Grand Marshal remembers

Russell Pederson has kept a pair of hair clippers handy most of his life. Growing up in south Superior, he helped trim his siblings' hair. Retired and living in South Range, friends would stop by for a visit and a haircut. And when he was drafted...

Jed Carlson/ Fourth of July Parade Grand Marshal Russell Pederson salutes the crowd as he rides in a car down Hammond Avenue on Monday morning.

Russell Pederson has kept a pair of hair clippers handy most of his life. Growing up in south Superior, he helped trim his siblings’ hair. Retired and living in South Range, friends would stop by for a visit and a haircut. And when he was drafted into the United States Army during World War II, Pederson brought his clippers overseas with him.

“I don’t know why, but something just told me to bring them with,” said the 95-year-old, who now lives in Oliver. They saw plenty of use overseas. Captains and other servicemen would ask for a trim. Pederson would seat them on a nearby stump or other handy item to cut their hair.

The Oliver man donned a World War II uniform Monday to serve as Grand Marshal of Superior’s Fourth of July parade. Pinned to it were the medals the sergeant earned in the European Theater as a member of Company E, 119th Infantry Regiment, 30th Division - a Good Conduct Medal, medal for honorable service while a prisoner of war and a Purple Heart as well as medals for his rifle and mortar skills.

“Oh, I’m proud of these,” Pederson said, pulling them out of a box one by one. “I earned these.”

His service included landing on Omaha Beach, battles in Belgium and the Netherlands, and seven months as a prisoner of war.


“I’ll tell you, I could write a book,” he said.

Pederson was born on Jan. 23, 1921, the fourth of 10 children. He took a number of jobs growing up to help support the family, from delivering milk to cutting grass at Greenwood Cemetery.

At 16, he joined the Civilian Conservation Corps and helped build Pattison Park. Two years later, he and a pair of friends went to Cleveland, Ohio, to build and calibrate airplane parts like carburetor flow benches and altimeters. On March 31, 1943, he joined the Army.

Pederson married Hazel Amundson of Billings Park on April 29, 1944, before shipping overseas. The trip across the Atlantic was rough and memorable.

They traveled to England, then on to Normandy, France. Pederson set foot on Omaha Beach about six days after the initial Allied landing. He was dropped off in knee-deep water, carrying a mortar base plate and sight with a .45 on his hip.

“But you dried out after a while; you didn’t have much choice anyway,” Pederson said.

The first time he saw combat was fighting among the hedgerows of Normandy.

Pederson operated a 60 mm mortar during the war.


“They’re dangerous as the dickens,” and required quick thinking, he said. Once forward observers had pinpointed the enemy, mortar crews had five seconds to adjust the angle and fire before they had to move on, “because they could send the same thing back to you,” Pederson said.

Following Normandy, his unit pushed forward to Belgium and then the Netherlands.

“That’s when my daughter was born, when I was over there in the Netherlands,” Pederson said. “I got a letter by the mail.”

While speaking of his service, Pederson said the memories came back vividly. It’s something you don’t want to think about it, he said, but you have to live with it.

“Because you’re scared all the time. I mean, what else can you be?” Pederson said. “You’re playing with your life.”

As his unit advanced toward Germany’s Siegfried Line pillboxes, they encountered heavy resistance and Pederson was hit in the back by shrapnel. The 19 soldiers left in his unit found an empty pillbox to rest in, but tanks moved into position against them.

“There were three tanks and they’re all aiming in on us,” Pederson said. “What chance would you have? We voted to surrender.”

Pederson ended up getting dysentery when the prisoners got to Lindberg, Germany. The prisoners were moved on to Stalag 7A and were sent daily by boxcar into Munchhausen, Germany to fill holes made by bombs. Pederson was tasked with cooking for the 200 prisoners. Their diet consisted mainly of soup made of potatoes and water.


“I weighed 115 pounds when I got out of there,” Pederson said. “My normal weight was about 145 at that time.”

They were liberated on April 29, 1945, Pederson’s wedding anniversary.

“I used to have a little fun once in awhile, ‘Out of one prison, into the next,’” he said, but his wife didn’t appreciate it. “I said it one time, boy, I got clobbered.”

Pederson returned to Superior after his service, working for Lidgerwood-Mundy painting coal stokers and then for Superwood, where he operated hardboard presses. He retired in 1982 after 30 years with Superwood. Along the way he raised two children, whose hair he cut. Pederson also has four grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

On Wednesday, Darla Penney of Superior helped Pederson put his parade plaque on the wall beside a Ribbon of Commendation from the Army and a picture of the veteran as a young serviceman.

“He’s such a peaceful man, it’s hard to imagine him and all those boys going through that,” Penney said.

Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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