Maybe World War II didn't mean much to Sherry Peterson back in the
mid-1940s. After all, she was a child then, growing up on the vegetable farm of her dad, Hank Peterson, near Moorhead.
But the war was a big part of the life of Hans Kroder. He fought in it. For the other side.
Hans was with the German army when it attacked Moscow, where he froze his feet in 30-below weather. He later fought at Stalingrad, then was sent to France to fight the Allies.
He was captured there, sent to the U.S. as a prisoner of war, and in the summer of 1945 joined other POWs working in Moorhead on Hank Peterson's farm.
Working the fields
Sherry, now a grandmother, and her husband, Tom Watt, live in rural Glyndon, Minn. Sherry remembers the POWs well, but she says she never learned their names and never talked to them because they couldn't speak each other's language.
Each summer, the German POWs came to Moorhead from their primary holding camp in Iowa, lived in a camp in the area of the present Coca-Cola plant in Moorhead and rode flat-bed trucks to the fields to do fieldwork. About 50 of them worked at the Peterson farm.
Hank was kind to them and treated them well, even having one or two come to his home occasionally for a home-cooked meal.
Hans, back in Germany after the war ended, never forgot that.
He often talked of his days in Moorhead and of the Petersons. In fact, he asked his family to try to contact the Peterson family.
Fat chance. Finding a family six decades later?
But a grandson of Hans pulled it off. Harald Goldfuss, 36, sent an e-mail to the mayor of Moorhead, asking about the family. The mayor's office forwarded it to Mark Piehl, Clay County Historical
Mark, of course, knew about the Peterson farms and that Sherry was Hank Peterson's daughter. He sent the message on to her and Tom.
Sherry nearly flipped when she got it, and she and Tom excitedly invited Hans and his family to come and visit.
Due to his age (Hans is 85) and other factors, Hans couldn't make the trip. Instead, the family asked Sherry and Tom to visit them.
So it was that in September, in a town near Nuremberg, former POW Hans and the woman who was a little girl when he worked on her dad's farm met.
Band, gifts, mayor
Tears flowed for both. But it was a joyous event: a celebration, actually, because the Watts were given a welcoming party to remember, including a band, food, gifts and the town's mayor.
"They treated us royally,"
They could have stayed with Harald, who speaks excellent English and was their translator, but they insisted on a
bed-and-breakfast; after all, the family did enough for them, driving 2,600 miles in order to get them to Vienna, Budapest, the Czech Republic, Poland, Hitler's Eagle's Nest at Berchtesgaden.
They had many emotional experiences. Among them: meeting the man, now 92, who once was Hans' commanding officer.
He used to be the enemy. Now, like Hans, he was a friend.
Finally, as a going away gift, the family treated Tom and Sherry to a night at the opera in Bayreuth.
Now they're home, looking through scores of pictures, reliving fond memories of their trip and of the moment when Hans and Sherry embraced for the first time.
It was, Tom says, "For both of them, like a father meeting his daughter."
If you have an item of interest for this column, mail it to Neighbors, The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107; fax it to 241-5487; or e-mail email@example.com
Farmer's daughter meets POW Bob Lind 20071111