Brekke Collection: A Soldier's Mementos of WWII
The Brekke Collection represents the things that one man saved as mementos of his service in World War II. Kermit Brekke was raised on a farm outside of Blair, Wisconsin to parents of Norwegian descent; he was 23 years old when he enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1942. While stationed in Oregon his fiancee came out to see him and they were married there. Kermit served in North Africa and Italy as a rifleman and a radio operator and repairman. All of this is recorded in the scrapbook he filled with photos, telegrams, newspaper clippings, menus, leave passes, greeting cards from family and friends, ration cards, newsletters of the 363rd Infantry, and his handwritten notes on radio operation. Kermit also saved uniforms, including his wool great coat and work dungarees, and souvenirs from Italy such as silk scarves produced for sale to tourists - which in 1944 meant German or American soldiers. He also collected another kind of Italian silk artifact: a colorful flag, picked up on a battle field, decorated with a large map of Italy and lettering that says it represented the Fascist Trade Union of Livorno. After the war Kermit Brekke returned to the family farm and his bride, where they spent the rest of their lives farming and raising their family.
The Brekke's son Ken worked as a reporter for the La Crosse Tribune and in May of 2005 wrote a feature article about his father's experiences in the war. In it he recounts some of the stories Kermit had told him about landing and fighting in Italy. Less than 2 months later, at the age of 86, Kermit died. His experiences as a soldier and his identity as a part of the generation that came of age in the mid-twentieth century, were things that he shared with his local community and with the larger world around him. That world is quickly disappearing into history books and television shows, as veterans age and die. The Brekke collection
helps record what it was like to be alive then, and to be a part of that history. The La Crosse County Historical Society is proud to be the caretaker of his collection, which constitutes the material expression of world history as lived by one man.
La Crosse County Historical Society Object Collections
Clothing, quilts, and other artifacts from the museum collections. Many of these items were featured as the "Daily Artifact" on the La Crosse County Historical Society's Facebook page.
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