William J. Cahow, PFC, Served: U.S. Army, 1943-1946
–Obituary Contributed by: Doug Cahow
WWII, Purple Heart Veteran William (Bill) Joseph Cahow passed away on July 12th, 2007 at River Bend Assisted Care in Amery, Wisconsin. Bill was the third oldest of 8 brothers and one infant sister born on the family farm to Clifford and Syneva Cahow one mile south of Reeve, Wisconsin. Besides his parents, seven brothers and a sister listed were born on the family farm. From oldest to youngest they were: Robert-1916, Gordon,-1918, William-1919, Donald-1921, Pearl- circa 1923 (died in infancy), Raymond-1926, Harold-1927, Adam-1929, and Douglas-1932. Interestingly enough, Clifford assisted in the birth of every child except one which was common practice in those days. Quite often a mid-wife provided birthing care to the mother and Clifford was proud of his participation, too!. Bill was always proud of his heritage and family. He never made any excuses for his humble birth. Often he would explain that such hardships were no different for the Cahow family than they were for any of their neighbors. Bill often stated: “We didn’t know we were poor!”
As a youth, Bill assisted his family by helping to clear stumps, pick rocks, plow fields, mow hay, milk cows and a hundred other chores in addition to caring for the livestock on their hilly, little farm. He never faltered or opposed hard, physical work…he always did his share and more. But, in many ways, life was kind to the Cahow family because everyone of the 8 Cahow boys grew to manhood on that little farm. All of them walked the one and a half miles to Reeve School, ate cold lunches and each had the same teacher (Sarah Halliday) at some time in their school lives. Four boys, including Bill (class of 1940), graduated from Clear Lake High School. Bill was always proud of his high school diploma because during the depression, he had to drop out for one year to earn enough money to earn his diploma. Also, Bill was very proud of being a Charter Member of the Clear Lake FFA! After WWII, in 1947, he graduated from The Minneapolis School of Business.
Growing up in rural Reeve offered immense outdoor opportunities for the Cahow brothers. Their father encouraged them to learn how to fish and hunt at an early age for which until the closing days of his life Bill was an avid outdoor enthusiast. He enjoyed Canadian fishing trips; deer and pheasant hunting trips along with family picnics and other social events. He enjoyed snowmobiling, golf and most of all watching sporting events on television. Bill was the kind of man who often would take charge and help arrange events. He served several terms as president of the Minneapolis Postal Clerks Union and became quite involved with union politics. He was always proud to say he had a personal relationship with Hubert Humphrey along with several other politicians.
But Bill always put his friends, family and country first. When WWII came along, millions of Americans wanted to serve their country; Bill was among those who gladly stepped forward. In November 1942, he and Douglas Booth joined the Naval Air Corps. Their training took them to Texas where until June of 1943 Bill continued learning to fly. However, he had trouble picking up certain aspects of the semaphore signal system and was released from the Naval Cadet Flying Program. He was very disappointed but returned to Wisconsin where almost immediately, he was drafted into the Army. For the rest of 1943 and into 1944, most of his army training was at Camp Walters, Texas. In early summer of 1944, the invasion of Europe had begun and Bill received orders to be shipped overseas via troop transport. Eventually he joined the 628th Tank Destroyer Battalion in France, a unit he remained with through out the rest of the war.
It was with the 628th that Bill found a way to help win the war against the Nazis. A Tank Destroyer was an unarmored tank with a 75 and later added 90 millimeter cannon. In addition to the cannon, there was a twin mounted 50 caliber machine gun turret at the top of the vehicle. Those cannon acted mostly as support for infantry and were in heavy demand by nearly all army land units. Bill’s main job was a 50 caliber turret gunner, but he also loaded and fired the 90 millimeter cannon ( in later years, Bill suffered a hearing loss because of the concussion, etc. from the cannon roar). As his unit advanced across Northern France and into Eastern Belgium in November, 1944, the 628th was held up for several weeks getting ready for the “big” push into Germany across the Seigfried Line.
It was there, on the German-Belgium border, that fate nearly intervened. Bill’s older brother Robert was only a few miles away in the Huertgen Forest, Germany…but little did each brother know the other brothers whereabouts. Later Bill recounted that he eventually saw Robert’s 78th Division vehicles…but was unable to make a connection with Bob! Then on a cold December 13th, 1944 morning tragedy struck the older brother. Bob (and five fellow soldiers) was reported MIA as the Germans began their initial thrust into Luxemburg and Belgium in what was later called the “Battle of the Bulge.” Little did Bill realize what had happened to his brother at that time because his every moment from then on was spent in a terrifying battle of life or death. The “Bulge” assault almost resulted in a defeat of the American Army. The German plan was devised to split the American Army by driving a wedge to the Belgium port city of Antwerp. Thousands of American troops died in that bitter winter battle before it ended in early January of 1945! It took over two weeks before the Americans and their Allies stopped the German push. Bill recalled many harrowing accounts of that vicious winter battle…but two stories were very vivid in his mind.
On one occasion his Tank Destroyer and another were parked adjacent to each other overlooking a nearby German strong point. Bill recalled it was dark and tracer shells or muzzle bursts often gave away the location of an opponent. In this case, Bill recalled seeing a muzzle burst from what he thought was a German 88. Bill was certain it was going to hit his Destroyer…but instead the shell struck the vehicle next to him and killed or wounded all on board. In another incident, Bill’s Destroyer was engaged in a vicious night battle. As he remembered it was bitter cold and he was very scared. Between fear and cold, Bill recounted that he stayed at his 50 caliber machine gun firing at an enemy position so long that he got powder burns on his hands and arms. In later life Bill was not sure if was fear or cold that made him shake and tremble so hard that night.
For the remainder of the war, Bill’s unit engaged in numerous other offensive as well as defensive battles across Germany including the crossing of the Rhine River at Remagen in March of 1945 and into the Ruhr Pocket which was the industrial heart of Germany until their unit ended the war near the Elbe River. When the war ended on May 7th, 1945, there was great jubilation throughout the world. 6 terrible years of turbulent times seemed to be at an end. Only Japan remained to be defeated in the Pacific. To millions of people, including most Americans, it was only a matter of time until peace was resumed throughout the world. The Nazis had been defeated and the world would again be safe… but such was not the case in Germany.
There were millions of Germans that did not accept the peace accords as signed on May 7th. On the Morning of May 8th, Bill and his fellow soldiers had relaxed and were not expecting violence from the German Army…but some of the resistance fighters hid and became snipers, etc. For as Bill and his comrades were casually walking along a street or highway, a hidden sniper fired a shot at Bill that changed his life forever. He recalled that moment by saying that he thought someone had hit him in the lower leg with a club. As he grabbed his leg, he fell to ground wounded. He found later he had been struck by rifle fire and sustained a shattered knee. From that point on Bill’s life was destined to change.
Eventually his shattered knee healed…but remained inflexible. Bill learned to live with his “stiff” leg and went on in life to accomplish a litany of proud achievements. It was always amazing to see what Bill could do. He never complained or asked for special privilege. Bill was a Paid Up For Life Member in the following organizations: Disabled American Veterans (DAV), Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), American Legion, Clear Lake Color Guard, Charter Member of the Clear Lake Museum, Commander of VFW Post 5828, Lions Member, and numerous other organizations…but Bill was especially proud that he helped organize and build the Clear Lake Veterans’ Memorial.
Among some other accomplishments by Bill were employment at the Minneapolis Post Office for over 30 years from which he retired as a Supervisor. Nearing retirement from the Post Office, he bought a Clear Lake dairy farm in 1973 and both farmed and commuted to his Minneapolis Post Office job for several years. Then Bill sold his farm. However, he was too active so he bought a farm bulk milk pick up business. After a few years, he sold the bulk milk business to Virgil Johnson. But Bill couldn’t sit still so he bought and successfully ran a confectionary dispensing business. Each and every one of those businesses were operated successfully in addition to raising a family of two children -Sandra and Clifford.
Of course everyone knows that Bill’s most proud achievement was meeting and marrying his lovely wife-Elsie on April 23, 1949. Bill always put Elsie above and beyond everything else. And of course Elsie was as equally fond of Bill. They were the perfect couple. There was nothing that Elsie wouldn’t do for Bill and the same was true of Bill regarding his one and only-Elsie.
However, in spite of Bill’s accomplishments, one event eluded him: an official presentation of his Purple Heart. When the war ended, Bill was transferred from hospital to hospital and demobilization prevented his Purple Heart award catching up to him, but he never complained because he was happy to be alive and home with his family. As the years passed, Bill never talked much about his war experiences or any other achievements. He, like most veterans, felt they were only doing their part. But after Bill passed away, his army records revealed he had earned a Purple Heart, along with at least 12 other medals including a Soldiers Medal, Four Bronze Campaign Stars, Army Commendation Medal with a bronze V for Valor, Army Good Conduct Medal, American Campaign Medal, Bronze European Theater Medal, European Theater Operations Ribbon with 3 Battle Stars, WWII Victory Medal, Army of Occupation, Army Meritorious Unit Commendation-1944, American Theater Ribbon, Victory Ribbon and perhaps several others. These were accomplishments that few if any knew about Bill. When prompted by his family to talk about these decorations, Bill remained firm and declined to discuss the issue. Bill was like most Veterans, they only did their duty!
William Cahow is but one of the 16,000,000 WWII veterans who gave their “all” fighting for liberty and freedom. For their sacrifice, the world is a better place. Funeral services were held at the Clear Lake Covenant Church officiated by Pastor Gary Tonn with musical selections provided by Lorraine Monson (Gale) and Iris Larson (Gale). Bill’s granddaughters Terri Porter and Lynda Flores (Porter) sang a duet : Amazing Grace. Pall Bearers were Kevan Cahow, Robert Cahow, James Cahow, Jay Cahow, Linda Cahow and Billy Porter. Honorary Pall Bearers were WWII Veterans Raymond Cahow, George Edwards, Floyd Dodge, Howard Johnson, James Buhr, Leland Paulson and Marshall Winegar.
William Cahow of Reeve and Clear Lake area is survived by his wife-Elsie to whom he was married 58 years and now resides at Willow Ridge, Amery; daughter-Sandra & Gary Porter of Annandale, Mn.; Clifford and Patti Cahow of Brooklyn Park, Mn.; grand children Billy Porter, Terri Porter, Lynda Porter (Flores) and Elizabeth Porter of Mn.; and one great grand daughter-Paige Porter of Mn.. Other family members preceding Bill in death were parents Clifford and Syneva Cahow; three brothers-Robert (KIA in 1944), Gordon (1965), Junice, & John (both deceased); Donald (1985)-deceased, Dorothy & Daniel living in Mn. and Dorinda in Mich.; & sister Pearl (deceased in 1923). Surviving are four brothers and their families including Raymond, Linda and Lara Cahow of Maryland; Harold, Marce, Steve, Jeff, Jay & Scott Cahow of Mn.; Adam, Judy, Beth, James, Sue, Kirsten Cahow of Wisconsin; and Douglas , Virginia, Kevan, Robin, and Robert of Wisconsin and Mn. Plus numerous nieces, nephews, cousins, and friends.
Visitation was from 5 to 8 P. M. on Tuesday,July 17th, 2007 at the Clear Lake Funeral Home with church services at 11 A. M. at the Clear Lake Covenant Church on July 18, 2007. A noon lunch was served by the Covenant Ladies Aid. Bill rests in a family plot at the Clear Lake Cemetery. He was laid to rest with full Military Honors with nephews Sergeant Robert Cahow and Lynda Flores (Porter) playing Taps.