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Veteran sweethearts share memories

Veteran sweethearts share memories

By Judy Reed

Niels and Edna 1945

Sweethearts for life: Niels and Edna Andersen served their country together and were photographed in front of Edna’s father’s house near Arlington, N.J., December 21, 1945, shortly after their wedding.

For Veterans Day this year, we are honoring long-time Cedar Springs residents Niels and Edna Andersen. Niels passed away October 27 at the Grand Rapids Home for the Veterans. He was 88. Edna resides with her daughter, Karen, in Ohio. This story is a reprint of the story that we ran in the Post on November 7, 1996.

“The couple that plays together stays together,” is an old saying that rings true for many people. But in the case of Niels and Edna Andersen, it should be: “The couple that serves together stays together.” The Andersens, well-known in Cedar Springs for their work on The Clipper and The Bugle, were kind enough to share their memories of serving together during World War II.

Sgt. Niels “Andy” Andersen, from Northampton, Massachusetts, was serving at the medical corps at Moore General Hospital in Swananoa, N.C., in 1944, when Edna Stoll arrived. It wasn’t long before they met.

“She came in with a group of WACs (Womens Army Corps),” explained Niels. “A friend of hers introduced us.”

Edna, a T-Sergeant, was assigned to the HQ department as a secretary. “She outranked me all the way through,” laughed Niels.

The hospital, with room for 3,000 patients, was built and finished just before Niels arrived in 1942. Niels assisted in the ward as a technician and was assigned to the adjutant of the post. Niels remembers well the first soldiers that arrived at the hospital in 1942.

“The wounded were coming back from the invasion of North Africa,” he recalled. “I helped unload them from the train and load them in ambulances,” he said.

The hospital later treated soldiers who returned from the South Pacific with malaria and other tropical diseases.

In 1944, 200 German prisoners were brought over and lodged in the POW stockade at the hospital. “They had them do maintenance on the grounds,” he recalled. “There were also some Italian prisoners there as patients, but they were treated differently by the Americans, since they had already surrendered. They weren’t put under guard like the Germans.”

Edna remembered the problem they had interpreting for the Italians. “I had a friend in the WACs who served as an interpreter for the Italians. She was of Mexican heritage, but they asked her to do it because the languages were similar,” she recalled.

Both Edna and Niels agreed on the beauty of the scenic area in which they served. “The Smoky Mountains were beautiful,” Edna said.

If it hadn’t been for Edna’s strong will to serve, she might never have met Niels. “When Edna told her father she wanted to enlist, he just laughed. Then she came home one day, and said she did it!” laughed Niels.

Niels worked for a time at the information desk where people signed in. He remembered a couple of notable people who made trips through the hospital. “General George Marshall, who was running the war effort from the White House, made a quick visit once. And others told me that Eleanor Roosevelt came through, but I didn’t see her,” he said.

Eventually, Niels moved into the same office as Edna. They were engaged for a time and finally decided to get married in 1945.
“When we asked the warrant officer for the time off, he called all the people together in the office and asked them if he should let us go,” recalled Niels, laughing fondly at the memory.

Niels and Edna Andersen walking hand-in-hand to the Kent Theatre in 1999, after 54 years of marriage.

Edna and Niels were married in Arlington, New Jersey, on December 21, 1945. They ended up having two weddings, getting married in both hometowns so that all their families could attend. Edna was discharged soon after but continued to work on as a civilian for a time. Niels was discharged a month after Edna. Both were discharged with commendations, earning the American Theater Campaign Medal, the Good Conduct Medal, and the Victory Medal. Edna also earned the Meritorious Unit Award.

The Andersens both decided to go to school in New York under the GI bill. They said it was one of the best things they ever did. “We are so grateful for the GI Bill,” Edna said. “I never expected to go to college. It was like little ripples in the pond, the way it changed our lives.”

Niels agreed. “The government has a good idea. During the war, they had 15 million people under arms. (When the war was over) the GI bill absorbed a few million people and helped them get the skills they needed to work,” he said.

Niels and Edna visited North Carolina a couple of times, but mostly have tried to stay in touch with the people they served through a newsletter. Though responses are starting to drop off as time goes by, the Andersens remain undaunted.

“One of the reasons we have stayed in touch is that the duty we shared brought us together,” explained Edna. “Everybody was dedicated to helping get the war over. We shared a camaraderie. It was a dangerous work. And it was a special, special time in our lives.”

The Post is still collecting favorite memories of Niels from readers. If you have one, please send it news@cedarspringspost.com or mail it to The Cedar Springs Post, PO Box 370, Cedar Springs, MI 49319.

To the wonderful people of Cedar Springs

We have been overwhelmed and touched by the outpouring of affection and kindness extended to all of us as we mourn the loss of our beloved husband, father, father-in-law, brother, and grandfather. The cards, the emails, the phone calls, the shared stories all help soften the ache of sorrow. When it was clear we needed to move Niels, we chose the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans, in large part, because we knew the Cedar Springs community that he loved so much would reach out to him. We were deeply moved, although not at all surprised, to learn that a visiting schedule was in place, if only he had lived long enough to enjoy your company.
Thank you all so much. We are sustained by your love and affection.

The family of Niels T. Andersen

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One Response to “Veteran sweethearts share memories”

  1. Anne Martino says:

    Thank you for publishing this wonderful story!

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