When Minnesota’s Greatest Generation marched off to war, they had no idea the trials and trauma that awaited them in combat missions. In this episode, we hear from three Minnesota veterans who were stationed in England and flew bombing missions targeting the Nazis when they were shot down and put into harsh Prisoner of War camps. We also hear from a veteran who was serving in Europe at the end of the war as labor and concentration camps there were liberated.
This episode features Minnesota veterans Lester Schrenck, Walter Grotz, Claude Williams and his sister Lois and Bernie Lieder.
The day of the Pearl Harbor attack, what FDR memorably called ‘the day that will live in infamy,’ struck a nerve with a generation of patriotic Americans and motivated them to serve. In this episode, we hear from two Minnesota GI’s who signed up at recruiting stations in the aftermath of the surprise attack. There’s also the eyewitness account of a third Minnesota veteran who was there, aboard ship at the time the swarm of Japanese planes took aim at the US fleet stationed at Pearl Harbor.
This episode features Minnesota veterans Bill Olson, Herbert Gager and George Vandersluis.
Veterans returning from World War 2 were the first servicemen and women to be able to access the benefits of the GI Bill, officially known as the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944. Far more GI’s than expected took advantage of the opportunity to have Uncle Sam pay for their education. The University of Minnesota was a leader in welcoming the veterans to campus. The college degrees they earned lifted thousands of those who served into the middle and professional class and gave them the knowledge and skills that fueled the post-War economy.
This episode features Minnesota veterans Jeanne Bearmon and Sherman Garon.
Army veteran Don Wickstrom recalls his military service on the front lines in Europe and his training and use of the Browning Automatic Rifle. The B.A.R, as it was known, was an effective and innovative weapon used in combat in World War 2, but it was also heavy, hot, cumbersome–and dangerous.
Minnesota veteran Bruce Cottington didn’t know as he fought in the brutal battle of Okinawa that this would be the final battle of the war in the Pacific Theater. Cottington recalls how the dropping of the atomic bomb brought his years of fighting to a close.
A program launched by the armed services identified promising young men and sent them to college for specialized training for the war. Minnesotans Bernie Lieder and Sherman Garon were two student soldiers who the Army sent to college. But urgent manpower needs ended the wartime higher education program.
Even wartime military recruiting films spoke of the value of the close friendships forged during battle. Minnesota veterans George Vandersluis and Herbert Gager recall the powerful bonds that formed between young servicemen, far from home.
Lester Schrenk, pictured in 2014, and Claude Williams were both stationed in England, where they were assigned to fly bombing missions to Germany and German-occupied parts of Europe. They were part of the determined but dangerous effort by the Allies to destroy the industrial power of the Nazis.
A number of relatives in Minnesotan Bill Olson’s family joined the Navy during World War 2, including an uncle who died while serving. When it came time for Olson to join the military, he chose the Navy, too. His assignment was working on the relief crew of a submarine tender to help keep U.S. submarines in tip-top shape during the war.
When Bruce Cottington enlisted in 1942, he joined the Navy, but was later assigned to a new Marine Corps unit called the Amphibians. The unit fought on land and sea, and Cottington prepared battle sites in the Pacific during World War 2. (The amphibian unit was the precursor to the Navy SEALS.)