Farmboy, officer, professor

Date

07/08/19

URBANA — Farmboy-turned-professor Winton Solberg has a middle career, as an Army officer.

University of Illinois Emeritus Professor Solberg, 97, landed on Omaha Beach in September 1944 — three months after D-Day, with fighting still going on.

He grew up near Aberdeen, S.D., and graduated early from the University of South Dakota, with infantry experience in the ROTC.

 

“My closest friend in college was killed in the war,” he recalled.

Early in life, he learned a key Army skill: how to make a bed properly, every morning.

“If you didn’t, they gigged you,” meaning a demerit.

Solberg graduated OCS, Officer Candidate School, on May 27, 1943, and began training troops.

Then it was off to sea, embarking from Boston on the USS Washington, where the second lieutenant had a comfortable berth.

“The ship zigzagged every two minutes,” he said, as a safety measure against German U-Boats.

It landed at Liverpool, whereupon his unit traveled by train to Southampton, one of the departure points for D-Day on June 6, 1944.

In September, Solberg was placed in a landing craft, commanded by a British officer.

Solberg said the craft couldn’t get close enough to Omaha beach, so the men waded ashore to the beach where so many had died.

He saw a vast cemetery with crosses and Stars of David, the American Cemetery overlooking the beach. Many former service members have made pilgrimages to it.

At night, he recalled, the Army traveled to Le Mans, taken by U.S. troops in August. Solberg and his men weren’t told where they’d go next.

They were soon put in boxcars, 40 and 8s, so called for the number of men or of horses they could handle.

“With backpacks and rifles, it was extremely crowded for the 40 men,” Solberg said.

On Oct. 13, they arrived in Belgium. Moving toward Aachen, a French city the Germans claimed as part of Germany.

The 29th Infantry Division could hear guns in the distance.

It was then that Solberg heard the now-familiar sound of an artillery shell heading toward a target — three or four feet away from him.

“It was a dud,” Solberg said. “Otherwise, I wouldn’t be here to tell the story.”

The near-death changed Solberg’s viewpoint.

“I developed the idea that I couldn’t spend every day worrying about death,” he said.

 

That was a very good thing, because in mid-December, the 29th Infantry was about to head into one of the bloodiest battles of the European theater, the Battle of the Bulge.

It was a last-gasp counter-offense by the Germans, whom Allied Forces thought were nearly defeated.

“All hell broke loose,” he said of the shock of artillery and airborne attacks. But his group persevered into Germany.

He was in Bremerhaven when the war ended. Conditions improved almost immediately; he was allowed to eat at a restaurant.

He lived in a house and “my aide got the food, and a cook served it.”

Solberg was a witness to the devastation of central Europe in the Army of Occupation, as well as some of the Nuremberg war crimes trials.

After the war, he stayed in the Reserves, but was accepted to Harvard and began a distinguished academic career.

During the Korean War, he was on the faculty at West Point, the prestigious Army university, leaving as a major.

Yale asked him to be a lecturer, and he found a tenured position elsewhere:

“When I got the offer to come to the University of Illinois, there was no hesitation.”

He came to Urbana in 1961, still in the Reserves until 1982, retiring as a lieutenant colonel.

Solberg served as chairman of the history department. Two years ago, he received the Chancellor’s Medallion, which had only been awarded six times over 20 years.

 

Reprinted from the News Gazette - July 8, 2019. Author: Paul Wood. Link to the original.

Related People

wsolberg

Related Topics

Directory

loughranTrish
Loughran
dkoenkerDiane
Koenker
hliebersHarry
Liebersohn
aespiritAugusto
Espiritu
steinbMark
Steinberg
kmcunoKenneth
Cuno
rjrossRichard
Ross
rptobyRonald
Toby
eavrutinEugene
Avrutin
kchow1Kai-Wing
Chow
aburtonAntoinette
Burton
burgosjrAdrian
Burgos, Jr
dprochasDavid
Prochaska
emcduffiErik
McDuffie
hogansonKristin
Hoganson
hoxieFrederick
Hoxie
jandersJames
Anderson
jbrennanJames
Brennan
j-love2Joseph
Love
johnlynnJohn
Lynn
jwrJohn
Randolph
khitchinKeith
Hitchins
msmicaleMark
Micale
m-stuartMary
Stuart
mtodorovMaria
Todorova
njacobseNils
Jacobsen
pfritzscPeter
Fritzsche
poshekfuPoshek
Fu
rotaEmanuel
Rota
schajuaSundiata
Cha-Jua
schndrDorothee
Schneider
symesCarol
Symes
tbarnes2Teresa
Barnes
tchaplinTamara
Chaplin
ccsCharles
Stewart
crowstonClare
Crowston
koslofCraig
Koslofsky
bedwellThomas
Bedwell
jrbarretJames
Barrett
hibbardcCaroline
Hibbard
hoddesonLillian
Hoddeson
blevine3Bruce
Levine
ralphwmRalph
Mathisen
megmclauMegan
McLaughlin
melhadoEvan
Melhado
kjoKathryn
Oberdeck
epleckElizabeth
Pleck
drabinDana
Rabin
lreaganLeslie
Reagan
burkhardRichard
Burkhardt
godwin1Katherine
Godwin
jpmckayJohn
McKay
j-pruettJohn
Pruett
murphy71Evan
Murphy
quick2Elizabeth
Quick
rmitchllRichard
Mitchell
c-spenceClark
Spence
pschroedPaul
Schroeder
rmccolleRobert
McColley
warnsteiWalter
Arnstein
wsolbergWinton
Solberg
m-spenceMary
Spence
ovburtonOrville
Burton
rmorrissRobert
Morrissey
djordje1Stefan
Djordjevic
kosovyc2Stefan
Kosovych
mendez3Veronica
Mendez Johnson
mswhite3Megan
White
bmakBonnie
Mak
jdavilaJerry
Dávila
navales2Kent
Navalesi
riwilsonRoderick
Wilson
kmumfordKevin
Mumford
rhogarthRana
Hogarth
aachmie2Agata
Chmiel
rescoba2Raquel
Escobar
hfreun2Heather
Freund
drjones5Douglas
Jones
eelarso2Ethan
Larson
dlehman2David
Lehman
mlbrenn2Margaret
Brennan
harshmn2Matthew
Harshman
tkhan6Tariq
Khan
matssht2Elizabeth
Matsushita
cortega5Carolina
Ortega
tollerc2Ian
Toller-Clark
bawilli2Beth Ann
Williams
woodiii2Augustus
Wood III
pqwrigh2Peter
Wright
iasakaIkuko
Asaka
hertzmanMarc
Hertzman
shannon9Shannon
Croft
bcmpbll2Brian
Campbell
lddunca2Leanna
Duncan
escanil2Silvia
Escanilla Huerta
ghanoui2Saniya
Ghanoui
kojiito2Koji
Ito
mjaimes3Marco
Jaimes
klpfnst2Matthew
Klopfenstein
mora6Juan
Mora
tsantan2Thais
Rezende Da Silva De Sant'ana
takauch2Yuki
Takauchi
pbthomp2Peter
Thompson
nobiliMauro
Nobili
eadamoLiz
Adamo
rallen11Ryan
Allen
candrsn5J.E. Chris
Anderson
xchen151Xiao
Chen
fcowan2Felix
Cowan
denby3Eric
Denby
vmdiaz3Valerie
Diaz
snettin2Sean
Ettinger
cgreen11Morgan
Green
ohagedo2Olivia
Hagedorn
huang094Jun
Huang
kenisto2Billy
Keniston
cosei2Cassandra
Osei
rogaar2Eva
Rogaar
mjruiz2Michael
Ruiz
stvital2Stephen
Vitale
wisnsky2Catherine
Wisnosky
atyost2Franziska
Yost
cbosakClara
Bosak-Schroeder
cbrossedClaudia
Brosseder
trday3Thomas
Day
lobue2Adam
LoBue
lkm2Lisa
Mercer
adrianv3Adrian
van der Velde
tkvaugh2Taryn
Vaughn
cswrothCelestina
Savonius-Wroth
mebMarsha
Barrett
eabosch2Elizabeth
Abosch
ed5Elizabeth
Dean
ctg3Christopher
Goodwin
stetson3Stetson
Kastengren
hanping2Hanping
Li
lliu80Lingyan
Liu
bscBonnie
Crawford
sepkoskiDavid
Sepkoski
chettiarTeri
Chettiar
gilbertdDaniel
Gilbert
jsbell3Jacob
Bell
drsullivDawn
Voyles
ncoskun2Noyan
Coskun
wcrane2William
Crane
tdudley2Tessara
Dudley
rhein2Rhiannon
Hein
kelleyi2Kurtis
Kelley
leoni1Natalie
Leoni
mnatale2Marisa
Natale
ryanjs7Ryan
Schmitt
damirv2Damir
Vucicevic
marciabMarcia
Bellafiore
mga5Marcos Gildemaro
Alarcon Olivos
mibrad50Michael
Bradley
sdf3Samuel
Froiland
khudzik2Stas
Khudzik
owenjm2Owen
MacDonald
ruthvm2Ruth
Mandala
chloe3Chloe
Parrella
ats9Alexandra
Sundarsingh
toups2Eric
Toups
ev7Liza
Vostriakova
bch7Bridgette
Hammond
smerrit2Samantha
Merritt
gmoran6Grace
Moran
tiglay2Pelin
Tiglay