Two Walfreds

One of the more popular posts at this blog was Fletcher’s commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the assassinations of Austrian crown prince Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie: the sparks that lit the fuse that set off World War I. He called it “Two Shots.”

In hopes of similar popularity, but mostly out of a whimsical sense of symmetry, I call this post “Two Walfreds.”

Washington's Union Station, ca. 1921

Union Station as it looked three years after it provided the setting for the first paragraphs of Walfred Danielson’s Bethel yearbook essay, “War Workers in Washington” – Library of Congress

Walfred Danielson of Lake Nebagamon, Wisconsin graduated from Bethel Academy in 1910, having attended the school since it opened in 1905. After completing his bachelor’s degree down the street at Macalester College, he entered the U.S. Army in 1918. Military service brought him to Washington, DC, where “Tens of thousands began pouring into the city which already was filled to capacity….” Finding homes for so many temporary Washingtonians proved to be a challenge, he reported in Bethel’s 1919 yearbook:

Hotels and rooming houses were filled the first few weeks of the war, and it devolved upon the private homes, as a patriotic duty, to open their doors to strange people with whom they ordinarily would hesitate to mingle.

Though generally inspired but what he found, Danielson was no naïf. He observed the growth of a “system of profiteering,” noted that some number of army staff officers were “alleged to have been successful in securing ‘soft jobs’ in their attempts to dodge the Hun,” and supplied sardonic  wartime definitions for common terms:

APARTMENT: An imaginary unit of rooms surrounded by landlords, sub-leases and outrageous rentals.

APPETITE: An undesirable attribute which takes nearly all of one’s check to satisfy.

Danielson’s article started with the story of four khaki-clad soldiers leaving Union Station in September 1918, but he was most interested in the civilians who sought war work:

…folks of all ages from fourteen to seventy-five; girls and boys; men and women. Their tools of warfare were not guns and gas but typewriters and penpoints, which, according to Secretary [of War Newton] Baker, they wielded with unexpected skill and enthusiasm.

He told of women seeking jobs as clerks (targeted by local pastors who preached on questions like “When is a young lady justified in remaining single”) and the “one-dollar-a-year men, who had volunteered their expert services, without pay or commissions.” Danielson found remarkable how the “conglomerate collection of humanity,” gathered in Washington from across the country,

produced strange but often wholesome effects upon one another as they were huddled together, without consideration for the dictates of individual or provincial tastes. The conservatives of certain sections were thrown mercilessly in direct contact with the bold cowboy element of the West, and while the immediate effect was alarming to both sides, the lasting result was no doubt productive of real Americanism.

Washington, he concluded, had become the true “melting pot of the United States.”

Washington Navy Yard in 1918

One of Washington’s many military installations in 1918: the Navy Yard on the Anacostia River – Naval Historical Center

After the war, Danielson taught history at Bethel Academy while he continued his studies at the University of Minnesota. In 1923 he and his wife became Baptist missionaries in Assam, India. Danielson returned to Bethel in 1931 as the first dean of the new junior college, a position he held until 1936.

In 1944 Walfred Danielson became the first head of the Baptist General Conference’s foreign missions board (a role later filled by his nephew, Bethel historian Virgil Olson). That same year, another Walfred from Bethel observed the mass movement of people in wartime. Like the earlier Walfred, this one started with soldiers at a train station.

1945 Bethel men's basketball team — Walfred Peterson in bottom-left corner

The 1945 men’s basketball team at Bethel Junior College, with Walfred Peterson kneeling on the bottom-left – Bethel University Digital Library

In 1944 Walfred Peterson was twenty years old, unable to serve in the military because he had lost part of his left arm to gangrene as a child. As one of the increasingly rare number of male students enrolled at Bethel Junior College, he led the basketball team in scoring and wrote features for the student newspaper.

That January, a Clarion piece called “Burlington Arriving…” had Peterson sketching a scene at St. Paul’s Union Depot, where a diverse group of people awaited a train from Chicago:

All were there. Richman, poorman, beggarman, thief. All from different walks of life, all with a different background. All distinct individuals, and yet they were there for one reason—the soldier was coming home.

"Burlington Arriving," by Walfred Peterson

Walfred Peterson’s January 1944 sketch of soldiers arriving and departing at St. Paul’s Union Depot – Bethel University Digital Library

Like Walfred Danielson in 1918, Walfred Peterson in 1944 noticed how a national effort broke down social and other barriers. But even more clearly than Danielson, Peterson perceived the emotional and relational effects of war:

Fathers sat in the waiting room eyeing the clock, occasionally walking to and fro. Mothers sat with a tense look which revealed that a son was a few minutes away. Sweethearts and young brides walked nervously in an aimless direction making an irritating sound with their high heels. Younger brothers and sisters waited in an acme of excitement….

“There he is! There he is!” a young girl screamed as she ran to the open arms of a soldier.

“Bob, Bob, here we are.”

Hugs, kisses, handshakes, tears are all mingled, the crowd at the train door begins to filter away talking happily.

Talking happily—talking of home, experiences, weddings. All sorrow of war forgotten for one sweet hour. All lonliness [sic] gone for a moment. A moment that words cannot begin to describe. All are happy now.

Yet even as the train arrived from Chicago, four tracks over another was about to depart:

Brides and sweethearts reach for the last kiss. Mothers cry and bid farewell. Fathers choke back tears, but it takes a supreme effort. Soldiers hid heart breaking emotions….

How strange that the voice that says, “Train arriving,” or “Train leaving,” can cause so much emotion. Just one voice. I would not like to be that voice.

Peterson went on to earn his doctorate in political science at University of Minnesota. Meanwhile, he returned to Bethel as a professor, helping to develop the new political science major in 1956 and advising the campus chapter of the Young Democrats in his spare time. He left for Washington in 1965, where he joined former Bethel professor and dean C.E. Carlson at the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. (Read more about “Wally Pete” in this two-part profile written by his former student G.W. Carlson, himself a long-serving political science and history professor at Bethel.)

One comment

  1. Tony Showalter · · Reply

    Walfred Danielson is my Great Grandfather. I would love to know more and perhaps offer more.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: