Fort Snelling had a prominent role at both the beginning and the end of the military careers for thousands of servicemen and women who joined the armed forces during World War 2. The historic fort served as both an induction center and a separation point. Minnesota veterans Walter Grotz and Claude Williams shared memories of their passage through the old post.
Walter Grotz was drafted and entered military service just one week after he graduated from Delano High School. He flew raids in a B-24 until he was shot down over Germany and sent to a POW camp in Poland. Later, the Germans marched Grotz and his fellow American prisoners to Berlin, a harsh 520 mile journey.
Claude Williams, pictured here in 2014, was shot down while on a bombing run over Belguim and held as a prisoner of war by the Germans. Williams was held in a POW camp in Barth, Germany, kept with 19 other men in one small room. The friendships formed in those close quarters lasted long after the war was over.
After joining the Women’s Army Corps, WAC Jeanne Bearmon was assigned to helping to recruit other women to join the military. Because women had never officially served in a U.S war before World War 2, it was quite a challenge to educate female recruits and the public about the contributions that women were needed to make.
After Bernie Lieder completed his Army service on the front lines in the European theater in World War 2, he came home to Minnesota and his history of service continued. Lieder went on to be elected to the Minnesota legislature, where he was the last serving WW2 vet and championed veterans causes, including the sponsoring the bill that established the state’s WW2 memorial at the State Capitol, pictured here.
Lester Schrenk was just 19 years old when he was shot down while flying a combat mission over Germany. The valiant young Minnesota endured brutal conditions in a German prison camp that almost cost him his life.
Growing up in Minnesota, Herbert Gager learned to play many instruments and loved playing in bands. When he began his military service in the Marines, he played in a military band. But Gager had to give up playing music when he was assigned to be a stretcher-bearer in battles in the Pacific theater. He was injured and earned the Purple Heart.
Post traumatic stress disorder had not been identified yet in the World War 2 era. Many returning soldiers struggled and often suffered in silence. Veterans Axel Holmes, Gerbert Gager and George Vandersluis talk about their efforts to put the difficult and sometimes traumatic memories of war behind them after they returned home to Minnesota.
Native Americans enlisted in large numbers during World War 2. Axel James Holmes, Sr., a member of an Ojibwe band now living on the Bois Forte reservation, joined when he was 20 years old. He reflects on his World War 2 service, first in New Guinea and then in the Philipines.
When World War 2 broke out, many Americans had not traveled far from where they lived. The call to service pulled young soldiers, sailors and Marines from farms, small towns and cities and dropped them into foreign lands in Europe, Asia and North Africa. Don Wickstrom, seen here in 2014, and Bernie Lieder were among the Minnesotans who were not well-traveled when the war broke out but saw the world as a result of their military service
Bernie Lieder was raised in a Hanover, a Minnesota town that was founded by Germans. As he grew up, he spoke German in the community and at his Lutheran church. His German language skills served him –and his country — during his service in the Army in World War 2.