Small Town News


Photos 'are going to the right place'

Philipsburg Mail of Philipsburg, Montana

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One photo is of Philipsburg resident Elaine Cross on top of an aircraft in 1942 during aircraft mechanic training in Clinton.

Another is a faded-to-gold photo of Philipsburg's Civil War veterans, with medals showing service in the "Grand Old Army," taken sometime around 1890.

Yet another is of Bill Schneider, Hugo Sanders, Jr. and Dale Ackershott in uniform during 1943, arms thrown around each other as forested mountains rise up behind them, looking barely old enough to graduate high school.

These are just a few of the 150 framed photos of Granite County veterans that will be heading for the walls of the Maxville WW in time for Veterans Day, inventoried and alphabetically organized after being taken from the building that was formerly the Club Bar, now under new ownership.

Some were found in boxes; some were on the walls — but all that are unclaimed by veterans' families will be taken to their new home on Nov. 11. Sandra Barbara, office manager for Tommy Knockers and Substations, Inc. has been charged with organizing the inventory of photographs, and has a checklist for families to sign off on if they are claimed. She said the project was a fascinating look into the history of the area.

Zane Murfitt, Steve Dirkes, and Bob Winningh off, were just a few of the names that popped out at her. Another name that had a familiar ring was of U.S. Army Lt. Col. Joan Kaiser Shimerda, a Philipsburg native, who died on Oct. 7 in Sun City, Fla. Her obituary appeared in an October edition of the Philipsburg Mail, detailing her 20 years as nurse in the U.S. Army, serving at the 36th Evacuation Hospital at Vang Tau, before going on to be chief nurse of the 6th Convalescent Center at Cam Ranh Bay.

"For a small town, there are a lot of men and women here," Barbara said, surrounded by boxes with the inventory list in her hand. "Look at how many have served. My father was in the Navy and I'm a history buff — so I love this."

It is also a glimpse into different parts of the world local veterans travelled: while many of the photos could have been taken within

Granite County, others — like a 1965 photograph of John Hawthorn, taken at McMydo Station, Antarctica, during Operation Deep Freeze — show a vasdy different landscape in the background.

Many veterans in the photos have since passed away; but several are residents that Barbara passes on the street every day. Some served for a short time; others spent most of their lives serving their country, as did a parent, and even grandparent. Several in the photographs continue to serve today.

It's an honor to be the keeper of these boxes of history until they are either claimed or delivered to their new home at the VFW, Barbara said.

"This is history — but there is also something almost sacred about these photographs as well."

Elaine Cross, who remembered posing on the B-24, which was the beginning of her aircraft painting training in her early 20s, said it was a wonderful time.

One of the girls in the photo was a good friend Cross introduced to a male friend others, she recalled. Those two friends later married, had children, and had since passed away, but Cross said she still keeps in touch with their children, who continue to credit Cross with their parents' marriage.

She also remembered learning to do the insignia for military aircraft and the trouble with the design that was a blue circle, white star with a red ball.

"But the red ball looked so much like the Japanese rising sun, that we had to paint all those red balls out," she said.

Other memories included working on B-17 planes, included the Suzy-Q — which Cross remembered as the inspiration for the wartime song "Coming' in on a wing and a prayer."

While she may have been in the era of Rosie the Riveter, she laughed that she was "Paula the Painter."

"We worked on the airplanes at the same time 'Rosie' was working on the nose of the plane — we'd be working on the tail."

Cross said she donated the picture that had been at the Club Bar, and hoped that when it was put back up in Maxville, it would be surrounded by the five men in her family that were also servicemen, including her late husband, son and grandsons.

The picture "was part of the memory of when we started our career as aircraft painters," Cross said.

My husband was with the VFW for a long time and I was with the VFW auxiliary," Cross said. "It is going to the right place -1 think it is more fitting that it is there."

A list of inventoried photographs can be found on page 24 of the Philipsburg Mail.

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Original Publication Date: November 5, 2015

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