Brandsville Father and Son - Heroes of War on Opposing Sides
Thu, 05/05/2022 - 10:53am admin
The founding of the Howell County community of Brandsville is attributed to wealthy Chicago, Illinois brewer Michael Brand. Less than a year after the railroad arrived in Howell County, Brand teamed up with the president of the Kansas City, Fort Scott, and Memphis Railroad to plat the town on some of the seventeen thousand acres of land Brand had bought shortly before the construction of the tracks began. Brand must have had privileged information about the railroad path, and since Nettleton received half of the land allocated to the new town, he was likely the source.
Brand gets the credit for the town named in his honor, but part should go to German immigrant Hermann Wilhelm Wisch. Hermann came to the United States from Bremen, Germany when Brand founded his town in 1883. Wisch was thirty-four years old.
I am particularly interested in Bremen, as this was the same part of Germany from which my great-grandfather came. The majority of Germans, including my ancestor, coming to the United States left from the port of Bremen on the Weser River on the North Sea. Most of the people living there spoke Platt Deutsch or Low German, and many were farmers. Hermann Wisch knew fruit farming and was in charge of developing Brand's orchards and vineyards. By 1893 Brand had thirty-five hundred acres of land in cultivation, and much of the fruit production was shipped to his brewery in Chicago to be made into wine.
By the turn of the century, Brand's wine was fermented in cellars in Brandsville but shipped in barrels to Chicago and bottled there under the label "Ozark Maid" and "King Ozark." This wine was said to rank in quality with that produced on the Rhine River in Germany. Brandsville, in this period, boasted of having the largest wine cellar in the world.
Though Michael Brand built a home in Brandsville, he did not live there most of the year, while Hermann Wisch did and thrived. In his first ten years there, Wisch planted his own orchards and vineyards, built a home, a high-class hotel, and a store. According to the late Gerald Groves, "Herman Wisch made his own wine, selling it by the drink to his store customers, and probably to the boarders his wife took in to add to their income. Even aside from this warm red wine, there must have been a special glow around and about the community." Newspaper editor Will Zorn of West Plains enjoyed a lifelong friendship with the Wisch family and the opportunity to speak in German in their home while he enjoyed the native wines.
In 1911 Hermann Wisch built a two-story ten-room home with steam heat, hot and cold running water, a full basement, and large porches.
Hermann Wisch enjoyed local celebrity because of his past in his native country as a soldier in the Franco-Prussian War, also called the Franco-German War, from July 1870 to January 1871, in which Germany was the victor. According to Wikipedia," The conflict was caused primarily by France's determination to reassert its dominant position in continental Europe, which appeared in question following the decisive Prussian victory over Austria in 1866." Germany had been a mix of small principalities and small kingdoms. It was in the process of uniting to form what became Prussia in the north and eventually the nation we know as Germany.
The Howell County Gazette reported, "When the war was declared, young Hermann, only 22, was a fine specimen of physical manhood, standing six feet and four inches tall, broad-shouldered and straight as an arrow, and he was among the invading host." (The Germans marching into Paris in 1871) Wisch was a hero of that conflict.
The Gazette continued, "When General Hirschfeldt fell from his horse and was mortally wounded in battle, young Wisch rushed into the thick of the fight and carried the wounded officer back of the lines, and for this, he received at the hands of Price Charles Frederick the decoration given only for special valor in action. The Iron Cross, worn only by those who have performed some unusual act of bravery, was conferred and pinned on Mr. Wisch's breast by Emperor Wilhelm himself as a recognition of his penetrating the enemy lines, learning of a planned surprise attack, and returning to his command, the report saving the destruction of one or more regiments of the imperial army."
At the time, the iron cross medal was rare, and only fifty were in existence. Wisch was justifiably proud of his record and admired as a hero in Brandsville. In 1886 Wisch traveled to see friends in Detriot, Michigan and returned with Antonie Gleich of Berlin, Germany as his bride. They raised two daughters and one son. He was so successful he retired in 1906 and served as Mayor of Brandsville for so many years no one attempted to run against him.
The First World War changed the public view of Hermann's accomplishments in the old country. At the start of the war in Europe, Wisch was openly in favor of the German Army. With the United States taking a neutral stance during most of the war, his attitude was tolerated. But, German use of submarines on non-combatant ships began to make his views less tolerable.
An article published in the Kansas City Star titled "The Americanization of Hermann Wisch" told the story of what happened in many German-American communities when America entered the war in 1917. They wrote, "When the Lusitania was sunk, and the months of submarine horrors that followed, Hermann could see and feel that his neighbors of thirty years were shrinking from him. He boasted no more in the post office nor on the corner of the village street. He walked with his great hands behind his back."
A few years before, the Governor of Missouri, on a tour of the Brandsville orchards and vineyards, had stopped to see Wisch. Hermann wore his old uniform and greeted the Governor standing straight and tall. The Star article stated, "He patted his chest with his big left hand and said: "Hah! When I walked down the street in Germany with that cross on, every soldier I met, officers and all, had to stand and salute me this way - he clicked his heels together, threw his shoulders back, and gave the Prussian military salute."
But times had changed. The Star told the story, "One evening as he was returning from his vineyard, a boyish voice called from the shadows: 'Gwan, you old boloney sausage,' and a companion voice shouted, 'Git out, you German baby killer.' The old soldier winced as if someone had hit him in the face. Those boys he had probably carried on his shoulders at some time, for there was scarcely a child for miles around who had not ridden there. Once he had been highly honored, and they had called him the mayor of Brandsville because he was the greatest man in the village, and folks were proud to come to his home But now, no one would be seen there, and the people were seized with a hysteria against anything German. There was talk of dragging him out and making him kiss the flag, and some wanted to go further than that. "
The tragedy of the situation was that this occurred while Hermann's only son Herbert was in the American Expeditionary Force. According to the Star, Hermann's wife went to some of the other town leaders and told them, "You shall not touch him. What would my boy say if he should hear that you had mistreated his father while he was away fighting your battles for you? You touch him, and you will have me to fight too, and you will have my boy to fight when he comes back."
Indeed his son Herbert was a fighter. He had grown up in Brandsville and, reaching adulthood, had gone to Chicago and found employment as a railroad engineer. When the war was declared, he immediately signed up and, at the time, was running artillery shells and ammunition right up to the front lines of the Meuse-Argonne battle in an area near where his father had fought for Germany so many years before.
Herbert wrote from the battlefield to the West Plains Gazette, "Behind a stump, somewhere in France. We are giving the Germans both barrels, and I am doing my bit with the rest. I can't express the feeling a fellow has, but it makes you sit right, and you think a lot when lying in a fox hole at night, and you realize what would happen if Fritzy should get the drop on you. A man in my company was killed a couple of nights ago by a German seventy-seven. He was eating when the shell came. He never knew what hit him. He was blown almost to pieces, and parts of his watch went right through his body."
When Herbert was not running a train or fighting in the trenches, he amused himself by riding in Army airplanes and dropping bombs from the back seat on command of the pilot. His regular letters to the Gazette told of many harrowing tales and were eagerly sought by its readers.
The Star continued, "Another day, while Hermann was at work in his vineyard, his friend Will Zorn drove up in his car and asked: 'Have you a photograph of Herbert? 'Why, What's the matter, is he killed,' asked Hermann, and his face went white, and his voice shook. Zorn threw back his head and laughed. 'No, haven't you heard the good news? What news? Herbert has been cited for bravery in the face of the enemy.' Hermann waited until the next day for details. He met the train at the Brandsville station daily for a copy of the Kansas City Star. He took the paper home and had his wife read it to him, for Hermann could neither read nor write English.
The Star told him, "Herbert had gone single-handed into a German machine gun nest that was spraying his regiment with lead, silenced it, and returned with a bunch of German prisoners. Later the county paper came out with the story, decorated with a picture of Herbert, which the editor had got from the Kansas City paper after it had used it and all under the big black headline 'Our Hero.' Then everyone in the county knew the story and that Herbert would come back with a decoration on his breast."
"At last the armistice came and then a long, long wait and one day in the following winter a telegram" 'We have finished our hitch in hell. Arrived safely in New York. Herbert.' In a few days, another telegram came, telling that he would be home on a certain day. Brandsville had forgotten the old hero of the war of nearly fifty years ago and was on tip-toes to welcome its new hero. A committee was appointed to plan for it. The school made it a holiday. There was to be a grand reception at the train, with all the girls to sign the National Anthem and a parade down the village street with Herbert and the flag at the head of it."
"A thousand persons had gathered there on that afternoon. The train stopped, and a young man in khaki, so tall that he had almost to stoop to get out of the car door, stood in the vestibule, grinning and blushing. A woman with a Germanic cast of face pushed in amid the hurrahs and the cheers and held up her hands and cried, 'My boy! My boy!' But before he could get down to her, two great hands were slipped beneath her arms from behind, and they lifted her up bodily as if she had been only a feather's weight, toward the face of her boy bending down to hers. His arms shot around her neck, a hot tear hit her forehead, and she felt his cheek snuggling close to hers, as it used to when he was a baby. Then his face was raised from hers, and she heard him call, 'Hello, dad!' The two supporting hands lowered her, and she turned through her tears and saw her husband."
"The crowd was surging in to get its hero and carry him off at the head of the parade, and in the excitement, it all happened so quickly that no two accounts of it ever quite agreed. But she heard her husband say, 'Mine is the honor,' and he reached up and picked his son off the car step, placed him on his left shoulder, steadied him there with his left hand, reached out with his other hand and grasped the flag from the hand of the standard-bearer, and with: 'Come on, we lead the parade,' they started off."
"Down the road to the village they went, the flag waving, the old soldier's cap pushed back, the girls singing, and everyone else cheering."
"That night in the old home, with neighbors filling the rooms, and the old glass pitcher filled, too, with homemade wine from the big cask in the cellar, 'Mutter' took her boy by the arm and led him up to his room to show him that she had kept faithfully and that his flag was still there. And the old soldier of nearly fifty years ago followed and had his hand upon the flag and smoothed its folds tenderly, and said:
"'I, too, have sacri-, sacri- what you call that word, Herby? Sacrificed? Yah, that's it. I have sacrificed. You fought and suffered because of it, too much suffering before I could march under it today and feel that it was mine old flag too.'"
At the age of ninety-four, Hermann Wisch died in Brandsville on March 8, 1941, and is buried in the Brandsville Cemetery alongside his wife.