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Barbara and Raleigh Nelson

Barbara and Raleigh Nelson

Nelson at the Minnesota WWII memorial - The Battle of the Bulge
The Minnesota Historical Society has received a special gift from Barbara and Raleigh Nelson. This gift is designated for the Society's "Minnesota's Greatest Generation" project and exhibit, honoring Raleigh's service in World War II, and for the Nelson's name endowment fund at the Society.

This legacy gift, along with their annual North Star Circle support, expresses a life-long association with and appreciation of the Society. Raleigh remembers coming to the old History Center as a child and Barbara began using the Society's library in 1974 when she started researching her family history. Barbara has gathered more than 3,000 family members in her genealogy program representing relationships in Sweden, Germany, Switzerland and England.

The Nelson's support is a natural outgrowth of their love for the cultural institutions in our community. Barbara (Burgess), is a St. Paul native, with a love for music, whose career in fashion took her to New York and then to Cleveland. She found opportunity to express her musical talents with a chorus that performed with George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra. After returning to Twin Cities where she joined the Dayton Company as a buyer, she sang with choruses at the University of Minnesota performing with Antal Dorati and the Minneapolis Symphony and with Klaus Tennstedt and the Minnesota Orchestra. Barbara has a strong Christian faith and sang with church choirs, large and small, all her life until retirement.

Raleigh, also a St. Paul Native, entered the army after graduating from Murray High School in June, 1943. He served in the 97th Signal Battalion with service in the 9th Division, 16th Corp. Raleigh's World War II experiences are many and memorable. Raleigh landed August 1944 at La Havre, France. His battalion sailed on the Seine River with LST's through Rouen and Rheims, France and very possibly through Trier, Germany enroute to the Netherlands. In December 1944 the Battalion went through Aachen, Germany enroute to Belgium and the Battle of the Bulge through Maastricht, Belgium. Raleigh remembers the Ardennes Forest that winter had a foot of snow on the ground.


The Nelsons and Director Nina Archabal
Following the Battle of the Bulge, he fought in the towns of Bastogne and Malmedy and moved south with the 82nd Airborne Paratroopers (part of General Patton's army). After their group lost contact with Division Headquarters, Raleigh saw a house in the distance that seemed ideal for their generators, radio transmitters and receivers. He and fellow soldiers successfully installed the equipment and went to the basement in search of food only to find about a dozen Germans, armed to the teeth - machine guns and rifles. Fortunately the Germans were ready to surrender.

The first message received was "President Roosevelt has died." Raleigh remembers it as a moment of low morale.

From Belgium the Battalion traveled south to Cologne and followed the Rhine River to Remagen. The famed "Remagen Bridge" was a railroad bridge targeted by both the Germans and the Americans. When it finally collapsed many American soldiers perished. Raleigh remembers his platoon being the first to cross the Rhine on a quickly fashioned pontoon bridge and being shocked by the devastation of the small town on the east side of the river.

There were further battles to be fought before the end of the war in May. The Battle of the Ruhr Pocket near Regensburg, Germany is now considered to be the 3rd to last major battle of the war. As the German defenses collapsed, Raleigh's Battalion traveled east to Pilsen, Czechoslovakia where, after just one week, they were summarily "kicked out" as the Communists were taking over.

Raleigh's last outpost before the end of the war was at Bamberg. There he set up communications in a large hill-top castle, only to learn that the war had ended. Taking the opportunity to explore the castle, Raleigh's group found that the castle had been the Luftwaffe's main radio station. The discovered extensive German communication records which were later used in the Nuremberg trials.

As a highly decorated World War II veteran, Raleigh returned home and entered the University of Minnesota graduating in Technical Agriculture and Economics. Barbara and Raleigh were married in 1953 and have two sons. Throughout their life they have engaged in many entrepreneurial opportunities in restaurants and real estate.

The Nelsons have found the resources of the Minnesota Historical Society very important in their genealogical research. They take great delight in bringing their grandchildren to the Society's many and varied exhibits. Through their support of the Society and the "Raleigh and Barbara Nelson Fund" they affirm that "History is a gift from the past and a Legacy is a gift to the future."

To learn more about our Minnesota's Greatest Generations project, please visit the exhibit at the History Center and online at www.mnhs.org/people/mngg/index.htm.


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