The Greatest Generation and Fillmore's Own
The Wagner famly on a trip back to Nebraska in 1928, the car is a 1927 Buick. Pictured are parents Charles and Anna Wagner with sister Lauda and Elton.
By Dick Diaz — Wednesday, February 13th, 2013
1928 Flood foot bridge over Santa Clara looking from Bardsdale towards Fillmore
Standing in front of 901 Ventura Street where McDonald's is now located. (l-r) Methodist Minister, Mom Anna, and Minister's wife
Snow in 1949: Elton's Son, Douglas, in the arms of Wife June and daughter Kathleen standing in front of 1462 Ventura Street
I received a phone call from Floyd Legan on a possible “good story” involving a Fillmore veteran from “The Greatest Generation”. We may all know this was a term coined by Broadcast Journalist Tom Brokaw, in a book he wrote in 1998 of the same title. Brokaw described this generation as people who grew up in the United States during the Great Depression, went on to fight in WWII (US involvement December 7, 1941-August 15, 1945), then returned home to rebuild America into a superpower.
I knew the man I was about to interview only by his name and that I had the pleasure to be involved in a groundbreaking of a fast food restaurant on what had been his boyhood ranch. The Veteran I am writing about for this article is 92 year old Elton G. Wagner. Elton was born on October 19, 1920 in Holstein, Nebraska where his parents, Charles and Anna Wagner, farmed 60 acres of grain. Today Holstein still only has a little over 200 in population of primarily German family farmers. Holstein was named after the Schleswig-Holstein Peninsula of Germany. There is even a prominent street traversing Holstein named Fillmore! Elton tells me, at the urging of his Uncle Fred Young, who rose citrus in Bardsdale, Elton's family, father Charles, mother Anna and his sister Lauda, traveled by train in 1921 to California where his father bought a citrus ranch in Fillmore before returning back to Holstein, Nebraska to sell their farm.
The Wagner family moved to Fillmore in1922 when Elton was only 16-18 months old to the 17 acres of land that was basically located at what is now “B” and Ventura Street and went south to what is now River Street and then west to a culvert (still there) just to the west of where Morris Chevrolet is located and the Saint Francis of Assisi Catholic Church property now stands. His father raised citrus; 3-acres of lemons, 2-acres of St. Mikes and 12-acres of Valencia’s. When young Elton was old enough, and when he was not actually in school, he helped his father farm the land which didn't leave much opportunity for Elton to participate in sporting activities.
The Wagner family home was located at 901 Ventura Street (corner of “B” and Ventura). Elton grew up in Fillmore and graduated from Fillmore High School the Class of 1938. Elton said he graduated with Fillmore's Conway Spitler who Elton believes is the only other surviving member of their 1938 Graduating Class. Elton lived on the family ranch from 1922-1941 when Elton was married on July 6, 1941 to Fillmore's Anna June Gunter, Class of 1940. The new Wagner family moved onto a ranch Elton purchased in 1932 and into the home that other family members lived in since he purchased the 10-acre ranch in 1932. The 10 acre ranch was situated just west of his family's ranch at 1462 Ventura Street between “D” and “E” Streets. The home, built in 1914, is still standing and still occupied. It is located at the edge of a vacant field that no longer contains citrus crops, but is now offered for sale as part of a commercial zoning site. The Deodar Pine that dominated the front of the home when Elton and June resided there is still magnificently prominent and marks the location of the home.
The original Wagner family home of Elton's youth was built in 1927 (moved in 1989) and was located where today sits the McDonald's Restaurant. This is the location where I participated in the groundbreaking in 1989. But, the family home was not torn down with the arrival of the McDonald's Restaurant. The home continues to be located in Fillmore at the First Baptist Church, 1059 1st Street. The home now is the residence of the church pastor. Elton tells me he sold the family home for $1, but he loaned the church the $20,000 needed to move the home up “C” Street to its current location. The original front porch has been remodeled and stucco has been added to the exterior.
Elton said he and his wife June lived together on their 10 acre citrus ranch until June 6, 1944, “D” Day”, when Elton entered the United States Army after having been drafted. Elton was drafted along with the late Don Stafford and the late Vernon Southwick both of Fillmore.
Elton and June had three children; Katherine who passed in 1997, Douglas 65, now living in Oxnard, and Sara who passed when she was one-month old.
And, this brings me to the portion of the article discussing Elton's service in the United States Army! Elton's induction was at Fort MacArthur in San Pedro, California (Fort MacArthur, established on October 31, 1914, is named after the father of General Douglas MacArthur, Lieutenant General Arthur MacArthur). After his induction Elton soon found himself as a “Buck Private” at Camp Joseph T. Robinson in North Little Rock, Arkansas. Camp Robinson has served as one of the largest state operated training sites in the United States and was formerly known as Camp Pike from 1917 until the closing of WWI. Today it is the Headquarters of the Arkansas National Guard.
Private Elton Wagner trained alongside Private Don Stafford throughout his basic training (Private Vernon Southwick was in another training company). It was in the last two weeks of training that Private Elton Wagner's Army service took a drastic downturn when he was accidentally wounded by another private as they were clearing their M1 Garand .30 Caliber rifles. The other Private's weapon discharged at the end of a training session and found its target in another Private (Elton) near him. Private Wagner was shot in the right temple just above his eye and the bullet exited just behind his right ear. Private Don Stafford was standing right next to Elton when Elton was seriously wounded. The wound was so serious and life threatening that the American Red Cross brought his wife, June, and his mother Anna to Arkansas to be with him while in the hospital. Luckily for Private Wagner he recovered from his injury and on December 13, 1944 traveled west by train to Camp Beale (today it is known as Beale Air Force Base) just north of Sacramento, California where he was discharged on December 19, 1944 with a 30% disability from his wound. Elton told me that the unfortunate head injury during boot camp may have been a blessing in disguise for him. Elton reflected that at the completion of training his friends, Don Stafford were sent overseas and Private Stafford served during the Battle of the Bulge. Private Vernon Southwick went to another Theater which Elton couldn't recall. Elton said as he the result of the head injury he fortunately returned home to Fillmore and continued his life with June and as a farmer. Both Don and Vernon returned home safely at the end of the War.
After Elton returned to Fillmore he lived back at his 10 acre ranch until 1955 when Elton and June moved into a new home in the Los Serranos Tract, on McNab Court where they lived until 1978. Elton said he moved from the ranch because he was tired of the inconvenience of having a septic system and when the well water pump went out the family wouldn't have water for a couple of days until he could get the parts to repair the pump. Elton said that after the 1978 flood he was able to sell the McNab home, as is, and he moved back to his parent’s ranch to care for his mother. In 1981 Elton and June built a home at 813 Woodgrove and lived there until Elton and June moved to the Orange Blossom Villa Residential Care and Assisted living Community in 2005. June passed away on June 26, 2006. At the time of her passing Elton and June had been married just shy of 64 years! Together they had two grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Elton was a rancher his entire life growing citrus on the 27 acres the Wagner Family owned on Ventura Street from “B” Street to basically “E” Street. In addition to the family ranches Elton was a “Custom Farmer” for approximately 60 acres of crops of Naval, Saint Mike's and Valencia Oranges as well as lemons. Elton and June sold both ranches in 1989 and entered into their retirement years.
Elton told me he seems to have an affinity for the number 13; while in basic training he was housed in Hut 13, then at the hospital after he was wounded he was in Ward 13. He said he left Arkansas on December 13th and his home address on Woodgrove was 813. And, now his Post Office Box at the Orange Blossom Villa is #13.
After meeting with Elton Wagner at his apartment within the Orange Blossom Villa I came away more convinced, as was Tom Brokaw, that Elton is truly from The Greatest Generation! From The Greatest Generation, Tom Brokaw (1996), “The nation turned to its young to carry the heaviest burden, to fight in enemy territory and to keep the home front secure and productive. These young men and women were eager for the assignment. They understood what was required of them, and they willingly volunteered for their duty.”
I would like to thank Floyd Legan, because it was a good story and I enjoyed meeting with Elton! What struck me as very amazing was how well Elton remembered the long life he has lived. His recollection of dates, names and events astounded me as well as challenged my note-taking! Elton is well versed on the use of the computer. He maintains an office and has found the computer to be an asset to him when researching anything that may be of interest to him.
On a recent shopping trip to the Von's grocery I had the opportunity to visit with Sara Hansen and tell her that Elton had told me of his life-long friendship with Sara and her late husband Daryl. Elton had told me Daryl's family was also from Holstein, Nebraska and Sara confirmed that Daryl's mother and Elton's mother were also friends. Sara told me that Elton's mother was well known for the sauerkraut she would make and bring to gatherings. Sara said Elton's mother would not just bring a bowl, but an entire tub of sauerkraut to be enjoyed by all!
Like I have ended all my articles about military veterans; we thank Elton G. Wagner for his service and for the sacrifices he and his family made in those last six months of 1944 until his near death from a wound to his head at the close of his basic training that ended his service to his country. I agree with Tom Brokaw that Elton G. Wagner is truly from The Greatest Generation and I would add an American Hero!