A letter received in a Westby home 100 years ago read, “Bennie was a very good soldier and was well thought of by officers and men of his company. He died nobly and in a great cause, and while we all mourn his death, we all respect him for paying the full price for our glorious victory….Believe me you have the deepest sympathy of myself and the whole company in your home of sorrow.”
This letter was written by Lt. Robert Batman, the commanding officer for Pvt. Bennie Maldor Frydenberg. Writing these letters must have been a painful task for the lieutenant, and one he had to perform frequently in the final days of World War I.
Bennie was born in Westby on March 23, 1895, to Martin and Josephine (Hallingstad) Frydenberg, immigrants from Norway. He grew up in Westby and then went west after school. He was working on a farm near Roundup, Montana, when he was drafted to fight in the Great War.
Private Frydenberg entered military service in April 1918, and trained at Camp Lewis, Washington, with the Wild West Division. He was transferred to Company I of the 361st Infantry of the 91st Division, and left camp for the battlefields of Europe on June 23, 1918. He arrived in France on Aug. 4.
Bennie was a bomb thrower, which sounds incredibly dangerous, but he didn’t die in a bomb accident. Instead, he was killed in action by a single gunshot, while advancing on Hill 255 during the Battle of the Argonne Forest, in France. He had been serving on the front line for 13 days.
Bennie died exactly 100 years ago, on Oct. 9, 1918. His friend A.R. Motner was with him when he died, and wrote afterward:
“I remember well the early smoky morning on which Bennie Frydenberg was killed. He was only four feet on my right when he was hit…..Bennie did not say much, but I imagined he was suffering terribly….A few minutes after, I and some others carried him into the edge of the woods and we called for first aid men.
“I stayed there until first aid was brought to him and then was compelled to leave and follow my company. Bennie did not speak much. Until he was shot he was very calm on the front and always anxious to go.”
Pvt. Frydenberg died within the hour, and was buried temporarily in a military cemetery in France. His body was returned to Westby a few years later, in August 1921.
The community held a military funeral for him then, with the Westby band leading the procession. His funeral wagon was pulled by four horses, mounted by Roy Fremstad, Henry Stigen, Joslyn Running, and Palmer Hoveland. The pallbearers were Reuben Swiggum, Markey Galstad, Gus Hanson, Milton Lindvig, Morris Hoff and Archie Aarness.
Coon Prairie Lutheran Cemetery is now Bennie’s final resting place. His grave is in section two. It’s a peaceful place, far from the field of battle where he fell 100 years ago.