Swedish immigrants as commanders – The story of Nels G Sandelin

In my research, where I follow up the Swedish born soldiers who fell in the Great War, I have found out that especially individuals in the American Expeditionary Forces had the opportunity to become more than privates. When it comes to those Swedish born individuals who fought and fell for the German Forces, almost everyone of those where officers in the Swedish army and also became officers in the German Army.

Some of them became commanders on different levels, from squad leaders up to company commanders or staff members. Not all of the them fell in the war, and below I will tell you the story about one who survived.

This is the story about Major Nels G Sandelin.

Nels G Sandelin was born as Nils Gustaf Sandelin. He was born on December 1st, 1887, in Pjätteryd parish, Älmhult, Sweden. He was raised by his parents Elna Larsdotter Sandelin and Gustaf Johansson Sandelin. The family left for North America quite early after Nils was born, on April 22nd, 1889.

I have managed to find more information about the history of Major Sandelin, especially from the books from the local counties in the US. Below you will find parts from the books. Some of the parts are citations direct from the text.

The family, Mr. and Mrs. Gustav Sandelin and their children, Christ, Julia, Edward, Oscar and Nels, moved to the United States in 1889 and settled on a homestead in the town of Svea. Erick the youngest was born in Kennedy in 1890. Mr. Sandelin died in 1892.

Mrs. Sandelin then took up the burden of proving up the homestead and supporting the family. Although it was a hard struggle, she lived on the farm until the children could support themselves. She sold the farm in 1905 and moved to Donaldson where she still lives, one of the brave pioneers of Kittson County.

Major Sandelin spent his early days on the farm until at the age of seventeen he followed the example of three of his older brothers and enlisted in the United States Army. He spent three years in the 32d Field Artillery, where he received his gunner’s medal, his first military distinction. He came out of the army at the age of twenty, a tall, broad-shouldered, keen-eyed soldier and every inch a man.

In 1908 he went to Des Moines, Iowa, to visit his brothers there. He remained here some years. While in Iowa he met and married Elsie Mitchell, of Boxholm, Iowa. In 1914 they moved to Cottonwood County, Minnesota, to the town of Brigham Lake, for the sake of furthering his business career. Here he remained until the United States declared war. Major Sandelin was a keen student of current history and was “Anti-Kultur” from the time that word began to have a special meaning. Only his duty to his family and business kept him out of the Canadian Army.

Source: Kittson County, Minnesota, in the World War

When the United States declared war he made arrangements to leave his family and discontinue his business and enlisted.

When the Government called for men of previous military training, he enlisted in the First Officers’ Training Camp at Fort Snelling. He spent three months of intensive training with two thousand student officers. Only twenty-one received a higher rank than the major, notwithstanding that the other students were college and university graduates. He had practically no education, having merely finished the grammar grades. He was commissioned as First Lieutenant in August, 1917.

He was granted a two weeks’ furlough, which he spent with his wife and two children. He sailed for France September 6, 1917.

At first, he was an officer of the line attached to the 6th Field Artillery. Later he was put in command of the regimental supply company. While in command of the supply company he was made a сар- tain. About two months before the armistice was signed he was promoted to Assistant Quartermaster of the first division and recommended for promotion to the rank of major. Soon after he was made Division Quartermaster of the first division. He was made a Major in December, 1918.

Major Sandelin participated in the following major operations: Montdidier-Noyon Lorraine Defensive, the Marne (battle of Soissons). St. Mihiel, and the Argonne offensives. He entered Germany from Luxembourg Dec. 1, 1918, and crossed the Rhine Dec. 14, 1918, serving in Germany until Aug. 19, 1919, sailing from Brest Ang. 25, 1919, and arriving at New York Sept. 2, 1919.

The Major received citation for meritorious services overseas. His entire period of service was with the First Division. He was promoted to Major Quartermaster Corps March 3, 1919. He reached the highest rank of any man who was in the service of his county.

Major Sandelin also served in WW2, in the quartermaster Corps, and became a colonel before he retired. Below some snippets of the medals and other symbols he received during his duty in the both world wars.

Nils Gustaf is now buried in San Francisco National Cemetery, at the same cemetery as his wife. Nils died in 1958 and his wife Elsie May died in 1970.

This was the first small portrait about Swedish immigrants as commanders in the Great War.

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