The Ultimate Sacrifice

A book by Elmer Koppelmann

Book review by Beth Dippel
Sheboygan County Historical society

With Memorial Day fast approaching, it is only fitting for a bit of military history. Originally a national day of remembrance for our Union Civil War dead, it was first called Decoration Day and was originally celebrated on May 30 beginning in 1868. The public was asked to bring flowers or decorate the graves of soldiers who died in defense of their country, and whose bodies lay far from home.

Now celebrated on the last Monday of May, Memorial Day commemorates American military personnel who died in any war, including World War II, The Vietnam War, The Korean War and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The citizens of Sheboygan County have always gone above and beyond the call of duty in times of military need; the Second World War was no exception. Some 3000 young men and women, from this county alone, served during World War II on all fronts and in all capacities.

Local historian and educator Elmer Koppelmann, who passed away in 2004, felt it important to document the lives of those who gave their lives in service to their country.

Recorded in his book, The Ultimate Sacrifice, are vignettes of 234 soldiers—one young woman and 233 young men from the Sheboygan County area who lost their lives. Four others—Joseph J. Archbold, Elmer C. Prahl, Roland Thompson, and Douglas Thornberg—are noted as making the ultimate sacrifice, but no other information was available at the time.

Family and friends of many of these young soldiers participated in this project. Their involvement made all the difference in the stories told about their loved ones. Family photos are clearer and more personal. Stories from siblings allow us to better know their family member.

Many of the photos included are from the newspapers of the day, which meant poor film and even poorer quality newsprint. The war effort took everything.

Following are two representative stories.

Ralph Raymond Ramaker was born on 12 November 1920, the only son of Ralph and Edna Ramaker, Sheboygan. The family home was located at 3931 Erie Avenue in the town of Sheboygan. One of Ralph’s grandfathers had a store on Michigan Avenue. It was a combination heating and sheet metal store. He would take the streetcar back and forth to work each day, as the track ran right past his house. Ralph’s grandmother had a parrot named Polly that must have had a colorful vocabulary and liked to use it.

Ralph’s father worked at Kohler Company. The family belonged to Bethel Baptist Church. Ralph was a graduate of Kohler High School. He also attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison for three years. Ralph was a prolific letter-writer, keeping in touch with his parents at least three times each week. Dozens of letters survive from his years at university and the military. He enlisted in the Army Air Corps in June of 1942 and was called to serve on January 31, 1943. He served as a 2nd Lt. in the 498th Bomber Group, 873rd Squadron.

He was killed in action on 27 December 1944. His plane crashed while fighting the Japanese and was never found. The flags that flew over Central High School after the war were given in Ralph’s memory.

Julia Schmid was born at Neillsville, Wisconsin, on 31 January 1915, the daughter of the Reverend and Mrs. Herman G. Schmid. Her early years were spent at Potter, Wisconsin, before the family moved to Plymouth, where her father was pastor of the Evangelical and Reformed Church.

A 1932 graduate of Plymouth High School, Julia graduated from Mission House College in 1936, later receiving a nursing degree from the Washington School of Nursing, Barnes Hospital, St. Louis, Missouri in 1941. Julia enlisted in the Army Nursing Corps at Jefferson Barracks, St. Louis, Missouri in April of 1942, receiving a commission as a 2nd Lieutenant. She worked as a member of the Mobile Blood Donor Unit at St. Louis during 1942. Later in her military career she was stationed at the following bases: Williams Field, Chandler, Arizona; Pecos Army Airfield, Texas; and Camp Swift, Texas.

She was married on 15 September 1943 at Arlington, Virginia, to Lt. Alfred K. Barnes of Denver, Colorado. Lt. Alfred Barnes was stationed in the Philippines after the ceremony.

In April of 1944, Lt. Schmid Barnes was transferred overseas and attached to the 69th General Hospital at Ledo, in Assam, India. She received a commendation from her commanding officer in Ledo for her outstanding work during a typhus epidemic and for six grueling months in the neuropsychotic ward, working with American and Chinese soldier patients.

2nd Lt. Barnes died from injuries she sustained in a transport plane crash on 4 March 1945, which carried seriously wounded men from the Mandalay battle front, over the Burma jungles to the evacuation hospital.

Her remains were returned to San Francisco via the S.S. Cardinal O’Connell with 1st Lt. Lenora Fischer, ANC, acting as chaperone. They arrived in Sheboygan County on 1 June 1948. Burial services took place at Wittkopp’s Funeral Home with burial at Wildwood Cemetery in Sheboygan on 3 June 1948. Military rites were conducted by members of Ladewig-Zinkgraf Post 243 of the American Legion.

Dr. Paul Grosshuesch, president of Mission House College, paid fine tribute to Julia as the first woman from Sheboygan County to die in her country’s service. He knew her as a talented girl with a winning smile who excelled in everything she undertook. Author Elmer R. Koppelmann spent his entire adult life serving Sheboygan County in a variety of ways. He was a dedicated teacher for 36 years, and an active volunteer for the Sheboygan County Historical Research Center. During his teaching career and after his retirement, Elmer enjoyed spending time researching and writing books on local history.

His last project, “The Ultimate Sacrifice,” was born out of his love of Sheboygan County history, and his interest in World War II. He was also very proud of his father, Elmer A. Koppelmann Sr., who represented Sheboygan County as a member of the United States Army from 1943-1945. Elmer Sr. was a member of the 75th Infantry Division and was honorably discharged on August 7, 1945.

This information-rich book, filled with photos, is more than 300 pages in length. It can be purchased at the Sheboygan County Historical Research Center, 518 Water Street, Sheboygan Falls, Tuesday through Friday from 9-4. Or online at SCHRC also does curbside delivery.

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