BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Retired Colonel Wayne Quist, a resident of the Midwest, recently was a guest speaker at the World War II Museum in New Orleans. The Colonel lectured about a book he has written on his late uncle, U.S. Army Private Joe Haan.
The book has received high praise from some influential people, like Garrison Keillor, as well as the CEO of the World War II Museum. There is even consideration of making the story of Private Haan into a movie.
On his way to the museum, Colonel Quist stopped by WLOX, to tell us about, "God's Angry Man, The Incredible Journey of Private Joe Haan."
Haan was born in the early 1900's and faced a lot of challenges in his life. He was orphaned at the age of seven and spent many years in an orphanage in the Midwest.
Eventually, he was indentured to a brutal German immigrant on a Minnesota farm, where he endured many beatings at the hands of the landowner. Quist said his uncle was virtually a 20th century slave.
After years of enduring that treatment, he escaped and rode freight trains with hobos around the country in the late 1930's. But in the many small towns where he would get off the train, he found something wonderful, that would change his world.
"In the process, he discovered free public libraries, in virtually every town and city that he went through," Colonel Quist said.
Joe taught himself to read and soon it became evident that he had a brilliance about him. He learned to keep a journal, and he began to write poetry.
When the war started, Haan joined the Army. He was a young man who had grown up with a simmering hatred of the German people, because of what he endured as a boy.
In the midst of the war, Private Haan was in Europe, with Patton's Army, for the most deadly battle of the war, the Battle of the Bulge. Through sheer circumstance, he found himself in a foxhole with a dead German soldier.
That soldier, a Corporal in the German Army, had been killed by a piece of shrapnel that went through his heart, on his 18th birthday. Because of the ongoing battle, Joe had to stay in that foxhole for three days with the dead German. The experience was life changing for Joe.
"And then the hatred disappears," Colonel Quist told us.
"My Uncle Joe spent three days in the same fox hole with Friedrich Hofman, and he writes the poem, 'Memories of Death,' and he realizes that he does not hate the German people, just the leaders responsible for the war. He also realizes the common humanity between people."
After the war, Joe entered civilian life in Houston, Texas, where he lived out the rest of his days. His nephew said that in a sense, Joe Haan represents the many thousands of brave citizen soldiers of World War Two.
"It almost stands alone, as something that is a universal statement of a young man caught in the forces beyond his control, beyond his power," Quist said.
Ironically, Colonel Quist never knew that the journals of his uncle existed, until about three years ago.
"I was astounded, and I knew that I had to tell Joe's story," Quist said.
He has done an exceptional job of telling that story. In fact, Garrison Keillor describes the work as, "a book of hard earned wisdom."
Colonel Quist told us, in writing the book he learned a great lesson from his uncle, that through survival and through struggle, you can do anything you want in life.
The book, "God's Angry Man, The Incredible Journey of Private Joe Haan," is published by the Brown Books Publishing Company out of Dallas, Texas.