After Elwyn “Buck” Vanous passed away on January 7, 2011, his obituary in the Bismarck [North Dakota] Tribune began, “Today we remember a true American hero and a North Dakota Cowboy.”
Like many soldiers of his generation, Buck Vanous identified first and foremost with his service to country and his roots.
Buck was born in 1916 and grew up on his family farm near the small town of Driscoll, North Dakota. He was drafted into the Army in 1941, and he served in combat during World War II.
The obituary says Buck was captured in North Africa and was a POW in three prison camps for a total of one year and one day. He then escaped and walked across Italy, traveling at night, until he reached friendly lines. He received medical care and was sent home.
At war’s end, he was honorably discharged with the rank of sergeant.
Buck returned to North Dakota and married Helen Attletweedt in 1946. For years they farmed in the Driscoll area. The family lived in California for a while, but eventually returned home to North Dakota. Over the years, Buck worked in construction and cattle ranching. Buck and Helen had five children together before Helen passed away in 1966.
In 1969, Buck married Helen Jenner.
The obituary had this to say about Buck’s interests:
“Elwyn was a true cowboy and had a passion for working with horses and a passion for the fun they provided to others. [He was] known for the hundreds of hay rides he gave over the years to numerous church groups. Elwyn enjoyed trail rides around the state, and riding the Pikes Peak Fur Trapping Expedition in Colorado as Honorary member of the Colorado Territory Regulators. He enjoyed all rodeo events, and was a former rodeo pickup man, a founding member of the Steele Rodeo Association in the 1950’s.
“He enjoyed hunting and fishing with his sons and neighbors, playing cards, dancing, and all the memories made with his family.”
See also “Arthur T. Sayler—Capture and Escape.”
Steele vet gets late war honors
Sunday, June 23, 1996
Photo caption: Elwyn Vanous escaped from a prison camp in Italy as World War II nears an end.
“STEELE—The rest of Elwyn Vanous’ World War II medals caught up with him Saturday—and how.
“In a presentation witnessed by family from around the country and local friends, the 80-year-old ‘semi-retired’ farmer-rancher received about 16 decorations, including the bronze star.
“‘Were you ever an Eagle Scout?’ joked master of ceremonies Dennis Berg, veterans services officer for Burleigh County.
“Berg and a Vanous daughter-in-law, Cindy Vanous of Bismarck, collaborated on this day for the veteran, who “knew he was going to get some medals” but not the scope of the presentation, Cindy Vanous said.
“A daughter was already visiting from Colorado, but the arrival of two sons (also from Colorado) on the day itself was part of the surprise. The event was scheduled to coincide with Steele’s all-class high school reunion, which brought several of his brothers and sisters to town, as well.
“There were congratulatory letters from Gov. Ed Schafer and Sen. Kent Conrad. Berg credited Conrad with unsticking red tape encountered in the quest for Vanous’ medals.
“That quest began three years ago, when Vanous decided he wanted the prisoner of war medal authorized by Congress in 1991. ‘In the course of applying for the POW medal, we noticed he was due these other medals, as well,’ Berg said.
“Drafted into the Army in May 1941, Vanous wound up with Company D of the 2nd Regiment Cavalry, seeing most of his duty in North Africa. Captured late in the war, he was imprisoned first in Algeria, then Sicily , then northern Italy.
“At the last stop, ‘The whole camp broke out one night,’ Vanous recalled Saturday. “‘We only heard only one shot fired and nobody stopped to see what had happened.’
“That began a dangerous, several-months journey of 700 miles to Allied territory, the prisoners splitting up into small bands, hiding out by day and living off the land. Occasionally, really hard up, they would take a chance and stop at a house.
“Vanous developed a rule of thumb. ‘If they acted glad to see you, you got out of there, because they were probably going to notify the authorities. If they didn’t want you around’—out of fear of the authorities—‘they were probably safe, if you could prevail on them,’ he said.
“Vanous made the whole journey with a Wishek [North Dakota] man, Arthur Sayler—now of California—with whom he is still in touch.
“The decorations received by Vanous:
“The bronze star (for heroism or meritorious service); combat infantry badge; good conduct medal; three overseas service bars; American defense service medal; European-African-Middle Eastern campaign medal; World War II victory medal; honorable service lapel button; four discharge emblems.”
Elwyn “Buck” Vanous