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park rapids enterprise | Wednesday, November 10, 2021



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A special publication by

Thank You for Serving Our Country and Protecting Our Freedom

We Offer VA Financing (218) 732-3393 | 300 W First St., Park Rapids, MN |

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Wednesday, November 10, 2021 | park rapids enterprise

Honoring all who serve We’re pausing, reflecting and saluting America’s veterans—who work hard to defend our freedom, every day.

park rapids enterprise | Wednesday, November 10, 2021



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Air Force prepared veteran for hands-on career By Robin Fish Park Rapids Enterprise Stan Stephenson, 94, of Park Rapids, celebrated his 70th wedding anniversary this year with his wife, Betty. The couple lives at Knute Nelson Crystal Brook. In less than three years, however, Stan will mark the 80th anniversary of a different kind engagement: being drafted by the U.S. Army.

Behind-the-scenes work

Stan Stephenson wore this uniform when he was in the U.S. Army Air Corps between 1945 and 1947.

“As soon as I turned 18, they notified me that I would be called up,” he said. “Because I was on a farm, they gave me a deferment for a few weeks, so the crops got put in. And then I went in.” Stephenson served from 1945 through 1947 in three branches of the armed forces: first the Army, then the Army Air Corps and finally the Air Force.

Laura Winterberger

Ethan H. Hensel

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Allen Kruse U.S. Navy RM3

U.S. Army E-4

John G. Glatzmaier

Al Winterberger


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Roy A. Breitweser

Sherry Parkos

Army Corporal

Air Force

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Harold Breitweser

Achieving the rank of a sergeant, he worked as an equipment mechanic for vehicles and heavy equipment. “In those days, planes all had to land to refuel,” he said. “I worked on refueling tankers and forklifts and tow motors that they’d tow the planes around with. They still have some of that – tow motors to get them in line, and then they could take off.” Although he didn’t work as a mechanic on any actual planes, these support vehicles were important. Without them, the planes wouldn’t get off the ground. “I’m good with my hands,” he explained. “Or I used to be, working with small items.” Stan also had a younger brother who served in the Army, working as an explosives expert in Germany. Lester Stephenson, 10 years younger than Stan, now lives in Moorhead.

Theodore O. Hensel

Marine Corps Sergeant

Army Specialist 4

Larry Carroll

Betty Breitweser Carroll

Marine Lance Corporal

John Glatzmaier Air Force Sergeant

Navy HM2-E5

Navy HM3-E4

Clyde R. Breitweser Army Private First Class

James Breitweser

The elder Stephenson’s service started in Leavenworth, Kansas and took him to San Antonio, Texas; Denver, Colorado; and Boca Raton, Florida. Of all the things he learned, the main one he recalls today is discipline. “A lot of the guys that never went in the service, I kinda feel sorry for them,” he said. “I was just a raw kid when I got in. When I got out, I knew how to take care of myself. … In general, I grew up.” Betty said she feels today’s young people should consider going into the service after high school. “Some of them just take life for granted,” she said. “It’s tough out there. I think it would be good for them.” She said a lot of young adults haven’t had a lot of structure and have yet to learn that everything isn’t handed to them.


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AIR FORCE From Page B3

A positive experience

“Everybody complained, of course,” Stan recalled. “‘I’m gonna get out of here.’ Nobody would admit that it was a pretty good place. But I liked it all right.” He did pretty well, he said, rising to the non-commissioned rank of sergeant in two years. He connected this fast rise with his assignment to a motor pool in Florida where the staff sergeant told him, “Boy, am I glad to see you. I can get out of here now.” “He couldn’t run the shops unless he had a noncom,” said Stephenson. “So, they made me a corporal, and about two months later they made me a sergeant.” “It was a pretty good rank in those days,” Stephenson said. “I made $100 a month, which wasn’t too bad. I got $18.75 when I went in, a

Jerry Ritola Specialist E5, Army Cold War, Berlin Served 3 years

Elmer Koskela U.S. Navy E-4 Fireman


Wednesday, November 10, 2021 | park rapids enterprise

month. They took a third of it for insurance, so you didn’t have much money to spend. But I didn’t need any.” The service provided food, housing and uniforms. “That was it,” he said. “In those days, things were pretty tough on the outside, even though the war was over.” He recalled other guys who had gotten out of the service re-enlisting because “they didn’t have anybody to take care of them anymore.” Serving at a time before the armed forces were racially integrated, he also remembers a sharp division that didn’t make sense to him. During a stay in a military hospital after he burned his arm in an accident, Stephenson fell in with a group of black patients, playing cards with them. “Being a Yankee, it didn’t bother me,” he said. “After we got out, it was strictly segregated. I’d see these guys at the base and they wouldn’t look at you. In the hospital, they were real guys.

The only place that was integrated in the Air Force, at that time, was the hospital.”

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Harold Curtis Olson

Army CW3

Army Staff Sergeant WWII

Harold Guse Navy Petty Officer 1st Class

All’s well that ends well

Soon after his return from the Air Force, Stan met Betty at a New Year’s Eve dance at the auditorium in Wadena. “I thought he was so handsome, and very tall,” said Betty, chuckling that he isn’t so tall now. “We’re both shrinking.” “I was a very small person,” Stan admitted. “I weighed 111 pounds when I went into the service.” He went on to a 37-1/2 year career with Johnson Controls, a company that specializes in automated temperature controls for such buildings as schools and hospitals. “I worked in the field, installing and repairing,” said Stephenson. His career took him all over the U.S. and Puerto Rico, with stints working in Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Fargo-Moorhead and Dallas-Fort Worth. Later, he had his own

Robin Fish/Enterprise

Betty and Stan Stephenson recently celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary. Originally from Wadena and the Sebeka area respectively, they now live at Knute Nelson Crystal Brook in Park Rapids. automation business for a few years, still working on process controls for industrial settings like refineries and power plants, until he retired. “I’ve been retired about 34 years now,” he said, adding that he still takes an interest in building controls. When he sees a thermostat, he likes to check whether it says “Johnson Controls” on it

Clifford “Kip” Lof

and chat up the drivers of the company vans. “The company has changed a lot,” Betty said, “but it still means a lot to us because we did a lot as couples with the company.” Two of his sons worked with Stan at Johnson Controls, as did Betty’s father, brother and brother-in-law – hinting at something of a family

atmosphere. Before they moved into Crystal Brook, the couple lived in Becker, south of St. Cloud, and traveled south for the winters. They also own 80 acres in Wadena County, where they used to farm. They have three sons, a daughter, 11 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren. “Everybody’s healthy and beautiful,” said Betty.

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Michael John Hafner

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‘Sweetheart’ service dog changes veteran’s life By Shannon Geisen Park Rapids Enterprise Abby, a three-yearold black Labrador and coonhound mix, doesn’t leave Mike Wade’s side. She alerts him when his pacemaker is readjusting. She wakes him from his nightmares stemming from post-traumatic stress disorder. “She’ll stay on top of me and lick me until I’m calmed down,” he said. Even dog trainers don’t understand how Abby senses these things. “She wasn’t even supposed to be my dog. She’s a rescue out of Kentucky,” Wade said. “She was supposed to be a drug-sniffing Shannon Geisen/Enterprise dog, but she got washed Mike Wade cherishes his service dog, Abby. They are out because she couldn’t


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handle gunfire.” Due to a shortage of service dogs, Abby was brought to Minnesota by the VA and humane society. That’s when Abby found her true purpose. In 2019, Wade’s original service dog had to be euthanized because it developed Springer rage. He wasn’t sure if or when he’d receive another dog. “It takes years to train them and thousands of dollars,” he pointed out. Wade was assigned a different dog and going through training together when Abby crossed the room and started reacting to him. “She doesn’t leave me,” he said. “She’s just an absolute sweetheart. She’s a dog that you just

can’t say enough about.” Wade moved to Nevis from California in 2014. He bought a fixer-upper in the small town. “I’m a military brat. I was raised all over the world,” he said. “It’s probably one of the reasons I went into the service. I wanted the military life because I was used to the moving around. I went right from high school into the military.” Wade joined the Army National Guard as an 11-B, or combat infantry. His secondary military specialty occupation code (MOS) was communications, then logistics in air assault. Throughout his career, Wade earned numerous other MOSs with additional military and civil-

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ian training and education. “It’s not a dummy’s Army,” he said, noting that many people don’t realize the amount of instruction necessary to remain in the service. Wade has three doctorates. His service has taken a toll on his body. Wade recalled that he jumped out of a helicopter that was about to crash. “I dislocated my knee, but it was better to jump,” he said. He can’t talk about his combat experiences. He’s not allowed to reveal that information. But he can affirm that Abby has made a world of difference. Shannon Geisen can be reached at

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Wednesday, November 10, 2021 | park rapids enterprise

A day to honor all veterans

The month of November is a special time for the nation’s veterans. While Memorial Day honors fallen soldiers and service people, Veteran’s Day, which takes place each November, is an opportunity to commemorate the efforts of all who have been in the armed forces, with a special emphasis on living veterans. While people are encouraged to thank veterans throughout the year, Veteran’s Day is a particularly poignant time to show your appreciation for the men and women of the military. Veteran’s Day takes place on November 11 and marks an important moment in history. On November 11, 1918, World War I, known at the time

as “The Great War,” unofficially ended when an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, took place between Germany and the Allied nations on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. World War I ended on paper when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919. In November 1919, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Armistice Day became a federal holiday in the United States in 1938. However, after subsequent wars, including World War II and the Korean War, veterans’

service organizations lobbied for Armistice Day to be revised so it would be more inclusive of all veterans. On June 1, 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed legislation to strike the word “Armistice” from the holiday’s name in favor of “Veterans.” Since then, November 11 has been known as “Veterans Day” and has honored veterans of all wars. Veterans Day was moved to the fourth Monday in October for roughly seven years under the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which sought to ensure threeday weekends for federal employees by celebrating certain national holidays on Mondays. But since November 11 bore

such significance, many states disapproved and continued to observe the holiday on November 11. In 1975, President Gerald Ford signed legislation to return the observation of Veterans Day to November 11 beginning in 1978. Should the day fall on a Saturday or Sunday, the federal government observes the holiday on the previous Friday or following Monday, respectively, according to The United States isn’t the only country to celebrate its veterans. Canada, Great Britain, Australia, and France also commemorate the veterans of World War I and II on or near November 11 as Remembrance Day or Remembrance Sunday.


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Rogue waves, or ‘The Three Sisters’ By Joe Markell Park Rapids In early 1971, aboard the U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker “Glacier,” I was outside on the fantail deck on the port side when “Three Sisters” hit us straight abeam on the port side. They were three huge waves, at least 30- to 35-feet high. Fifty years ago, we called them the “Three Sisters,” more recently, “rogue waves.” A bit of history first. The “Glacier” was 310 feet long and cruised at about 12 knots (14 miles per hour). I had been aboard her for almost two years. We spent late 1969 and early 1970 at sea, making multiple trips between Antarctica and Punta Arenas, Chile. That stretch of ocean is known as Cape Horn and is considered the roughest water in the world. Hurricane-force winds were common, and heavy seas pitched and rolled the ship in every direction.


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Wednesday, November 10, 2021 | park rapids enterprise

“I remember this incident like yesterday. We were all very lucky, I think.”

- Joe Markell


After returning to Long Beach, Calif. from Antarctica, we made two three-month-plus cruises up to north of Alaska in 1970 and 1971. The rogue waves hit the ship on the second Alaskan cruise. I knew huge seas and the effect they had on my fellow sailors and our ship. But the Three Sisters were way different than normal big waves and hurricane-force winds. It was a sunny morning. The swells were pretty mild, probably 6to 8-feet high. We were about 24 hours out from Anchorage, our first destination. Pretty calm weather. I worked on a control panel on the port side. I was an E-5 Electrician’s Mate at the time. All of a sudden, it

felt like the whole ship dropped – totally different from the usual pitch and roll in heavy seas. I looked up from my work and said, “Holy f#@k!” As high as I could see, this massive wave was barreling toward me and the ship. Way higher than the ship, it hit us straight abeam, or at a right angle to the for-

ward movement of the ship. There wasn’t time to get back inside, so I jumped up into a small oceanographic crane and wrapped my arms around it and held on as tight as I could. My feet were off the deck by a foot or two. At the same time, I yelled a warning to

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most likely was seconds, the “Glacier” started rolling back to port. Once it got close to even keel, I dropped down, grabbed John and dragged him inside before the next wave hit. He was stunned, and I don’t know how he wasn’t washed overboard. Once inside the ship, the other two waves hit, and there was a lot of noise from things crashing inside the ship that weren’t lashed down. The bridge said that we took a 55-degree roll when the first wave hit. The ship was supposed another electrician, John ship paused and shook to turn over at 60 degrees K. He froze, but at the for what seemed an eter- when it was built, but last moment, grabbed nity at that extreme roll since that time, antionto a small pipe that to starboard. I thought it roll tanks were removed held our two-chain was going to turn over. I and a hangar and flight guard rail. hung from the crane, not deck were installed. That The wave hit hard, and seeing anything but the made the ship less sea I got wet to my armpits, water below me on the at least 10 feet of the starboard side, about 60 worthy. I remember this inciwave went over John. feet across the fantail, dent like yesterday. We The ship rolled into the straight down. wave, then quickly rolled Finally, in what were all very lucky, I to starboard. The whole seemed like minutes but think.

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park rapids enterprise | Wednesday, November 10, 2021



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A special publication by




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Wednesday, November 10, 2021 | park rapids enterprise

Thanksgiving on the Co Chin River

come through our patrol zone and do their best to ruin our schedule. We did not know it was their job to prepare local Viet Cong (VC) for a battle that would make world news three months later, and we did not know part of their mission was to wipe our little boats from the river in the next month.

The first 400 had welcomed us to “dance” that first night in a little stretch of the river we called Purple Heart Alley. Unhappy with their lack of success in sinking our two boats or reducing our manpower, they had tried again three more times at various places over the next few days. They managed

to put lots of holes in our fiberglass hulls, but only a few in the sailors manning them. By the late afternoon of the fifth day, we were out of food and water and down to about 10,000 rounds of ammunition. We were also at the far end of our patrol zone, an hour away from our base, and had just

pointed our bow north for home when we got a message from headquarters. A local priest who was always a good source of intelligence had something for us to pick up. We knew that visit would take at least another hour.

Joe Markell

Rick L. Pinnick

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Air Force

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It had been a long, hard patrol that late October 1967. The summer monsoon was still in full force, the sun pitiless. The four of us had been on the river for five very long days. Our little, 36-foot river patrol boat had

left the base prepared for a normal three-day patrol with five gallons of water, three cases of C rations, and 70,000 rounds of various forms of ammunition. We did not know then that two groups of enemy forces, each consisting of about 400 North VietNamese Army (NVA) soldiers, would

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RIVER: Page C3

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park rapids enterprise | Wednesday, November 10, 2021 “You eat turkey, yes?” Once again, we said yes. “Then I give you turkey,” he crowed with pride. He assured us there was no new intelligence to share and shooed us on our way. The bird in the cage did almost look like a turkey. It was brown with a bald head and neck, and it was tall. The bird was not fat. It was so thin that our crew’s farmer thought we could hide it between the pages of a newspaper. Our NVA visitors didn’t bother to harass us on our way home, so we made very good time, 90 minutes at 30 knots. Lieutenant Calvert, our commanding officer, was waiting at the pier when we tied up. With great fanfare we presented him with the

emaciated bird and told him it was his problem – we had weapons to clean, fueling and rearming the boat, patching a few holes, finding some food and liberating a few cold beers from the kitchen denizens. Lt. Calvert called on all his peers and superiors to find a way to provide a fat turkey to serve Father Gioi at the Thanksgiving feast. No joy within channels, so it was up to the cumshaw crew to go to work. First, they found a good home for the skinny bird in a suburb of Saigon. Two of our best thieves went to work. They “found” a bottle of 12-year-old scotch and drove out to the Army airfield to find a path through the wall of red tape preventing our lieutenant from provid-

Charles “Chuck” Blair

Melvin Hochstatter Private First Class U.S. Army | Korean War Served 2 years

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RIVER From Page C2

The VietNamese word for “good” is gioi, pronounced “yoy.” This priest went by the name Father Gioi. As usual, one of his parishioners met us when we arrived, and she escorted us to the village church. When we arrived, Father Gioi was shouting instructions to two men carrying a small cage. It was the cage and its contents he wanted us to have, so the two men struggled to the rive bank and somehow managed to wrangle the cage onto our boat. “You eat Thanksgiving, no?” We affirmed that we did have a Thanksgiving feast.

U.S. Army Signal Corp Vietnam Served 2 years


Lance Hansen Navy E-3

ing a sumptuous feast for our best intelligence source. They began with a friendly medical evacuation pilot. That pilot went to Saigon and talked to some of the Military Air Transport service pilots who regularly flew the wounded to military hospitals in Japan. Those pilots discussed the problem with some civilian pilots from TWA, who talked to some pilots from Northwest headed for Minneapolis. At Minneapolis, an Air National Guard Sergeant who lived near Albert Lea made a “military necessity” trip to the Safeway meat distribution warehouse. The crew at Safeway looked through their frozen turkey supply and found a magnificent 28-pound bird. OK, the turkey has

been found. How does it get to Viet Nam still frozen? And once in Viet Nam, how does it get to Vinh Long? How does it get cooked? The Safeway crew came up with a triple layer, waxed cardboard box that fit into an insulated aluminum case. Once resting comfortably in the box, the turkey was covered with dry ice and delivered to the Air National Guard base. By that time, everyone in the aviation community knew about the skinny turkey and wanted to help. Northwest Orient flew the bird from Minneapolis to Japan, where the medical evacuation pilots took over. They got the box to Saigon, where a crew of Navy Seawolf pilots took possession of the box and flew it to Vinh Long.

Our trusty cumshaw artists took delivery at the Army airfield and drove the box to our mess hall, where it was delivered a full four days before Thanksgiving. How long did the entire operation take? My crew picked up the bird from Father Gioi on Oct. 25, and the replacement bird arrived at our mess decks on Nov. 19. No cash was involved, but a few steak dinners and some fine whiskeys were. When Father Gioi was seated at the officer’s table, the cooks marched in with a magnificent bronze bird and asked the good Father to say grace. Father Gioi thought the turkey was a miracle … and in a way, it was. Ken Kalish was a gunner on PBR 136, River Patrol Section 523 in Vinh Long Province.

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Wednesday, November 10, 2021 | park rapids enterprise

Veteran values the Navy’s opportunities to learn

By Robin Fish Park Rapids Enterprise

asked whether his journal would make good For a veteran who lives reading. “Just mumbling at Greenwood Connec- and complaining, probtions in Menahga, mem- ably.” ories of his service in ‘Keep off the grass’ the U.S. armed forces Starting with boot survive despite memory camp in San Diego, loss, a serious car acciDebilzen went to Navy dent and a stroke. schools in San FranDan Debilzen, origcisco, California and inally from Villard, Bainbridge, Maryland. Minn., is sometimes He then shipped out of unclear about the exact Brooklyn Naval Shiprange of years when he yards to Argentia, Newserved, both as a radio foundland, for 18 months repairman in the U.S. before spending a year in Navy in the 1960s and Norfolk, Virginia. later as an electronics Debilzen referred teacher at Wadena Tech- to that last town by nical College. He also an unprintable nickbuilt radios for a civilian name coined by sailors. company and served one He illustrated the local year as commander of population’s famousthe Wadena VFW. ly inhospitable attitude Still, with a little help toward the naval station, from a diary he kept and the sailors’ feelings during his stretch in the in return, by quoting a Navy, he tells some bru- sign that according to tally honest tales about unconfirmed rumor says the reality of life in ser- “Dogs and sailors keep vice to the country. off the grass.” On the other hand, he “No,” he said when

Alison E. Swedean Hernandez

Terry Morris U.S. Air Force Sgt (E-3)

but “expensive town” at the time. He also felt that Newfoundland was a good place to work. Asked whether he had any interesting experiences to share, his first response was, “I picked up a paycheck every week. Other than that, no. It was kind of boring.” As for what lessons from the service he carried over into later life, he said, “Don’t kiss ass with the bosses.”

able, such as “playing war games with Castro” in the Caribbean – “I didn’t like that at all” – and not being allowed to drink or smoke in Nevada. He also recalled a gruesome mission to recover the crew of a plane that went down off the coast of Newfoundland, where a heat wave was 72 degrees. By the time the Coast Guard helicopter found them, the crew had all died of hypothermia in the Learning experience 32-degree water. “You’re out on your Debilzen shared the own for the first time strange way he and his and you’ve got to learn outfit found out they to stand on your own were transferring to two feet,” he said. Citing Newfoundland. No one the sergeant’s or chief was told where they petty officer’s ability to were going; only that “put his foot up your they were to put on their ass if you didn’t walk a dress blues in the mornRobin Fish/Enterprise straight line,” he said, ing, which they were Dan Debilzen served in the U.S. Navy from 1959 to “you learn how to take required to wear when 1963. orders whether you like traveling. it or not.” said he enjoyed learning command in San FranSome of his experiencNAVY: Page C5 his trade at the school of cisco, calling it a “nice” es weren’t very comfort-

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park rapids enterprise | Wednesday, November 10, 2021

NAVY From Page C4

“What kind of upset us was, they said, ‘Get your peacoat out of your sea bag and carry your peacoat over your arm.’ That’s the winter coat. That’s a heavy sonofabitch. It was about 90 degrees and about 90 percent humidity, and here we’re walking across that hot tarmac into the plane, carrying a peacoat and sweating like a butcher. Water ran off your face like Niagara Falls. Everyone said, ‘They’re dumb. No wonder we lost so many wars.’” Once in flight, with a cool breeze blowing through the cabin, the sailors felt cooler. Only when they landed did they appreciate the wisdom of their orders. “As we were pulling up to the terminal, the band was out there to greet us,” he said, “and they were all wearing dress blues and peacoats and gloves with the fingers cut out so they could play their instruments. “When we walked out of the door of that airplane, we knew damn well why we had the peacoats. We put it on real fast.”

Top secret clearance

Due to his radio repair skills, Debilzen went

through a process of FBI background checks to obtain cryptographic clearance. This clearance was required so he could repair the crypto gear used to encode and decode signals. “I had a good reputation around home,” he said. “Everybody said, ‘How come Dan’s got the FBI checking him out?’” He ended up losing that clearance due to a miscommunication. “I was talking to this one guy, a radioman,” said Debilzen. “He asked where I’d like to go. I said, ‘Someday I’d like to go to Germany. I’ve heard it’s beautiful.’ Well, he went back to the front office and said, ‘Debilzen said he’s a spy for Germany.’” That went into his permanent record and couldn’t be removed. Once listed as a spy, he could no longer have top secret clearance. The best part of the story, according to Debilzen, is that the crypto gear broke down that same evening. When ordered to fix it, Deblizen replied, “I can’t. I don’t have a clearance. You’ve got to have clearance to get into that shack. You took the clearance away from me.” He said that upset his superiors, who mumbled, “You just did it the other

Greg Yates

day.” He responded, “I did a lot of things the other day.” “They weren’t too happy with me, and I wasn’t too happy with them, but we all lived through the deal,” he concluded.

A good place to learn

Despite his evident feelings about military bureaucracy, Debilzen called the Navy “the best place to go” for vocational training. “I talked to a lot of guys in the other services,” he said. “They said, ‘What can we do? All we know how to do is kill somebody.’ Well, in the Navy, you’ve got a bunch of different jobs.” Jobs, he said, like the Seabees, a construction battalion that learns carpentry, plumbing, electrical and other skills. The Navy also has a cooking school, radio and electronics schools, radar technicians whose skills are in demand for air traffic control, and more. “If anybody wants to go through a private tech school and be paid for it,” he said, “the Navy’s a good place, probably better than any of the other branches of service that I’ve talked to.” Overall, Debilzen said, “I’d do it all over again, if I could.”

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I am tired and so lonely, sad and displaced Trod by the sorrows of time and this place oh, but I’m young, in the virtues of youth oh, but I’m old in the knowledge of truth So, let me search for what surely must be This total package called me Don’t look at the clothes, so tattered and torn Don’t look at the outside, so used and worn Look beyond the shell to see what is real The things that I think and the things that I feel Do these things, then you surely will see This total package called me Try me and test me and then you will see I use those things that are good for me I examine the problem then stand pat, don’t run. I solve those problems each and every one Watch me closely and you surely will see This total package called me A tribute to brave soldiers who fought and won All our countries great battles, they did not run A great price was paid by all who fought there The price the families and mothers paid was not fair Today we stand our country’s free, safe for you and me Without the price these men paid it would not be The chips are still down though the battle was won How many mothers are grieving their lost sons The losers are sad, the winners party with whisky and rum The mothers on both sides still sadly grieve their sons You leaders who start these terrible wars, think before you act The losses are felt by mothers for a lifetime, this is a fact As I sadly look at the white gravestones row by row I think of the many, many brave soldiers I did not know When ask they stepped forward whatever the price The sound of the guns turned their blood to ice But onward they went till the bloody battles were won Our young men were brave, I salute them, each and everyone

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Wednesday, November 10, 2021 | park rapids enterprise

Pearl Harbor hero finally laid to rest By Robin Fish

career,” said Kevin Cease with the Cease Family Funeral Home. “This is such a unique situation, in that we get to bring somebody home after all these decades and all these years: somebody who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our country, on Pearl Harbor Day! He gets to come home. I’m moved beyond tears.”

Almost 80 years after his death, Neal Kenneth Todd returned to Akeley, where he was buried on July 10. The remains laid to rest at the Akeley Cemetery were those of a U.S. Navy fireman who gave his life on Dec. 7, 1941 during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Todd’s ship, the “USS Oklahoma,” sank quickly in the waters off Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. His was one of 429 lives lost on board. Although the Oklahoma sailors’ remains were recovered later in the 1940s, most of them remained unidentified until they could be identified through recent genetic tests. Todd’s remains were identified on Feb. 11. As his funeral program states, “He is no longer considered Missing in Action. He is finally home.”

Todd’s burial in the Akeley Cemetery, between his half-brother Alfred Staffenhagen, Jr. and his mother Irena, was accompanied by full military honors. These included a three-volley, three-gun salute; U.S. military service flags presented to three members of Todd’s family; two U.S. Air Force flyovers; and a white-glove treatment by both active and retired service personnel. “This is one of the highest honors I’ll ever have in my entire

Voyage home

“It’s a long overdue homecoming,” said Todd’s nephew, Tony Staffenhagen. “We feel that he’s our hero, and he’s a Minnesota hero.” Fireman 1st Class Neal K. Todd was one of nine brothers and three sisters raised by Irena Todd Staffenhagen and her two husbands, Robert Todd and Alfred Staffenhagen. Eight of her sons served in the U.S. armed forces; Neal’s brother, Wesley, was actually on board the Oklahoma when it was attacked, but he survived.

Robin Fish/Enterprise

Lt. Derek E. Martin, USN, presents a folded U.S. flag to Todd’s niece, Diane Harris, on behalf of the Neil K. Todd memorial at the Akeley Paul Bunyan Historical Museum. Seated to the right of Harris is Todd’s adopted sister, Karyn Stiffler of Akeley, who also received a flag; her husband, Glen; sister-in-law Delores Staffenhagen of Rogers and her husband, Orville, who is Todd’s youngest and only surviving brother. Born in Bemidji, Neal graduated from Akeley High School in 1938. He enlisted in the U.S.Navy in October 1940 at age 20, and was 22 when he gave his life for his country.

After several temporary Tony called the experesting places in Hawaii, rience “a powerful day” Neal made his final that brought a lot of journey to Minnesota. emotions to the surface. Approximately 60 family members met him at the HERO: Page C7 airport in the Twin Cities.

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park rapids enterprise | Wednesday, November 10, 2021

the flags, and saluting Neal as he was coming through.” In Akeley, he said, people lined the streets as the hearse went by. Some of them posted pictures on social media, including what Tony described as a perfect shot of the hearse in front of the Paul Bunyan statue – “almost like the true ‘welcome home,’” he said. If anything, Neal’s reception in Nevis was “even more incredible,” said Tony, who was riding one car behind the hearse with his father, Orville Staffenhagen. Orville is Neal’s youngRobin Fish/Enterprise est half-brother, one of Six U.S. Navy sailors pull Neal Todd’s casket off the back of a horse-drawn funeral his two surviving siblings. caisson for his burial with full military honors July 10 at the Akeley Cemetery. “Many times, tears ed turning on the tar- departments in the Twin were shed along the mac, and all of a sudden Cities area saluting the way,” Tony recalled. you had the dual water funeral procession with “Just looking at the outFrom Page C6 cannons going off over flags on bridges along pouring of people, coming out to support and the route, Tony said. The “We’re used to talking the top of the aircraft.” honor his brother … the The mood intensified family saw more of the about Neal as a family,” outpouring of love and he said. “To be actual- as Neal’s casket was same in towns farther patriotism towards him. ly able to see it coming removed from the plane north. You really can’t find “Then we started see- words for that.” true is pretty incredible. and throughout the four… It really got real the hour drive to Akeley and ing people along the He acknowledged the moment the plane start- Nevis. It started with fire roads,” he said, “with response from the local



American Legion and VFW units, the Patriot Guard and the Marine Corps League. To explain, in part, why firefighters are especially keen to honor Neal Todd, Tony recalled Dwayne Mattson with Nevis Fire and Rescue telling him, “He may not have been a fireman on a truck, but he was a fireman.” Kevin Todd, another Neil Todd nephew who serves on the Chisago City Fire Department, wore his dress whites to the funeral. “This was very awesome,” he said. “Me, my brother and my son were the last ones to put our DNA in, and within six

| C7

months after that, they identified his remains. So, our DNA really brought it to life.” Kevin agreed that Neal’s reception was wonderful, from the pilot who flew the remains into the Twin Cities stepping off the plane to talk with Orville to the crowds lining the streets of towns along the 193mile route north. Kevin said knowing Neil has been identified and is home “gave us a lot of peace.” “There’s a lot of love coming from a lot of people up here, and we do appreciate it as a family,” Tony said.

HERO: Page C8


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C8 |


Remembering Neal Todd

Tony Staffenhagen said when the family talks about his Uncle Neal, he is remembered as one of the more sociable, outgoing and happy-golucky boys in the family. Orville, on the other hand, remembered Neal as a “hard-luck guy,” explaining, “Hard luck always came his way.” Todd’s funeral mass was celebrated by Father Tony Ferndando at Our Lady of the Pines Catholic Church in Nevis. U.S. Navy Chaplain Lt. Derek E. Martin delivered the sermon. “Neal joined the Navy due to a sense of commitment to his family, his friends and his nation,” Martin said. He went on to describe the


Wednesday, November 10, 2021 | park rapids enterprise

rights Neal voluntarily gave up so that others might enjoy those rights, concluding, “On Dec. 7, 1941, Neal made the ultimate sacrifice and surrendered his own right to live on that infamous day. He stayed the course so others may live, thus protecting his fellow sailors.” Martin said that through Neal’s baptism, Jesus Christ was eternally by his side. “We will never know what transpired in the last moments of Fireman 1st Class Neal Kenneth Todd’s life,” said Martin, “but we can surmise, through his strong commitment to family, that Neal, upon the first explosion, set a course to attempt to save his ship and his fellow-sailor family. “And we will never know where Neal was on board, but we know he was not alone. For Neal

was surrounded by his U.S. Navy family, along with countless heartwarming family members in Jesus Christ, our Savior, who wrapped Neal in a compassionate embrace on that infamous day.”

Final honors

Tony said about 100 family members traveled from as far away as Washington state, California and Virginia to say goodbye to a family hero many of them never met in person. Gov. Tim Walz declared the day to be Navy Fireman Neal Kenneth Todd Day. Tony said the family considers it special to see their loved one buried on his own day, while three family flags flew over the Minnesota State Capitol. “We’ll be able to cherish the fact that he’s getting the hero’s welcome that he should have had,” said Tony.

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James Killmer

Marvin Brown

Robert L. Schroeder

Marines Corporal E-4

Marines, CPL, served 4 years, Vietnam War

Anne Huhtala

Henry Moyer

Mark Bjerke

US Army, US Air Force Reserves, TSGT (E-6)

Army National Guard E1

Navy Lieutenant Commander

Navy HM3 Army Cpt

West Pacific experience in 1963 By Robert L. Stulich Park Rapids After finishing boot camp at NTC San Diego, I was assigned to the “USS Estes” AGC-12. I ended up in N Division, a quartermaster striker. My sea detail and general quarters (GQ) station was the quartermaster’s deck log. It was December 1963, and we were on a joint operation with the Republic of Korea’s Navy, cruising on the South China Sea. All the ships were in a spread formation with a destroyer screen. We had been playing war games for several days when “General Quarters THIS IS NO DRILL” sounded. I immediately headed to my GQ station and took over the deck log. I noticed the guided

Amber Treziok Navy E6

Robin (Bob) Rossi Army Sergeant, served 2 years, Vietnam War

Curtis Hensel Marine Corp Corporal

missile ships had the missile pods loaded and were tracking a bomber with a big red star on its tail. About 15 minutes later, the same bomber came back over us, now with three Navy crusaders escorting it out of the air space. The log entry by the officer of the deck was that we had been photographed by a Russian plane, after which GQ was dismissed. It was great to see that no one panicked and your training takes over to do your job. I do remember not having any fear. Many years later, as I recalled the event, it came to me that the bomber was jet powered, and in 1963, the Russians did not have jet-powered bombers. The plane was one of ours: A B-47 with a red star on its tail.

Ronald I. Petrie

John Vocelka

Army Sgt. 1st Class

Navy E-5

Fred W. Hensel

Jonathan L. Fondow

Navy Petty Officer Second Class

U.S. Army Master Sergeant, served 18 years, Iraq and Afghanistan Wars

Richard Moen

John Firehammer

Army SP3(T), served 2 years, Korean War

Navy, P.C.T. 1st class, served 4 years, received European WWII Occupation medal



Hwy,. 34 East Park Rapids

Frank Joseph Soukup Army Corporal

Frank Edward Soukup Sr. Army Airborne Staff Sargeant

Gary Harshe

Jim Harshe

Marines P-1

Army E-5

732-4513 Honoring All Who Have Served! HONORING ALL WHO SERVED

Akeley Muni


Where Paul Wets His Whistle!


NORTHERN BAIT INC. Retail – Wholesale Bait, Tackle & Guns

• Happy Hour Monday-Friday: 11am to Noon & 5pm-7pm • 2 for 1 Saturdays: 11am-Noon FOOD - POOL - DARTS - PULL TABS, E-TABS, FUN!


614 S. Main, Park Rapids Corner of 7th St. & Main Ave. S.

ON SALE/BAR Hours: Mon.-Sat.: 10am-1am; Sunday: 11am-Close OFF SALE Hours: Mon.-Sat.: 10am-10pm; Sunday: 11am-6pm

218-652-4084 DOWNTOWN AKELEY •


Welding • Machine Shop • Pontoon Boat & Dock Repairs • Deck Handrails • Driveway Gates • Walk-ins Welcome George Darchuk Sr., Owner 1608 Industry Ave., Park Rapids, MN 56470 (218) 732-1427 • Fax: (218) 732-1439