Legacies of native sons live on in Legion

Young soldiers for whom post is named remembered as Port Legion celebrates its centennial on Saturday

PORT WASHINGTON’S Van Ells-Schanen American Legion Post 82 Hall on Lake Street is decked out for the post’s centennial celebration on Saturday, Aug. 17. The post was chartered on Sept. 19, 1919, and is named forAndrew Van Ells, the city’s first World War I casualty, and Robert Schanen, the first city resident to die in World War II. Photo by Sam Arendt
By 
KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Ozaukee Press staff

The Van Ells-Schanen American Legion Post, which is celebrating its centennial Saturday, commemorates the lives of two of Port Washington’s war dead — the first local soldiers killed in World Wars I and II.

But while their names may be memorialized, few people know the stories behind the the post’s namesakes, Andrew Van Ells and Robert Schanen.

Van Ells was a captain in the Army. He  was 22 when he was wounded in Fismes, France, on Aug. 8, 1918. Two days later, he died.

Schanen, a navigator on a B-17 bomber, was killed in action on his 26th birthday, Sept. 16, 1943, when his plane crashed in Wales while returning from a raid on a German submarine base in France.

Both men were born into well known Port families — Van Ells was a member of the Van Ells commercial fishing family, while Schanen’s father, William F. Schanen, was a lawyer in private practice who had served as Ozaukee County district attorney. 

Andrew Van Ells “might have been the one to stay on the boat,” his great-nephew Patrick Poole said. “He grew up in Port, went to St. Mary’s School. He looked like a dapper young man.”

Schanen, like his father, was a lawyer, only a few months out of law school when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.

“The war put a tragic end to the career Bob and his family had imagined,” said Bill Schanen III, Robert’s nephew. “He had just started practicing law with his father in a new building on Main Street with the firm name Schanen & Schanen on the door.” (The building was then also home to Ozaukee Press, as it is today.) 

Van Ells was one of four children of Andrew and Alberdine Driessen Van Ells, born in Port on March 18, 1896. 

After graduating from Port Washington High School, he earned a two-year degree from the Mechanical Training School of Milwaukee.

On July 16, 1917, he enlisted in the Army and was assigned to the 127th Infantry Supply Co., 32nd (Les Terribles) Division, according to information provided by Poole. 

He trained at Camp Douglas and Camp MacArthur in Waco, Texas, then was shipped overseas, where he received additional training in France.

He was engaged in battles in the Alsace sector and Aisna-Marna before being wounded in the Fismes engagement near Chateau-Thierry. He had gunshot wounds in his left leg and groin as well as shrapnel in his right heel.

By coincidence, he was tended to at the base hospital by former Port Washington resident Martha Schumacher, a Red Cross nurse.

She wrote a letter to his mother that was printed in a local newspaper, the Port Washington Star, saying, “Of course much at this time can be of but little avail, still you must want to know that he died as he lived, a real soldier. 

“A son you may well be proud of. He has done his part to bring this awful war to a close and you are only one of many mothers who have the consolation of knowing you have done a big part in this war. 

“His one desire was to get home, after knowing he could not again enter the battlefield, he certainly spoke well of home.”

The newspaper described Van Ells as “a young man of sterling worth, affable, industrious and filled with the brightest hopes,” and said his death “struck the parents, brother and sisters like a thunderbolt from a clear sky and cast a gloom over the entire city.”

Van Ells was one of five Ozaukee County men who died in World War I,  Poole said. He is buried at Holy Cross.

Schanen, one of four children of William and Laura Schanen, was born in Port on Sept. 16, 1917.

He attended St. Mary’s grade school and graduated from Port High, then received his law degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in June 1941. 

His sister Shirley Schanen Gruen described him as “very smart, a good student. Bobby was a musician who played saxophone and clarinet and played in bands. He was athletic and a very nice guy.”

  He played football at Port High, she said, adding he was “very good looking. He looked like (movie star) Joel McCrea.”

Schanen enlisted in the Army Air Corps in January 1942, with the aim of becoming a pilot, according to another nephew, Gerald Gruen Jr. Instead, he was trained as a navigator and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in April 1943.

Schanen was based in Framlingham, England, with the 8th Air Force, 571st Squadron, from where he and his crew flew 10 missions over France and Germany in the B-17 “Flying Fortress,” according to the Legion.

In September, the Allies sent the Third Bombardment Division, comprised of eight bomb groups, to attack a German submarine pen at La Pallice, France, where as many as 13 boats could be berthed for restocking, refueling and maintenance, according to an online account of the mission.

The bombardment division sent 148 heavy bombers, including Schanen’s plane, which was known as Ascend Charlie — a play on Ass-End Charlie, the nickname for the plane at the end of a bomber stream that is likely to be attacked due to its vulnerable position, the account said.

The plane suffered battle damage over France and had two injured crew members on board as it returned — Schanen and Staff Sgt. Swen Zetterberg of Rockford, Ill. It was running low on fuel and flying in near darkness when Capt. L.W. Doland, who was aboard a nearby plane, ordered the flight of planes to slow down to protect Ascend Charlie from German fighters.

But the weather worsened, and Doland saw that two of the plane’s engines were on fire. 

Ascend Charlie entered a fog bank and Doland never saw the plane again. It crashed into a 2,000-foot-peak in the Black Hills of Wales, killing all 10 men aboard. Most, like Schanen, had been in the military less than two years but were considered a veteran crew with most of the men nearing their 10th combat mission.

The men were initially buried at the Brookwood American Cemetery southwest of London. Schanen, who was awarded the Purple Heart, was later returned to Port Washington, where he was buried in St. Mary’s Cemetery.

The raid did not succeed, and the submarine base remained in action for the duration of the war.

In 1993, a brass plaque was erected at the parish church of Llanbedr in memory of the crew of Ascend Charlie by Gordon Pembridge of Aberfavenny, Gwent, Wales, who as a 10-year-old boy had witnessed the crash from his father’s farm.

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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