Members of the 1st North Dakota Volunteer Regiment spent July 4 Independence Day on a ship in the Pacific Ocean on their way to Hawaii. It was a stop before reaching Manila in the Philippine Islands.
One of them recalled the July 4 program was held on the ship, with reading the Declaration of Independence and everyone singing "America" and "The Star Spangled Banner," then a picnic dinner of roast beef and the trimmings.
John Durand, of Elkhorn, Wis., tells in his book, "The Boys," of the experiences of his maternal grandfather, Tom Stafne and the 1st North Dakota Volunteer Regiment. The volunteers signed up to fight Spain and ended up fighting the Filipinos they had gone to liberate.
Much is known about Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders' charge up San Juan Hill in Cuba during the Spanish-American War but not as much about the N.D. regiment going to the Philippines.
When the soldiers left N.D., they traveled on two chartered trains out of Fargo. One train took the northern route and another took the southern route through the state, as the trains passed through many of the soldiers' hometowns, including Devils Lake and Minot.
Durand explained in a phone interview June 27 why he decided to write the book:
"When my mother was very old she gave me this little black notebook," he said. He said she told him she wanted him to have it because it was his grandfather's.
"It was his daily diary from the time he enlisted. He usually made an entry almost every day. This later got confused with a later narrative he wrote," Durand said, adding, "I believe several of that regiment wrote memories or accounts of the time in connection with the regiment's 40th anniversary."
Stafne wrote the diary in longhand in a farmer's ledger. When Stafne returned from the Philippines he farmed.
After Stafne died, one of his daughter's transcribed the diary, made copies and passed them out to family members, Durand said. "That was what the family knew of his service in the Philippines." When Stafne compared the two the narrative and the notebook he discovered his grandfather had edited out certain things. He decided there was more to this than a lot of people were aware of."
"I basically started out by wanting to footnote his narrative," Durand said.
Durand, who lives close to the University of Wisconsin, spent much time using the university's historical library for his research.
He said he not only enjoyed his grandfather's account but also the account of two or three other soldiers. "Their memories of their actual combat were so vivid," he said, adding, "With time I discovered veterans turn more to humor and gloss over those intense experiences but in their diaries they are pretty frank."
Because Durand has served in the Peace Corps in the Philippines, he said he felt he had first-hand knowledge of the country and its culture. He had been in the Peace Corps there in the 1960s.
The book includes a roster of the 1st North Dakota Volunteers.
"The Boys," a 422-page book, is published by Puzzle Box Press, Durand's publishing company.
Born and raised in Wisconsin, Durand has a bachelor's and master's degree in English and went to the Peace Corps after graduate school. He is retired but has worked in government, as an English teacher and in human services as an administrator.
Durand said he's working on another book with the North Dakota connection. "Another guy wrote it. He was in the Peace Corps and it will posthumously be his experiences in the Peace Corps in the Philippines. His daughter lives in Bismarck and I'm working with her," Durand said. He said he hopes to have the book out this fall.
In June, Durand attended the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Wahpeton where he promoted his book along with Merry Helm, Fargo, who was promoting her book about Woodrow Wilson Keeble, a World War II and Korean War veteran who received the Medal of Honor posthumously in 2008.
For more information about "The Boys" and other books by Durand visit (www.puzzleboxpress.com).