Helof Holm.
Helof Holm.
In honor of the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day – Nov. 11, 1918 – which marked an agreement between the Allies and Germany to cease hostilities on the Western Front of World War I, the Helof Holm VFW Post 1977 invites the entire community to a special Veteran’s Day ceremony Friday, Nov. 9, at 12:30 p.m.

During the ceremony, a wreath will be placed on the grave of Decorah native Helof Holm, who died in battle on the Western Front during WWI, and after whom VFW Post 1977 was named when it was formed, in January of 1931. The ceremony will take place at Holm’s grave in Decorah’s Lutheran Cemetery.

Helof Holm was born Aug. 17, 1897, in Decorah, to Hans and Hendrika Holm, who had immigrated to the U.S. from Norway. The elder Holm was a well known baker in town, running a shop in the late 1800s. The Holms had seven children: sons Helof, Arthur, Oscar, Sigurd and Henry; and daughters Agnes and Edna.

Howard Bernatz, of Decorah, is Helof’s nephew (Bernatz’ mother, Agnes, was Helof’s sister. Her husband was Albert “Babe” Bernatz. “Babe” and his brother, Frank, ran a grocery store in Decorah with their father, George. The store was in business more than six decades.) Agnes died in 1936, when Howard was nine years old.

“(Helof) thought he should help the country,” Bernatz says. “So he volunteered as soon as he could after the United States declared war on Germany” (April 6, 1917), entering WWI 2 ½ years after it had begun.

“He went to Fort Des Moines basic infantry training,” Bernatz says – “and landed in France Dec. 3, 1917, and was assigned to Company E 168 Infantry, Iowa’s unit in the Rainbow Division.”

“Back then, war was fought a lot different than it is, today,” VFW Post 1977 Commander Glenn Larson says. “It was trench warfare …”

“Thanks to new military technologies and the horrors of trench warfare, World War I saw unprecedented levels of carnage and destruction. By the time the war was over and the Allied Powers claimed victory, more than 16 million people—soldiers and civilians alike—were dead.

“America only joined World War 1 late in the conflict (1917) and most of its early support involved providing supplies, arms and other products to Allies. In the end, around 4,000,000 soldiers were mobilized and 116,708 American military personnel died during World War 1 from all causes (influenza, combat and wounds). Over 204,000 were wounded and 757 U.S. civilians died due to military action.” (history.com).

According to records compiled by the Post with the expert help of the Decorah Genealogy Association’s Midge Kjome, Holm was killed by machine gun fire July 26, 1918 – one month shy of his 21st birthday – while advancing with his platoon on the German lines. Kjome’s records indicate at least four other Winneshiek County soldiers perished in the same battle: Eivind Hamre, who died the same day and who had enlisted in Decorah, where his family lived; Edward Beers; Guy Moe; and Albert Lien.

Holm’s mother received a telegram in October, 1918, informing of her son’s death on the Western Front.

In a letter sent to Holm’s mother, the chaplain of the 168th Infantry, W.E. Robb, reported that Holm “was buried by me on the 28th, six miles east and two miles north of Epieds, near the Croix Rouge Farm. Grave No. 9 (b), map of Conde-en-Brie. The Grave Registration Service, A.E.F. has a complete record of location on file in that office. The grave is well marked by a cross and bearing name and organization. It is officially understood that all bodies will be taken home at the close of the war.”

A ceasefire and Armistice was declared Nov. 11, 1918. Three years later, in 1921, after being carried across the ocean from France, Holm’s casket returned by train to Decorah. The town held a funeral for their fallen soldier at Decorah Lutheran Church, and he was buried in the Lutheran Cemetery.

Commander Larson says the VFW Post 1977 wants to honor its namesake on the 100th anniversary of the end of the war that was supposed to have ended all wars.

“We wanted to have this ceremony because of the fact that our Post was named after one of the casualties of WWI,” Larson says. “We want to honor all of the vets.”