Author records WWII veterans experiences
William E. Staab has always had an interest in history.
"I'm kind of the family historian," he said with a laugh, "since I'm the oldest of nine children."
In fact, the semi-retired pastor has already written a biography of his great-grandfather, H.P.C. Boettcher - a 1880s missionary in the Minnesota territory. The book, "A Servant of his Savior," was published and distributed in theological circles.
Now, the Somerset author has turned his attention toward more secular fare.
His latest book, "Not for Glory," focuses on another of his passions: World War II.
"I was 10 years old when WWII ended," Staab said in a phone interview. "Everyone was affected by rationing, saw the Movietone newsreels. I had uncles on both sides in the war. As kids we used to play out parts of the war. I've been studying things about WWII ever since."
So it was a stroke of luck that in November 2006, his pastor duties with the Salem Lutheran Church in Stillwater involved him conducting home visits to shut-ins. It was during one of these visits that he met a man who would set him on a new course.
Evan J. "Tommy" Thompson will be 90 years old on Nov. 12. He lives with his daughter, Shirley, and got to talking with the pastor about historical events. One day, he happened to mention that he had been with the Darby's Rangers during WWII.
"That immediately piqued my curiosity," Staab said. "I asked him if he ever told anyone about this - no. Do you mind if I tell it?"
The Darby Rangers were the 1st Ranger Battalion constituted May 1942, under the command of Colonel William Orlando Darby, a 30-something graduate of West Point with amphibious training. They were the forerunners of the America's Special Forces, and would have followed Darby "into hell if that's where he chose to lead."
There even was a 1958 movie called "Darby's Rangers" that starred James Garner as Darby, in addition to books about the unit, their British commando training and Arznew, North Africa assault during the war.
It was, however, the personal recollections that captured Staab's imagination. Over the next few weeks, he brought his digital tape recorder on his visits to Thompson's home and just let him talk about his war experiences.
He got a further boost when Thompson's daughter mentioned that there were other former Darby Ranger's living in Stillwater. Acting on this tip, Staab was able to track down Ronald "Rip" Peterson and eventually Roger Twigg. Although Twigg was not one of the original Rangers, he joined shortly thereafter.
"Roger would still go out at 5 a.m. and bag punch," Staab said incredulously. "Unfortunately, he died after our third interview."
Staab said he didn't intend to write a book when he started - he simply wanted to record their memories of their involvement in Darby's Rangers. However, as the interviews wore on, he decided their stories needed to be told.
"When they talked about their buddies getting killed, they tried to keep calm but you could see a tear in their eyes or their lips quiver - it was there," Staab said.
The common denominator in all this was their respect and admiration for their leader, Darby.
"They'd talk more about Darby than they did about themselves," he said. Darby was killed in 1945 by an artillery round when he was 34 years old. He was made a Brigadier General posthumously.
In getting these memories, Staab said he put the events in chronological order and filled in some facts, but mainly he simply recorded what the men said.
"According to the National Ranger Association, only 15 of the 520 are alive in the United States, some in frail health," Staab said. "So if I'm going to do this..."
He signed with Vantage Press to publish the 216-page volume, complete with photographs and copies of maps and letters. When the books came out in July, Peterson and Twigg weren't here to see them, but Thompson was.
"When I showed Tommy the book, he had tears in his eyes and said 'This is the most wonderful thing that's every happened to me,' - that was worth the cost; every penny," Staab recalled.
The book, "Not for Glory" by William E. Staab, is available online and at various historical sites in Minnesota, such as the Minnesota Historical Society and the military museum at Camp Ripley.
Staab said he feels good about the finished product, and hopes the Rangers are proud too.
"When you think about how little they had been repaid, this is a small payback."