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06-10-07, 06:49 AM
Remembering Minnesota heroes

The remnants of the Greatest Generation helped dedicate a memorial to the 327,000 Minnesotans who served in WWII.

By Chuck Haga, Star Tribune

Last update: June 09, 2007 – 10:57 PM

Charles Sehe, 84, came from Mankato and Pearl Harbor, where he was aboard the battleship Nevada on Dec. 7, 1941. Roger Holm, 82, came from Atwater and the Philippines, where he helped liberate survivors of the Bataan Death March. Abraham Zambrano, 93, came from St. Paul and Iwo Jima, where as a medical corpsman with the Marines he saw the U.S. flag raised on Mount Suribachi.

"It made me feel very proud," Zambrano said. "So does this. I'm so glad I'm here."

On a day as bright as peace, as breezy as liberty, more than 4,200 veterans came from all over Minnesota and from all over the world: a grand mobilization of old soldiers, sailors, nurses, airmen and Marines, mustered once more for Saturday's dedication of the state's World War II Memorial.

They came on buses and in wheelchairs and shuffled across the Capitol Mall, many of them with the aid of a cane or a walker or the strong arm of a doting youngster.

"Proud great-granddaughter of a Marine Raider," said the cardboard signs on the backs of Ariana Johnson, 15, and her sister Tyra, 12, in honor of Raider -- and Great-Grandpa -- Duane Overaas of Jackson, Minn.

"He didn't much like to talk about the war," Ariana said, as she and two other generations looked for Overaas, off mingling with old comrades in arms. "But he has a scrapbook, and I've seen it."

A waitress and a bellhop

With families and friends, they numbered more than 22,000 people at the height of the day's program, according to Capitol security officials. They took pictures of each other, sang the national anthem, pledged allegiance to the flag and stood in long lines for cheeseburgers and samples of Spam. ("More 'hurry up and wait,' some grumbled, but they were smiling.) Some scored free doughnuts and sweet smiles from young women dressed in vintage Red Cross or Salvation Army uniforms.

They told stories about when they were young, as young and rakish as the boyish re-enactors dressed Saturday in World War II uniforms and lounging by vintage Jeeps, tanks and tents pitched outside the Capitol.

"I was a waitress at the old Paris Hotel in Benson, Minnesota, and he was a bellhop," said Phyllis Stone, 82, her eyes twinkling as she held onto her husband, Andrew, 81. He went off to war in Europe, and she waited for him. "We were married in 1946, when he came home."

They listened politely to speeches by a governor and a general, and they cheered as 18 vintage bombers and fighters thundered overhead. They took off their service caps, bowed their heads and prayed with Delbert Kuehl of Alexandria, who as a chaplain jumped with paratroopers and earned a Silver Star for bravery during Operation Market Garden.

They congratulated men who could still wear the uniforms they wore more than 60 years ago, including Edward Bergslien, 81, whose sleeve bore five hash marks -- each denoting four years of active duty in the Navy.

"It's a great day," said Leroy Bell, 87, of Minneapolis, who rode a tank through France and Belgium as part of the first black tank battalion in Gen. George Patton's 3rd Army.

"I thank heaven I'm here to celebrate this day," Bell said. "All the guys who were in my outfit -- they're all deceased.

"I miss them."

The roll call of the fallen

More than 326,000 Minnesotans served in the armed forces of the United States during World War II. Only about 47,000 veterans of the war remain in the state today, and as they reach their 80s and 90s the casualty rate is high.

More than 6,000 Minnesotans gave their lives during the war, and their names were read aloud Saturday, a roll call of the fallen.

... Milton W. Kubisti. Henry I. Kubista. John L. Kuch. ...

Rep. Mary Ellen Otremba, DFL-Long Prairie, read names from the Ls, including Walter S. Lamson.

"His brother is here," she said. "He told me he wanted to hear it. I thought that was really sweet."

David Murphy, of Moorhead, had planned to be at the dedication Saturday to honor the memory of his nephew, a B-24 pilot killed in Europe.

"But my uncle had some health problems and couldn't make it," said John Murphy, of Maple Grove, another nephew. "He was pretty upset. He said, 'There will be no one there to hear his name read.'

"I told him, 'Yes, there will.' "

Later, a giddy John Murphy was asked if he'd like to do the honors himself.

"I get to read his name!" he said.

And he did.

... Clair Frances Mullin. ...

A memorial with meaning

Throughout the day, the survivors came to inspect this long-awaited memorial with its narrative panels, protective flanks of elms, a descending slope to recall the early despair of the war years, a triumphant rise to signal hope and eventual triumph.

It cost a little over $1 million. Standing sentry is the gun from the U.S.S. Ward, the ship manned largely by sailors from St. Paul that fired America's first shot in World War II -- at a Japanese mini-submarine trying to sneak into Pearl Harbor before the attack.

Mathias Kremer, 90, came from Perham and a German prisoner of war camp, where he spent 10 months after his B-17 bomber was shot down. Victor Dumais, 86, came from Warroad and the Pacific Ocean, where he took men ashore at Okinawa.

Of the 23 men left in the Minnesota chapter of the 2nd Marine Division, men who served together from Guadalcanal to Okinawa, a dozen mustered Saturday under a proud red banner.

"I had two brothers who served in the war," said Lou Reeve, 82, of Burnsville. "They're both gone now. I wish they could have seen this.

"I haven't ever been able to get to the memorial in Washington, D.C., and I probably won't. This is the next best thing. I don't know why it's taken so long, but it means a great deal to us."

Few of the veterans were in a mood to complain. Many said they know about waiting.

Lyle Pearson, 86, came from North Mankato and the German POW camp he was sent to after his B-17 bomber was shot down.

They have lived full lives, made careers, raised families. Carl Falkowski, 84, of Vadnais Heights, went ashore in Normandy in June 1944, took a shell fragment in fighting near Metz but rejoined his unit in time for the Battle of the Bulge. He came home after the war and served 30 years in the St. Paul Police Department, and he volunteered for the advisory committee that helped plan the memorial.

His advice to the designers: "Don't exclude the women who flew the planes and worked in the munitions plants."

And the nurses.

Dorothy Oedbauer Klick, 92, came to the memorial Saturday from Long Prairie and from a hospital in wartime England, where she tended to the wounded.

She came dressed in her Army Nurse Corps uniform, and she paused occasionally to glance at the memorial as she made her way down the mall.

"It means a lot more than I thought it would," she said softly.

Chuck Haga • 612-673-4514 • crhaga@startribune.com