quietly went about their lives with dignity and honor. I remember attending Veterans Day programs my father organized at the Mound Church in Slope County, where I recited to the crowd “In Flanders Field,” with my poppy pinned to my clothing, my legs shaking ever so.

Tomorrow (this past Sunday), when the bells ring throughout my town, I will honor my great-uncle and all of the other soldiers, including my father, husband, and brothers.

“Dulce et Decorum Est”

by Wilfred Owen, a British soldier who died in World War I on Nov. 4, 1918, just a week before the Armistice was signed.

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,

Knocked-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through


Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs

And towards our distant rest began to trudge.

Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots

But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;

Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots

Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys?–An ecstasy of fumbling,

Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;

But someone still was yelling out and stumbling

And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime. . .

Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,

As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,

He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace

Behind the wagon that we flung him in.

And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,

His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;

If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood

Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,

Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud

Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,–

My friend, you would not tell with such high zest,

To children ardent for some desperate glory,

The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est

Pro patria mori.

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