By Bob Zientara
American Legion posts throughout the News-Shield circulation area are named for local residents who (in some cases) lived nearly a century ago. As the decades went by, and the people who knew them passed away, the significance of their names and stories became less known.
Thanks to the Internet and the work of local researchers, it’s still possible to piece together information to re-tell their stories in the present day.
Here is one such story. It uses information compiled by local resident Gerald “Joe” Johnson. A Vietnam veteran, Johnson researched the history of local veterans to coincide with the opening of the Veterans’ Memorial at Wayside Cemetery in 2016.
Brown-Selvig Legion Post is named for two Barron residents who lost their lives in World Wars I and II.
Benjamin Harrison Brown was born July 18, 1894, to George W. and Catherine Appleman Brown. On Aug. 26, 1917, he married Marie Alberta Peterson at Barron.
Marie was pregnant with their first child when Ben Brown, then a sergeant in the U.S. Army, died aboard his troopship, the Tuscania, when it was torpedoed by a German U-Boat on Feb. 5, 1918, as it traveled toward Europe during the final year of World War I.
Brown’s daughter, Benjaline Harrison Brown Bunkfeldt, died in 2005.
Many more details about Brown’s life can be found on the Find A Grave website.
The News-Shield published a photo showing six of seven Barron County residents who also lost their lives when the Tuscania was sunk. Thankfully, many county residents survived the disaster, the newspaper added.
The other namesake of the post is Sgt. Matthew Selvig. A native of Moscow, Idaho, Selvig was born May 30, 1915. He moved to Barron after the deaths of his parents, and was raised by a maternal aunt (not named in newspaper accounts), who lived in Barron with her husband, Benjamin Gilbertson.
Selvig enlisted in what was then known as the Army Air Corps in September 1941, nearly three months before the U.S. declared war on Japan.
He participated in early actions in the Pacific, including the bombing of Wake Island -- then occupied by the Japanese -- in December 1942.
Selvig was killed in action in February 1943.
In a News-Shield account published in 1943, Selvig was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and Air Medal in a ceremony at what was referred to, even then, as Brown-Selvig Post 212.
Presiding at the ceremony was Army Air Force Maj. J.P Scherer, post executive officer of the AAF technical school in Tomah, Wis.
“This is a tough war,” Scherer told his listeners during the Legion Post ceremony. “And it’s going to take a lot of Sgt. Selvigs to win.”
Editor’s note: This is the first of a series of stories that will appear in the News-Shield between now and Memorial Day 2020, a series that will go into the history of veterans’ organizations in the News-Shield circulation area, including Pieper-Marsh Post 194, Cameron; Holum-Waite Post 259, Prairie Farm; and Willard Hinzman Post 511, Ridgeland; as well as VFW Posts 8338 and 8512, and the Barron County chapter of AMVETS.