Hover mom endured 6 of 8 sons who enlisted in WWI

Descendants reflect on how vital family was to Anna Erickson

Tri-City HeraldNovember 12, 2012 

— In her obituary in a June 1920 edition of the Kennewick Courier, Anna Erickson was lauded as the city's "greatest 'war mother.' "

She earned this title, and much admiration, when "she uncomplainingly and with no word of protest" allowed six of her eight sons to enlist in World War I.

The family lived in the small town of Hover, near present day Finley, which disappeared when McNary Dam was built more than 50 years ago.

The rising waters of Lake Wallula submerged most of the old town.

Anna Erickson's oldest son Bert and youngest son Alvin stayed to tend their farms.

Three of the boys, Julius, Chris and Otto, enlisted but never served overseas.

The remaining three, Lawrence, Arthur and Engle, fought on the battlefields of France.

"The war was all-consuming" for the family, said Joanne Massingale, 79, of Kennewick, the daughter of Chris and Bernadette Erickson.

According to Jerry Pearson, 80, of Renton, daughter of Engle and Louise Erickson, the war was hard on already sickly Anna. She had "heart trouble" for most of her life and her illness was exacerbated by worry.

Just like their grandmother Anna, family means everything to Massingale and Pearson. Both cousins say they enjoy reflecting on their heritage each Veterans Day.

"I am so proud to be an Erickson," Pearson said. "It's not just their service to their country or their patriotism. It's that they were an extremely tight family. They were always there for each other."

To occupy the time while her boys were gone, Anna Erickson volunteered at the Lutheran church on Yelm Street, which she and her husband Lars helped establish in 1904.

Anna also committed herself to making a quilt for each of her sons. They were to receive them when they returned from the war.

Arthur made it through the war relatively unscathed, but after the armistice, he came down with the 1918 Spanish flu, an influenza pandemic, which hospitalized him for several months.

A grenade, or what was then called an "egg bomb," hit Engle. His nieces and nephews remember hearing that, some years later, a blackened pin from the grenade worked its way out of the skin in his leg.

Lawrence was diagnosed with shell shock. The family lost track of him after he was honorably discharged. After months of searching, they finally found him in a hospital in Idaho, where he was being treated for his psychiatric illness.

Despite these hardships, all of Anna's sons survived, and she lived just long enough to see them all return home.

But she died in 1920 without finishing the quilting project that had sustained her through the war.

"Anna had asked my mom which of the blankets my mom wanted," said Pearson, who grew up in Benge and graduated from Hover High School in 1949. "And my mom said, 'The one you're working on.' But Anna died before it was complete."

Jerry still has the blanket, she says. "It's sitting here, with the needle still in it."

-- Eleanor Cummins: 509-585-7207; intern@tricityherald.com

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