Homer Ankrum

When I grew up outside of Minneapolis, I learned of the military heritage that is the Midwest, especially Iowa and Minnesota. The blending of the two, in a way, culminated in the 34th Infantry Division, formerly the Sandstorm and now the Red Bull Division.

Later, working at the Owatonna Post Office, up in Gopher Land, I had the pleasure of working with two nephews of Milburn Henke. He is credited with being the first of the 34th Division to arrive in Ireland early in WWII. I never thought I’d later live in the center of the universe … so to speak. Eighty years ago, these men were clawing their way up Italy, battling a fierce enemy; Webster City “boys” were in the midst.

Homer Ankrum was born in Hamilton County on July 20, 1920. He attended Webster City schools and graduated in 1938; a classmate of his was the author, Clark Mollenhoff.

Homer had joined the National Guard when he was 15 and, early in 1941, was called to active duty along with all of Company E. Less than a year later, they arrived in Ireland as part of the 34th Infantry Division (along with Milburn Henke).

They were a storied bunch of young Americans from all walks of life; most had not traveled much, if ever. In the next four years, they would see more of life, and the world, than any of them could imagine. The 34th, including Homer Ankrum, saw more consecutive days in action than any other infantry unit in the American army. They fought in North Africa and Europe; several of them left the 34th to join a brand-new unit, Darby’s Rangers, that was the beginning of the modern Army Rangers.

Homer received a battlefield commission during their time in Italy; after the war he actually commanded Company E and attained the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. After retiring from the service, Homer became the city manager of Webster City; a full circle to say the least.

He later worked the same job in Fridley, Minnesota, during a time I was growing up nearby. Afterward, Ankrum moved to Florida, retiring in Mount Dora in 1981.

His life was full — service, work, travel and family. Homer was also an author, penning two works that became a story of life in Hamilton County and beyond, culminating in his service and the guys he knew so well.

Homer became a resident of Our Neighborhood in April of 2003, about the same time I was working with Milburn Henke’s nephews. Writing a short article like this about Ankrum is a bit like summing up the Civil War in one sentence; the South started it, the North ended it … we won and they lost.

I wish I’d known Homer, and had the chance to talk with him at the Legion. I suppose the next best thing is to finish reading his books, which I plan to do in the near future.

The men of the Red Bulls accomplished more than fighting in Italy 80 years ago. They were an integral part of America’s effort to find and return artwork that was looted by the Germans; the same work that is the story of the “Monuments Men” movie.

But that I’ll save for another article.

Our Neighborhood is a column by Michael Eckers focusing on the men and women whose presence populates Graceland Cemetery in Webster City.


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