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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


April 3, 2004 - Issue 110


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The Indian Priest
Father Philip B. Gordon
Chapter 19 - World War II

by Paula Delfeld
credits: submitted by Timm Severud (Ondamitag)

The Chief and Paul had mutual disappointments in their attempt to serve their country in the time of war. Father Gordon regretted that he had not been called as chaplain in World War I, when he offered his services. In World War II he was too old and Paul was rejected because of ulcers.

The Chief was proud of the fact that 20,000 of the 320,000 Indians in the United States served in the armed forces and that one of the soldiers who raised the flag at Iwo Jima was an Indian.

They both did what they could to help the war effort at home. Paul had been on the personal staff of Governor Stassen before the war and worked with the Red Cross during the war.

Father Gordon did his bit when German prisoners of war were brought to a camp established for them at the Milltown Cannery. There were about 400 prisoners in the camp. The priest made an impression on them when they found he could speak German.

Like all Germans they liked their songfests and he often led them in singing, as well as conducting religious services, for a large number of them were Catholics.

The war changed many things, Father Gordon missed the trips to the reservations and other places to see his friends. He missed Paul but the kept up a steady correspondence all during the war years. The Chief's letters to Paul, some of which he has kept all these years, reveal much of what went on during the war.

On March 2, 1942, he wrote: "It is only 24 below this morning. Nice weather for the 2nd of March… I have been planning to run down to Madison but the weather up here has been so severe that even driving is not pleasant. I had two funerals right in the midst of the big blizzard and below zero weather but my old body is still equal to the occasion even if I puff a little when I walk fast. I bet you could still ride a camel."

"Paul, I am an old man but I have never really seen a winter like the present one. It got cold during hunting season and never a thaw until last week when it thawed for two days a little and today 24 below and Spring just around the corner."

"By the way, I hope that opportunist Wendell W. doesn't run again. He would not get to first base, I think, old Chief Blow Hard. I am almost in favor of another term for FDR. Let him die in office and Eleanor can take over, nes't pas? Infant terrible! Sepra gemon! (My French spelling is awful.)"

"Visited with old Doc Meilicke last week. He is not in such good health but still carries on. Old Walter Lantz was taken to Madison General last week. Looks like cancer. Thus things go on sweetly and we await spring with anxiety. My C cards expire tomorrow, but I expect another batch. Got 96 coupons last time…"

Paul was busy with his Red Cross duties. Gas and tires were rationed and the priest felt more than ever the isolation of the parsonage at Long Lake. His aged father had gone back to Gordon and he was all alone. To get to Chicago, where Paul was stationed at the time, he had to drive to St. Paul and take a train. If he had a sick call at night, he had to put chains on his tires or have the county plow come in or get a team of horses to come in because the roads were either filled with snow or washed out, be he had to get there.

He wrote Ke-wah-din (he always addressed Paul by his Indian name), "I am certainly alone here for the first time in year. I am getting used to cooking my own meals as I did years ago when I first hit this ranch. My dad is perfectly fine. I was up to see him last week. He is sitting pretty and contented. You might mail him a pipe if you happen to find one lying around loose and unclaimed. Just address Wm. Gordon, Gordon, Wisconsin." Later that year 1943, William Daniel Gordon died at the age of ninety-three.

Father Gordon was in Pittsburgh at the time and arrived home on the day of the funeral to hear of the death. He hurried to Gordon and arrived one hour before the time for the funeral. He then officiated at the Requiem High Mass in the pioneer church erected by Anton Gordon, Philip Gordon's grandfather.

On May 16, 1942, Father Gordon wrote:
"Dear Ke-wah-din: … Paul, I too was a little heart-sick when you wrote of so many things of the days gone by… Tomorrow, Sunday I leave for Merrill. Father Rice has invited me down for two or three days. A new $100,000 school will be dedicated. This week; I was quite busy. On Monday, Bishop O'Connor dedicated the school at reserve and I preached: Tuesday at Odanah, another school dedicated and preached again. That evening we all went to Bayfield for the closing of 40 hours. The Bishop preached. Had a fine visit with him. He is as different from Bishop Reverman as I am from Shung Kai Check. He is a real good mixer, plain, common and friendly."

"I heard a week or two ago from John Daggett's mother that John is now in Newfoundland with a bunch of contractors, building air bases. So that leaves St. Paul empty as far as I am concerned… Hence my visits to St. Paul are always very hurried ones and back the same day…"

"Of course there is always this consolation-this situation will not be forever. This war is going to end sometime and I have a lousy idea that it will end this year - at least I am hoping so… Paul time is fleeting, eternity long. It does seem only a few months ago since your good mother use to great me…" (The priest read the Mass at her funeral).

"I suppose you have lost all interest in politics for the duration; Stassen, Wilkie, Heil, and the rest of the guys; same here since Floyd Olson died. Very little going on, Paul, the roads are not any good yet; besides Heil is not sending state aid up here and people are complaining bitterly. But I always say, that what you get for voting for a damn Republican."

Another unusual event happened in that year. Anyone reading the Congressional Record for June 11, 1943, will find Father Gordon offered the following opening prayer in the House of Representatives that day:
"Father Almighty, we lift our minds and hearts to Thee in sacred communion for these brief moments. We praise and adore Thee. We thank Thee for the evidence of Thy good will and love towards our people and our Nation. The black chimneys of industry and the glittering temples of commerce that dot our vast land all to well bespeak Thy favors and the afforded opportunities given to our great Nation to advance the welfare of its people. Let us, O good Lord, not forget that we need faith in Thee reared like the giant cathedral deep and solid in the bosom of the earth. Grant us, we beseech Thee, a firm belief in Thy power and majesty, Thy justice and charity."
"Grant, we pray, that this legislative body be guided by true Christian principles, so that in the twilight of the lives of its individual Members well be it said of them in the words of the ancient Latin hymn. - "
'Vexilla Regis prodeunt'
'Fulget Crucis mysterium.'
"Bless, O Great Spirit, the Kitchi Manito of our forefathers, Our Great White Father, our President and our Commander in Chief. Bless the Members of this Congress. Bless us all dear Lord. We beg these favors of Thee in the name of the Most Holy Trinity - Father, Thee and the Holy Ghost. Amen."

The Chief visited Paul whenever he could in Madison and in 1943 he mad a trip to Camp Grant where Paul was then Field Director of the Red Cross in charge of the camp office. The commanding general assembled Indians from all the different tribes to meet the Indian priest.

"Indians will win for the great chief in Washington." Father Gordon said. "More that 20,000 of the 320,000 Indians in the United States are serving in the nation's fighting forces."

An example of Indians' spirit and participation, he cited was the town of Odanah on the Bad River Reservation, which had a population of 700 and has sent 140 braves to the army and one young woman to the WAACs.

"My people are indeed proud to fight for Uncle Sam against the axis aggressors," Father Gordon was pleased to announce.

Whenever his ration cards would allow it, the Indian priest went back to keep up the old traditions - ricing, maple syrup making, hunting, and fishing. He was now fifty-eight and he believed he had completely recovered from his malignancy. In 1943 he wrote, "Just a line or two as I wait to start out on my second day's hunt for the fleeting deer. I was to the Doc Olson cottage north of Grantsburg yesterday. Saw 23 does but not a single buck, so I came home without the bacon. Going out west of here today on the St. Croix; lots of deer out there are reported."

"Trust everything is going well with thee. I have been unable to make the cities the past week. My gas was running low until the end of the week when our local board came through for almost 300 coupons. I am pretty well fixed and will try to make use of some of them to get to the cities next week… Dan wrote about a month ago. I sent the manuscript of the book to them two months ago. Nothing about it from either of them…"

The reference was to the book Dan Wallace was to have helped him with. The book apparently was never written but the 'Outline for Biography of a Chippewa Indian Who Became a Catholic Priest' was published by the Inter-County Leader at Frederic, Wisconsin. This is probably the manuscript referred to by Father Gordon.

Father Gordon seemed to be concerned about Paul's future, as the Red Cross was only for the duration. Many of his letters contained references to his future and advice about work, girls, etc. He seemed to think Paul deserved a promotion he never received. On April 20, 1944, he wrote:
"…One does not always like to be doing good work but never moved to a better paying or higher or more responsible job. Just like in the army. First private, then corporal, sergeant, lieutenant, captain, major, colonel, general, etc., up and up and up, and more pay and more pay and more pay. Of course, you understand my case all we priests get the same salary. The difference between a small parish and a big one is that there are more baptisms and more funerals and more marriages and as you know a priest gets a little fee for each performance. To state my case, last year (1943) I had two funerals and one marriage and perhaps 12 baptisms…"

"You have the satisfaction that you did and are doing a very good and even extraordinary work… But as you wrote the work is only for the duration. Thereafter, you will take up other fields. Politics? Rather an uncertain and not always a successful field. Witness poor Wendell Wilkie. Lot of headaches and lots of enemies and some friends. The Church? Well, lots of heartaches and requires too much advance preparation and you don't get much reward in this life. I really do have the time of my life. There is not a day I do not laugh out loud to myself. The lumber business? It's a business career and mostly routine deskwork and very few contacts except the office force and the meager social life of St. Paul. Your delight is to meet people and make contacts and visit places. You probably be a little unhappy although your Uncle Charley always seemed jovial and got a lot out of life and I imagine had many a good party, not great satisfaction out of doing good to Sisters and poor people. And he lead a clean life…"

"Well, with me, I am now too old too look a long time ahead. Most of my life is behind me and your suggestion that I should rush the work on my biography is a sensible one. That is what I ought to do but you know how lazy one gets. Hardly any ambition, nothing pushing you, hence you delay and postpone and procrastinate ($64 word) and in the end do nothing but plan."

July 5, 1944, he wrote:
"Did you get my acceptance of the Bastille Day invite? I mailed a letter and the card from St. Joe's Hospital where I had my tonsil taken out which was almost as bad as the disease."

"Well, the old war seems to be coming to an end fast. What a blessing it will be for the whole world. I think we ought to plan a trip about 1946. By that time steamships will be back or maybe we will be able to fly over for about the same price."

Father Gordon spoke more and more of loneliness. On May 17, 1943 he wrote:
"Do you know, Ke-wah-din, as I grow older, I find it harder and harder to find people to associate with. Old friends die, go away. I am all alone again, Father Tabenicki who was with me (but miserable company) is now on his farm near Chetek, Wisconsin, and my winter housekeeper is back near Hayward. Of course one gets use to anything."

"Right now I am trying to write my biography. SO many have suggested it and Dan Wallace said he would edit and publish such a volume, but I worked five hours yesterday and dashed off about 15 typewritten pages and have not yet reached my 12th year in age. How many pages will it take when I reach my twenties and thirties and forties? It would take one book alone to tell of our Mediterranean trip and another of my trip to Ireland and another of my schooling in Rome, in Innsbruck, in Washington, D.C. in St. Thomas, etc., … etc."

"When winter came he apparently was glad he did not have to eat his own cooking any longer. On November 20 he wrote"
"… I have my winter housekeeper and janitor now with me and I can get a mouthful of wild rice properly cooked with rabbit, squirrel, venison or wild duck…"

March 19, 1945, he wrote:
"I promised to help Father Fagan out in River Falls on Good Friday. He is not well, so between us two old men we ought to go through the ritual without too many mistakes. I was in town last week but made no calls . Had forgotten my glasses at Father Guinney's, so drove down to pick them u, the called at Seven Corners for some Ginger ale and then home. No place to go, Paul, and nobody to talk to there. It is a hell of a life for an old rounder like myself. But the war is bound to end someday and we can resume our old schedule… I bet you, Paul, we will do a lot of running around when once the show is over. Just think of getting new cars, all the gas we need, all the tires we can us! And then cash in our bonds. Drop us a line soon Paul. I had to give up my plans to go south. Tried three places to get a substitute priest but noting doing. The manpower shortage has struck the clergy ranks and it is simply impossible to get help over a Sunday."

May 15, 1945"
"Arrived home safely and found things here O.K. Must have been a lot of love making during my absence as I will have three marriages within the next week… I'll take a couple of days off to visit around. Want to visit Dan and Ceil too. With all my fees coming from the marriages, I'll be in velvet… Sad news today. One of my boys reported missing in action in Germany. Date May 1st. That is our first casualty and I feel bad, as I baptized the kid 20 years ago. He was Gene Murphy. Family all broken up. War is hell…"

June 19, 1945"
"… Dan Wallace and Ceil have moved back to Ryan. We visited every night during my last weeks stay there… Before I was released from the hospital (June 7), had a steak dinner over at your aunt Jen's… George is a nice old fellow. He came with his car to pick me up at the hospital and later brought me back… I would like to go over to Reserve and Post. In fact I have half a notion to run over their today and get a taste of venison… I got a big kick out of your visit to the hospital while I was prisoner there and especially that Mark Clark story about my Mass. I read Mass every Sunday for the soldiers and Mark Clark is a soldier. POSEYEMO…"

"Goodbye for the time being, Feeling fine since my release, but am taking it very easy. No more lawn mowing or wood chopping. POSEYEMO AND CHAPLAIN BASTILLE DAY VETERANS."

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