Remembering her hero: Waukon’s Helen Stegen recounts the service of her uncle, Harris Quanrud

Proud of his service ... Helen Stegen of Waukon holds the display case that houses the medals and other honorings of her uncle, Harris Quanrud, who served in the U.S. Army during World War II. Stegen said her uncle and his love for children had a big impact on her life and the lives of her two sons, Lee and Lloyd. Photo by Lissa Blake.

Harris Quanrud ... Submitted photo.

by Lissa Blake

When Waukon’s Helen Stegen reflects upon the gifts she received in life, she treasures the fact she had her very own war hero in her uncle, Harris Quanrud.

“He was my hero … and still is,” said Stegen, now 81 years old.

Stegen was born Helen Forde in 1937. Her mother, Harriet Quanrud, was a sister to Harris Quanrud, who was born August 4, 1915.

“I was just three years old when Harris went into the Army, in April of 1941,” remembered Helen.

Although she was young, she said she can vividly remember her mother and aunt Barbara sitting on top of a heater, crying. “And I cried too, because they were crying. I had never seen my mom cry before,” said Helen.

Helen remembered the Quanrud family having a schedule for corresponding with Harris when he was overseas. “Each of his three sisters and his mom had a specific day of the week they would write to him. My brother, Jim, and I wrote to him as well,” she said.

She remembers Harris wrote often, “but he couldn’t tell us much.”

“I remember back then, it was called V-Mail. It was a thin black-and-white sheet. It was more like a picture of a letter,” she said.

Helen was a student at Pleasant No. 1 country school and remembers learning about the war at school. “The war was a big part of everybody’s conversation. I remember my dad and brother looking at the daily map in the Des Moines Register… It showed where the battlefront lines were in all of Europe, Germany in particular, where we knew - or thought we knew - where Harris was,” she said. “Looking at the map was a game to me, but I could tell it was very different for Mom.”

Harris Quanrud was inducted into the U.S. Army April 26, 1941. He received his basic training at Camp Claiborne, LA, then was sent overseas, where he served at Normandy, Northern France, Ardennes and Central Europe. He was trained in tank warfare, participated in the 1941 Louisiana Maneuvers and served in the 634th Tank Destroyer Battalion.

In June of 1944, he took part in the initial breakthrough below Carentan, France, as well as the start of the drive that led to the breeching of the Siegfriend Line in the Aachen area of Germany. During his service, he was awarded a Good Conduct Medal, a Purple Heart, the Bronze Star, Eameto Medal and the Silver Star, all of those honors now being forever commemorated in a display case Stegen has in her possession.

The press release regarding his Bronze Star said, “Despite heavy artillery and mortar fire, Sgt. Quanrud drove a tank destroyer across exposed and densely mined terrain, transported casualties to an aid station, and returned over the same hazardous route with necessary supplies and ammunition. Sgt. Quanrud’s heroic action prevented loss of life and facilitated a successful defense of a captured German town.”

His Silver Star write-up said, “Sergeant Harris Quanrud, gun commander, has been awarded the Silver Star… When his platoon was subjected to intense mortar fire, Sgt. Quanrud, commander of a Tank Destroyer, fearlessly advanced on foot and skillfully directed effective fire upon several pillboxes and destroyed the mortar emplacements.”

He was wounded in action October 16, 1944, taken to a hospital in Paris and discharged in July of 1945.

Looking back, Helen said her uncle’s military service did much to shape the rest of his life.

“By today’s standards, he likely suffered from PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). He wouldn’t share much about his time in the service unless he was under the influence. He lived as a bachelor his whole life on the 80 acres where he grew up, and he never married or had a long-term relationship,” she said of her uncle.

But despite his flaws, Helen said as a child she couldn’t get enough of him. “I could just sit next to him at a meal and listen to him talk,” she said.

Later on, she said Harris was a wonderful force in the life of her two boys, Lee and Lloyd. “I remember my boys had this little dirt bike one summer and they would ride over to Harris’ each day,” she said.

Harris taught her boys to play poker and to recite some off-color limericks, among other things, and she said her boys absolutely loved their great uncle. “He would let them drive his old truck. And I remember he let them build a porch on his cabin. He was endlessly patient with children,” she said.

“He always did a lot of work for all of the farmers around him, and every child who came into contact with him adored them. He played a big part in my sons’ lives,” she said.

“I remember he had a Luger pistol, a dagger and a German helmet. He used to show us all that stuff,” she said, adding that it was later stolen.

Like Harris, Helen said she always loved children, which influenced her decision to become a teacher. “I loved kids and I knew that I wanted to be a teacher from the time I could articulate that,” she said.

Her husband, Navy veteran Lyle Stegen, also loved children. She said it was fortunate they both felt that way, as on her 60th birthday, she and Lyle became the caregivers of five of their grandchildren, when their daughter, Lila, was killed in a car accident.

“We found ourselves raising five kids from the ages of four to 13,” she said. Helen and Lyle also got some help with the kids from both of their sons.

Lyle passed away in 2014. Today, Helen enjoys babysitting for her youngest son Lloyd’s new baby every Tuesday and whenever she gets the chance.

“Uncle Harris was an important part of my life, and my sons’ lives. I am thankful for the influence he had on my boys… I see a lot of Harris in them. They have this sarcastic teasing way about them… they got that from him,” she said.

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