In early 1945, Rodney Ebersviller was walking with other American prisoners of war and their guards from one German camp to another when they encountered a farm woman as she pulled a fresh loaf of rye bread from an outdoor oven.
Ebersviller was cold and hungry. He and the other Allied soldiers were on the brink of starvation. The German woman offered every prisoner and guard a warm slice. Nothing had ever tasted so good and nothing ever would match it, he told his children many years later. He spent the rest of his life seeking the perfect sauerkraut rye bread recipe and its comforting effect.
The World War II veteran from Fergus Falls, Minn., died July 25 of undiagnosed acute health problems. He was 94.
Ebersviller was born in Pelican Rapids, Minn., on Oct. 8, 1924, one of five children to Alwine and William Ebersviller. He graduated from Fergus Falls High School in 1942 and enlisted in the Army in 1943. On his way to basic training, he met his future wife, Barbara — or Bobbie — on a train. She was heading back home to St. Louis after her first year at Carleton College in Northfield.
Once deployed, it didn’t take long for Ebersviller to see combat. He was a staff sergeant when his machine-gun squad was outflanked by a German tank squadron during the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944. Ebersviller was wounded and captured. After a brief stay in a German hospital, he spent the rest of the war in prison camps.
His final camp near Hammelburg was liberated by U.S. soldiers in April 1945, according to U.S. National Archives records. Ebersviller was awarded the Purple Heart upon discharge that year.
Despite this harrowing experience, or maybe because of it, he rarely talked about the war as a young man, said Ann Pederson, his daughter.
“When I was growing up, I had no idea he was in the war. I came home from high school one day and was talking about what I had learned about POWs in the war, and that’s when my mom told me he had been one,” Pederson said.
“Over the years, maybe he just became OK with it. He became very active in local veterans organizations the last 20 years of his life,” she said.
After the war, Ebersviller attended the University of Minnesota, where he was reunited with Bobbie, who had transferred there. They married in 1948 and moved to Fergus Falls so he could join his father in running the family-owned John Deere Implement business. The next year, he and Bobbie moved to Rothsay, Minn., to open a farm equipment dealership. There, the couple raised four children.
He ended his career back at work at the Ebersviller Implement store in Fergus Falls before selling the business and retiring in 1982.
His children describe Ebersviller as quiet, dedicated and respectful, but never one to shy away from stepping up if he saw an injustice. He loved to cook for others, bringing a crockpot of ribs and sauerkraut every month to the Y’s Folks potluck at the Fergus Falls YMCA. He made a special red sauce for the annual Rotary Club spaghetti dinner.
Ebersviller served on the school board, was a volunteer firefighter and head of the local Disabled Americans Veterans organization, volunteered his time to reading for the blind and attended two weekly Bible studies. Ebersviller was a familiar face at the Fergus Falls library, checking out thousands of books during his lifetime.
As for the rye bread, Ebersviller eventually settled on a recipe made at the Mora Bakery. His daughter stocked his freezer with 10 loaves at a time. “He used to say, ‘If I’m out of sauerkraut rye, I’m out of bread,’ ” Pederson said.
He was preceded in death by his wife, Bobbie, and is survived by his four children, Todd, Ann Pederson, Jon and Jane, and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Services have been held.