Peter Martin Arnold (1919 – 1999): WWII veteran and family man

Peter Martin (Pete) Arnold was the third child of Peter Ernest and Magdalena (Wehner) Arnold. He was born April 26, 1919 near Gladstone, North Dakota, most likely in the sod hut that was the family’s home until the early 1920s.

One of Pete’s early memories centers around the strict discipline his parents maintained in the family home. He recalled the day he and his siblings threw a lit firecracker at someone’s window. It didn’t take long for their father to learn about the incident. The response was immediate and memorable: according to Pete’s account, they were whipped to the point where they could not sit down to supper. Needless to say, Pete lost all interest in fireworks from that point onward.[1]

Pete lived on the family farm through mid-January 1937 when he joined the the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) at Bismarck, North Dakota. He then worked as a mechanic and field assistant leader in water conservation in Kramer, North Dakota. He returned to the family farm after his discharge from the CCC on March 31, 1939, helping with all manner of farm work, until October 5, 1939, when he enlisted in the U.S. Army.[2]

He was stationed at Fort Lewis, Washington in April 1940 when he and many other young soldiers were enumerated for that year’s national census.[3] He and his unit were transferred soon after for maneuvers at Fort Ord, California. Later that year, Pete was transferred to Fort Benning, Georgia, where he was trained as a paratrooper. This video depicts U.S. Army paratrooper training during World War II.[4]

Arnold, Peter (far left hand jumper)

Hand jumping, Fort Benning, GA
Peter Arnold is the man at the far left

Pete qualified as a paratrooper in May 1941 and was subsequently assigned to the 501 Parachute Battalion. That unit was deployed to the Panama Canal Zone in 1941, probably after Pete met Lorene, his wife-to-be, in July 1941.[5] The Canal Zone assignment was fairly short because Pete was in Georgia on July 12, 1942, when he married Lilla Lorene Hall.[6]

He was deployed to the European theater in May 1944. He, along with other U.S. soldiers, parachuted into areas behind German lines in order to relieve troops and to secure local villages from German soldiers. It took a couple of days for his unit to drive out German soldiers whose assignment was essentially the same as the Americans’ mission. In August 1944, Pete and some of his unit were loaded onto a truck so they could go to Rome for some sightseeing. Along the way they spotted some other U.S. paratroopers walking and stopped to offer them a ride. One of those soldiers was Pete’s brother Tony. During their time together, Tony told Pete that their younger brother Bill had been wounded in battle.

He and many other U.S. paratroopers “dropped” into Belgium in September 1944 in a joint U.S./British operation code-named “Market Garden.” Their mission was to secure key bridges over rivers and dams so advancing ground troops could move as quickly as possible toward Berlin.[7] By late autumn 1944, Pete’s unit was deployed to the Little Maginot Line in France. He recalled an extremely harsh winter with frequent blizzards in the area where his unit was bivouacked. His unit, reassigned as the 517th Parachute Combat Team, walked 48 kilometers from Sospel to Nice and eventually to Soisson, France. They subsequently completed at least two jumps into contested territory including the Champagne Campaign. It was, by then, the worst part of winter. They retrieved their parachutes for whatever shelter they might provide and battled a combination of winter weather, German soldiers, and land mines.

Pete remained in France until the end of the war and returned to the U.S. on August 28, 1945. He stayed in the Army until June 1952 when he decided not to reenlist because he didn’t want his military obligation to take him away from his young family. By then, Pete and Lorene were nearing their tenth wedding anniversary; their firstborn, daughter Patricia (Pat), was nine years old, and their son, Peter Martin (Marty) was one year old.

Pete began his civilian life as a “grease monkey” at Cliff Averett Inc., the Buick-Cadillac dealership in Columbus.[8] During his employment there, he was promoted to service writer and, later, to service manager. He worked in similar positions in several cities in Georgia and Anderson, South Carolina, before he retired.

Despite the family’s Georgia residence, Pete insisted on a live Christmas tree and was quite particular about how it was decorated. He put the lights on first. Pat, Marty, and David added the ornaments. Pete then finished the tree, carefully placing each strand of tinsel to create what he considered a perfect tree.

1945 Pete, Lorene, & Pat w-motorcycle

Pete, Lorene & Pat Arnold
Arnold family farm, Gladstone, ND, mid-1940s
Does anyone recognize the motorcycle or know who owned it?

Pete and Lorene and their children traveled to North Dakota at least three times. The first time was the mid-1940s when their daughter Pat was about two years old. The last time they visited as a family was in about 1960 when Pat was about 16 and her brothers, Marty and David were 9 and three respectively. Pete and Lorene also attended the Gladstone Centennial in 1982 and Arnold family reunions in Bozeman, Montana (1992), Las Vegas, Nevada (1994), and Columbus, Georgia (1998).

Pete and Lorene celebrated their 50th anniversary in 1992 in the company of family and friends, including their three children and Tony and Margaret Arnold, Pete’s brother and sister-in-law.

50th Anniversary collage-gray

50th Anniversary Celebration, 1992
Right photo: Pete & Lorene Arnold
Top left photo (l-r) Marty, Pete, David, Lorene, & Pat Arnold
Bottom left photo (l-r): Tony & Margaret Arnold and Pete & Lorene Arnold

Pete had a series of strokes beginning in 1992. Later, as his health deteriorated, he was moved to nursing homes in Tuscaloosa and Montgomery (Alabama). He died in Montgomery on October 5, 1999, and is buried at Parkhill Cemetery in Columbus, Georgia.

Pete was survived by his wife, Lorene (Hall) Arnold, daughter Patricia (Larry) Little, sons Peter Martin (Marty; wife Karen) Arnold, and David (Donna) Arnold; grandsons Larry Little, Danny Little, and Eddie Arnold; granddaughters Kristan Arnold, Kacie Arnold, and Leah Kyle Arnold; and four great grandchildren. He was also survived by siblings Anna (née Arnold) Haman, Great Falls, Montana; Ernest (Darlene) Arnold, Benson, Arizona; Frank (Adeline) Arnold, Minneapolis, Minnesota; John (Dorothy) Arnold, Richardton, North Dakota; William (Irene) Arnold, Great Falls, Montana; Raymond (Barbara) Arnold, Napa, California; Walter (Clarice) Arnold, Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Helen (née Meininger) Hassebrock, Dickinson, North Dakota. Pete was preceded in death by his parents, brother Antone (Tony; wife Margaret) Arnold, sister Margaret Maria Arnold, and grandson Randall Richard Little.

[1] Based on Peter Martin Arnold’s personal account as transcribed by his son Peter Martin (Marty) Arnold, Jr. Most of the information about Pete’s military service are based on that account.
[2] Family record provided by Pat Little: Honorable Discharge from the Civilian Conservation Corps for Peter M. Arnold dated 31 March 1939 at Kramer, North Dakota.
[3] 1940 U.S. census, West Spokane, Spokane, Washigton, population schedule, enumeration district 32-72, sheet 12B, Peter M. Arnold; digital image, Ancestry .com ( : accessed 28 March 2015); citing NARA microfilm publication T627_4363.
[4] YouTube Video Paratroop Training: “Paratroops” circa 1943 US Office of War Information, World War II ~
[5] Peter Martin Arnold personal account/transcription; previously discussed.
[6] “Cordele Girl Weds Sergeant,” Macon (Georgia) Telegraph, 19 July 1942, via
[7] Operation “Market Garden,”
[8] Polk’s Columbus (Georgia) and Phenix (Alabama) City Directory, microfilm reprint, U.S. City Directories, 1821-1989 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2011, 18, Arnold, Peter M (Lillia L).

Irene Agnes Armbrust (1929-2001): Making the most of what she had (52 Ancestors #11)

Posted for the blog meme 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks hosted by Amy Johnson Crowe of No Story Too Small.

My mother, Irene Agnes Armbrust,[1] was born February 2, 1929. She was the first child of Daniel and Elizabeth (Jaeger) Armbrust. Though both her civil birth certificate and church baptism record state she was born in Kildeer, Dunn County, North Dakota, she always claimed that she was born at the Grassy Butte, North Dakota post office. You can read more about that here.[2]

Records are scarce between Irene’s birth in 1929 and the 1940 U.S. census, when Elizabeth Armbrust was enumerated as a widowed head of household with three children in Watford City, McKenzie County, North Dakota.[3] Daniel died in Dickinson, North Dakota in February 1936.[4] Irene was 11 years old and her siblings Dolores and Elmer were 7 and 5 years old respectively. Elizabeth Armbrust died in September 1946.[5] Irene was 17 years old, Dolores was 13, and Elmer was 12.

Irene was 18 when she graduated from St. Joseph High School in Wild Rice, North Dakota in June 1947.[6] I don’t have specific information about Irene’s location or activities between 1947 and 1950 except that she was employed as a stenographer at Bismarck Grocery in Dickinson before her marriage in May 1950.[7] She had some sort of relationship with the Jack and Barbara Reisenhauer family in Dickinson sometime between her father’s death in 1936 and 1950. I have only a vague recollection that she was fostered to the Reisenhauers at some point between Daniel’s death in 1936 and her high school graduation in 1947. Whatever the relationship, I know that “Grandma Reisenhauer” gave my sister Wynne and me fragile, porcelain-head dolls in the late 1950s.

1950 William Arnold & Irene Armbrust wedding announcement

William Arnold & Irene Armbrust wedding announcement

Irene married William (Bill) Henry Arnold on May 3, 1950, at St. Patrick’s Church in Dickinson, North Dakota. Dolores Armbrust, Irene’s younger sister, was maid of honor; Walter Arnold, brother of the groom, was best man. Other attendants included Martha Focht, Pauline Wehner, John Arnold, and Frank Focht.[8] Bill’s father and stepmother, Peter and Margaret Arnold, hosted a dinner reception for the couple at the Knights of Columbus hall in Gladstone. I am, once again, short of details, but family lore is that departing guests had to contend with an early spring snow when they left the reception.

Bill and Irene lived in several rented apartments and houses before they purchased their first home in Dickinson[9] in about 1957. It was a small house: kitchen, living room, bathroom and two bedrooms. They built a third bedroom in the basement of the house to provide more space for their growing family.

Bill and Irene parented 10 children. Seven of the children (William, Wanda, Wynne, Laura, Sandra, Kelley, and Kevin) were born in Dickinson between 1951 and 1964. Penney, Darla, and Ryan were born in Great Falls, Montana, between 1968 and 1977.

The sale of the Dickinson home provided the down payment for Bill and Irene’s next and final home. They purchased a newly constructed three bedroom, one bath house shortly after they moved to Great Falls in mid-1965.

Bill and Irene were a one-income family. Bill worked as a mechanic in a Plymouth/Dodge dealership in Dickinson. He started as a mechanic at Bison Ford in Great Falls in 1965 and was foreman of the dealership’s large truck shop when he retired in 1989.[10] They were, of necessity, very careful of their money. There was little waste in our household—leftovers were almost non-existent and outgrown clothes and shoes were automatically passed down to the next child in line. As described here, Mom was especially mindful of the family’s expenses.

Irene joined the Eagles Auxiliary in 1966. She competed in the organization’s ritual process for many years and held both local and state positions between 1966 and when she served as Montana’s auxiliary president in 1991.[11]

Gladstone 1982: Bill, Irene, & Ryan

Bill and Irene traveled to Memphis, Tennessee in about 1990, combining a visit with their son Kevin and his family along with attending an Eagles event. They also traveled to several Arnold family reunions, including the Gladstone Centennial in 1982, Dickinson in 1990 and 2000, Las Vegas in 1994, and Minneapolis in 1996.

Irene had the first of several strokes during the winter of 1991/1992. Since she was unable to travel to the larger Arnold reunion, held in Bozeman, Montana, in 1992, Bill and Irene hosted their own mini-reunion in Great Falls, with nine of their ten children and their families in attendance. Kevin, on active duty with the U.S. Navy, was not able to attend.

1992 Wm Arnold family in GF-

Back Row (l-r): Wanda, Sandy, Kelley, Laura, & Bill
Middle row (far right): Wynne & Darla
Front row (l-r): Ryan, Bill, Irene, & Penney

Mom was a storyteller, and she had her own unique sense of humor. When I was very young, she told me that if I stuck my elbow in my ear, I would turn into a boy. Presumably the opposite would happen to a boy who managed to stick his elbow in his ear. I will admit to trying (then, several times between then and now, and about 30 seconds ago!), but I’ve never managed the feat. I have no idea where Mom came up with this idea; further I doubt this is physically possible for probably 99% or more of humankind, and I’ve certainly never seen the phenomena described elsewhere.

Irene Agnes (Armbrust) Arnold passed away at Benefis Health Care-East Campus in Great Falls, Montana on September 23, 2000. She was 71 years old. She was survived by Bill, her husband of 50 years, the couple’s ten children, 13 grandchildren, 3 great grandchildren, her sister Dolores Rodgers of Mandan, North Dakota, and brother Elmer Armbrust of Fargo, North Dakota.[12] Bill and Irene are buried at Highlands Cemetery in Great Falls, Montana.

[1] Irene Agnes Arnold is the wife of William Henry Arnold and the daughter-in-law of Peter and Magdalena Arnold.
[2] This post was written almost 2 ½ years ago, long before I became interested in genealogy. Feel free to ignore the Photoshop-related discussion.
[3] 1940 U.S. census, Watford City, McKenzie County, North Dakota, population schedule, enumeration district 27-36, sheet 3B, dwelling 70, Elizabeth Armbrust family; digital image, Ancestry .com ( : accessed 20 March 2015); citing NARA microfilm publication T627_3006.
[4] North Dakota Certificate of Death State File No.4127 (1936), Daniel Armbrust, State Health Department.
[5] Death/burial record obtained from St. Joseph’s Church reports Elizabeth Armbrust’s death of a heart attack on September 1, 1946. She was buried in the church’s cemetery on September 8, 1946.
[6] Family records: diploma dated June 1, 1947 from St. Joseph High School, Wild Rice, North Dakota, and Catholic Action News dated July 1947.
[7] Undated/unsourced wedding announcement. Likely source: Dickinson Press, May 1950.
[8] John Arnold is William’s next older brother; Martha Focht and Frank Focht are his paternal first cousins; Pauline Wehner is his maternal first cousin.
[9] The home was located at 1076 Carroll Street, Dickinson, North Dakota.
[10] Obituary for William Henry Arnold. Great Falls Tribune, 29 April, 2003.
[11] “Irene Arnold will make her official auxiliary visit,” Great Falls Tribune, 31 January 1991.
[12] Irene A. Arnold obituary, Great Falls Tribune, 25 September 2000.

William Henry Arnold (1925-2003): An everyday hero (52 Ancestors #10)

Posted for the blog meme 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks hosted by Amy Johnson Crowe of No Story Too Small.

My father, William (Bill) Henry Arnold, was the seventh child of Peter Ernest and Magdalena (Wehner) Arnold. He was baptized at St. Thomas Church in Gladstone, North Dakota, a few weeks after his February 21, 1925 birth.[1] His birth was officially registered with the North Dakota Department of Health in January 1943, less than two months before his 18th birthday. Because it was a delayed registration, the certificate refers to the aforementioned church baptismal record, a notarized affidavit from John Sabo, identified as a close friend and neighbor of the Arnold family in 1925 when Bill was born, and an affidavit on the certificate itself of “attending physician, parents, nearest relative or other person living at the time and having knowledge of the facts of this birth.” Bill’s father, Peter Arnold, signed the birth record affidavit, indicating that the information provided came from family records and personal knowledge.[2]

Bill attended Gladstone public schools beginning, most likely, in 1930 or 1931. Though Bill and his siblings knew only German when they started school, they had to learn English very quickly because that was the language used in the school. I haven’t yet found information for how many children were enrolled in Gladstone’s school system during those years, but Bill’s 1933 First Communion class of 34 children[3] is a reasonable proxy (i.e., if there were 30 children in his grade and there were 12 grades between elementary and high school, the total population of the school per year during that period was approximately 360.)

A side note: Benedictine sisters taught in Gladstone’s public schools for about 14 years from the mid-1930s until about 1949, mostly because the school board couldn’t afford to pay lay teachers during the depression years.[4] That practice led to a lawsuit, Gerhardt v. Heid, filed in Dickinson, North Dakota, in 1936. The plaintiff sued on two counts: first, to prohibit the sisters from wearing religious garb when they were teaching in public schools, and second, to stop school board payments to the sisters. The North Dakota Supreme Court, later in 1936, agreed with a lower court ruling that Gladstone schools were neither sectarian nor under sectarian control. The battle didn’t end there: a 1944 anti-garb bill was withdrawn a day after it was introduced; a similar bill was proposed in 1947, but was withdrawn due to pressure from a coalition of Protestants and Catholics; in 1948, the state’s electorate passed an anti-garb initiative. The 1948 law prompted negotiations between the bishop of the Bismarck (North Dakota) diocese, local religious orders, and the Vatican to allow Catholic sisters to wear secular clothing when they were teaching. Catholic hierarchy encouraged transition for teaching sisters, and some orders modified their rules to allow their sisters to wear non-religious clothing when teaching.[5] It is not clear whether the Benedictine order forbade its sisters from wearing secular attire to comply with the 1948 law or whether the Gladstone citizenry decided to employ lay teachers in its schools but, whatever the circumstances, the Benedictine sisters withdrew from teaching in Gladstone’s public schools in 1949.[6]

William Henry Arnold, approx. 1944

William Henry Arnold, approx. 1944


Bill was 19 years old when he graduated high school on May 26, 1944.[7] There were 11 students in his graduating class,[8] including two who were likely Bill’s first cousins: Kathryn Wehner and Helen Focht. Bill enlisted in the Army on June 22, 1944, and following basic training at Fort McClellan, Alabama, was deployed to the European theater before year’s end. He was discharged as a Sergeant on 14 March 1946. He was awarded several decorations for his service, most notably a Purple Heart for a wound sustained in the Ardennes campaign and a Bronze Star Medal with Cluster for heroic action in the battle of Germany.[9]







Left photo: Bill & Frank; Right photo: Frank, Walt, Ray & John

Left photo: Bill & Frank; Right photo: Frank, Walt, Ray & John


After the war, Bill and his brothers, Frank, Walt, Ray, and John, ran the Arnold Brothers Service in Minneapolis, Minnesota.[10] They pumped gas, serviced motor vehicles, and towed trailers from one place to another. Bill later returned to Dickinson where he worked on the construction of a multi-story hotel.









1950 Arnold, William & Armbrust, Irene marriage record


On May 3, 1950, Bill married Irene Armbrust at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Dickinson.[11] The newspaper account of their wedding states that Bill was employed as a farmer and a mechanic.[12] It was probably about this time that he started working at the Stark Motor Company in Dickinson.

Bill and Irene lived in several rented apartments and houses before they purchased their first home[13] in about 1957. It was a small house: kitchen, living room, bathroom and two bedrooms. They built a third bedroom in the basement of the house to provide a little more space for their growing family.

In 1965, Bill and Irene decided to move to Great Falls, Montana to take advantage of better pay there than was available in Dickinson. Our family lived with Aunt Ann[14] for several weeks during that summer until the house Mom and Dad purchased could be finished. We moved into the new house shortly before the start of the 1965-1966 school year.

Bill worked at Bison Ford in Great Falls from 1965 when he started there as an auto mechanic until he retired in 1989 as foreman of the dealership’s large truck shop. He and Irene were members of the local Eagles club, where they contributed many hours of volunteer service. Bill was president of the local club for one year and is credited with establishing the Retired Eagles Activities Club. He was Irene’s biggest supporter for her Eagles Auxiliary activities during the 1970s and 1980s, and especially when she was state president in 1990-1991.[15]

William & Irene Arnold, about 1996

William & Irene Arnold, about 1996

Bill was first and foremost a homebody. He was proud of his home and was careful about repairing and repainting the exterior of the house after all-too-frequent hail storms. He was equally conscientious about the yard and spent many evenings moving sprinklers from one area to the next to ensure the grass stayed green throughout spring and summer. One of my fondest memories of our home is that Mom would measure out the ingredients for a double or triple batch of cookies (we were a large family!), but it was Dad’s task (after a long day at work) to stir everything together and bake the cookies. Dad usually baked at least one batch right after supper, so everyone in the family could enjoy a cookie or two before bedtime. We children might have been sent to bed but, as the baking continued throughout the evening, I’m sure all of us were wishing for just one more cookie!

Dad was diagnosed with lung cancer shortly after he retired. He had surgery to remove a portion of one lung; that was followed by a series of radiation treatments to prevent the cancer from spreading. He recovered fairly quickly, just in time to face a new challenge. Mom had a severe stroke in early 1992. She was subsequently wheelchair bound and dependent on others for almost everything. Dad was there: he helped Mom with her personal and mobility needs, took her to a nearby mall so she could walk with the aid of a cane, and kept the house and yard in order, all the while providing advice and assistance to his children and grandchildren.

Declaring my dad a hero is an understatement. He was such a modest, unassuming person that I’m sure he would dismiss the accolade, but that doesn’t make it any less true. He was gentle, kind, patient, funny, ingenious, and industrious—these and many other attributes helped him deal with a daunting variety of challenges—soldier, husband, parent, provider, caretaker, and so much more.

William Henry Arnold died in his home on April 27, 2003. Survivors included his ten children William, Wanda, Wynne, Laura, Sandra, Kelley, Kevin, Penney, Darla, and Ryan, 13 grandchildren, and 3 great grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his wife Irene in September 2000; his parents, sister Margaret, and brothers Antone and Peter.[16] He and Irene are buried at Highlands Cemetery in Great Falls, Montana.

[1] Family record: certificate of baptism dated 15 March 1925 from St. Thomas Church, Gladstone, North Dakota.
[2] Family record: certificate of birth for William Henry Arnold, certified on 4 April 1950 by the state health officer and state registrar as a true and correct copy of the delayed record of birth.
[3] 1882-1982 Gladstone Centennial, Dickinson, ND: Service Printers, 66.
[4] 1882-1982 Gladstone Centennial. Dickinson, ND: Service Printers, 77.
[5] Grathwohl, L. (1993). The North Dakota anti-garb law: Constitutional conflict and religious strife. Great Plains Quarterly, Summer 1993, 187-202.
[6] 1882-1982 Gladstone Centennial, 77, previously discussed.
[7] Family record: high school diploma awarded to William Henry Arnold on 26 May 1944.
[8] 1882-1982 Gladstone Centennial, Dickinson, ND: Service Printers, 70.
[9] Family record: Army separation qualification record dated 14 March 1946.
[10] Composite image of several photographs related to the Arnold Brothers Service. The photo of Frank, Walt, Ray, and John comes from the family album maintained by Clarice Arnold.
[11] Personal record: marriage license issued at Dickinson, Stark, North Dakota and certificate of marriage from St. Patrick’s Church, Dickinson, Stark, North Dakota.
[12] Undated/unsourced wedding announcement for William Arnold and Irene Armbrust. Likely source: Dickinson Press, May 1950.
[13] The home was located at 1076 Carroll Street, Dickinson, North Dakota.
[14] Anna A. Arnold (1916-2005): On her own terms and Lasting Lessons.
[15] Obituary for William Henry Arnold. Great Falls Tribune, April 29, 2003.
[16] William Henry Arnold obituary, previously discussed.


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