We see them marching, flags held high while commanders call out drill commands. We see them somber at the funerals for soldiers who’ve passed on; standing with the color guard, trumpeting out a bugle’s song, firing the heart stopping three-volley salute. We see them, but who are they and what do they represent?
At current count, there are 13,807 American Legion posts worldwide with more than 2.4 million members. It stands as the largest veterans’ service organization. Legion members include any U.S. Military veteran, whether active duty or honorably discharged, who served a minimum of one day during a specific conflict or period of eligibility, including World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, Lebanon/Grenada, Panama, and the Gulf War/War on Terror. They seek to encourage comradery, as well as assisting with issues such as job opportunities, benefits, and educational scholarships for the children of service members killed in the line of duty, while serving as a collective voice for veterans.
Similarly, the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) posts number 6,390 and nearly 1.7 million veteran and auxiliary members. Members may include any U.S. Military veteran, whether active duty or honorably discharged, who served in an overseas war, campaign, or expedition. Auxiliary members are financially supportive of VFW efforts through membership dues. Funds raised by the VFW and Auxiliary include medical care, legal assistance, scholarships, memorials, support of military families in need, and community outreach.
Both entities have long histories. The VFW traces its roots to approximately 1899 when veterans banded together in attempt to secure rights and benefits. The Legion was established by Congress in 1919, as soldiers returned from the Great War. As the posts gained strength in numbers, they were assigned a specific number, as their charter applications were submitted. In addition to a specific number, many posts adopted a namesake over the years, chosen to honor one or two area soldiers who gave the ultimate sacrifice. In Fillmore County, there are 13 American Legion posts and five VFW posts and each bears the remembrance of soldiers who gave all.
American Legion Post 400
• Private Paul Herman Blegen, 30, was born in Winneshiek County, Iowa, on June 12, 1887, to Andrew and Oleana Blegen. Paul was one of the first WWI draftees from Canton Township in September 1917. Six young men left from Canton, by way of Preston, along with a contingent from around the county. He was stationed first at Camp Dodge, Des Moines, Iowa, before completing his training at Camp Cody, N. Mex., at part of the 326th Auxiliary Remount Depot. Camp Cody covered 100 acres, handling up to 10,000 horses and mules. Word of Blegen’s death spread quickly around Canton. He was one of many who fell to the world’s worst ever flu pandemic, dubbed the Spanish Flu. It spread rampantly between January 1918 and late 1919, particularly in Europe, and was hastened by the massive number of individuals traveling with various militaries during WWI. Pre-antibiotics, many victims died of viral pneumonia. Blegen died of pneumonia, at the base hospital, February 21, 1918. His remains were returned to the states and he is buried at Henrytown Church Cemetery.
American Legion Post 197
• Corporal Harold N. Bailey, 21, was born November 6, 1896, to Geo. W. and Margaret Bailey. Immediately after graduating from Chatfield School in May 1917, Harold was one of the first volunteers to enlist, along with five other Chatfield “boys.” Bailey served with the 15th Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division, U.S. Army in France and Germany as a messenger, which took him into the most dangerous locations. He was killed in action, October 18, 1918, just three weeks shy of his 22nd birthday. He was buried at Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery, Romagne, France.
• Sergeant Robert M. O. Kinnear, 28, was born November 21, 1914, to Lewis and Goldie Kinnear. He graduated from Chatfield High School in 1932 and enlisted in the U.S. Army September 1940, making his way to Camp Lewis, Wash., in the 7th Infantry, 3rd Infantry Division. He was later transferred to an east coast camp prior to departure to Africa. According to reports, Kinnear lost his life while with a landing force at Casablanca on the Moroccan coast November 11, 1942. He was the first WWII casualty to the Chatfield community. He was buried in Chatfield.
VFW Post 6913
• Staff Sargeant Burt Leroy Giese, 21, was born April 19, 1923, to Carl and Florence Giese. He graduated from Chatfield High School in 1940 and was an incredible scholar and athlete. Giese was called into service February 23, 1943. After 10 months of training in Virginia with the Engineer Division, he was moved to Camp Claiborne, La., with the 334th Infantry. He was sent overseas September 1944, seeing action in Germany and Belgium. He was taken prisoner December 26, 1944, and later reported missing in action. It was later determined that Giese suffered horribly in a Stalog X German Prison Camp near Hamburg, Germany and died March 18, 1945. Cause of death was noted as jaundice and a weak heart; however, fellow soldiers explained to Giese’s family that he died of malnutrition. He was buried at Evergreen Cemetery, Dover, Minn.
• Raymond Louis Kelsey, 24, was born July 20, 1920, to Ira and Rose Kelsey, in Pilot Mound. He graduated from Chatfield High School in 1937 and entered the Navy September 10, 1942, as an Aviation Ordnanceman First Class. Kelsey trained at Great Lakes, Il Naval Training Center; Jacksonville, Fla., and San Diego, Calif., before being shipped overseas in April 1943 as a Navy airman. He was home on leave, briefly, in the spring of 1944. Kelsey was killed in action, in an airplane crash in the South Pacific, over the island of Leyte, January 7, 1945. No other details of his death were given. He was buried at the Pilot Mound Cemetery.
American Legion Post 492
• Very little is documented about Private Anton Romsos, who died at age 26. He was born July 25, 1892, in Norway and later moved to Pilot Mound Township, outside of Fountain. He worked for the Gilman Borgen farm, in Chatfield, as a laborer. He registered his draft card June 5, 1917, and May 16, 1918, he is listed on a docket departed for Europe by way of Hoboken, N. J. Romsos served with Company H, 132nd Infantry, 33rd Division and died July 29, 1918. He was interred at Somme American Cemetery in Picardie, France.
• Private James Elliot Malia, 18, was born October 1, 1899, to Patrick and Ann Malia. Upon graduation, he worked as a bookkeeper at a department store before returning to farm with his father. June 24, 1918, Malia was one of the “Fillmore County boys” included in the WWI draft. He’s listed on the service transport docket, leaving from Hoboken, N. J., serving with Co C, 333 MG Bn 172 Brigade 86th Division, but little else in known about his military service. He succumbed to the devastating effects of pneumonia, brought on by the flu pandemic and died September 26, 1918, in England.
American Legion Post 81
• Private Gustav Berg, 25, was born March 19, 1893, to Gunder and Gunhild Berg. As a young man, he served in the Marines as an infantryman. His 96th Company 6th Marine Regiment was awarded the Fourragere of the Croix de Guerre, having been recognized for actions at Bellau Wood, Soissons, and Blanc Mont. They are one of only two Marine Corps regiments honored in such a way. Berg was killed in action July 19, 1918, during the drive toward Soissons, Vierzy, France. He was the first from Harmony to die in action. He was interred at Somme American Cemetery in Picardie, France. His remains were later returned to the states and he is buried at Greenfield Cemetery in Harmony.
Henry M. Guttormson
American Legion Post 40
• Private Henry Melvin Guttormson, 25, was born February 10, 1893, to Guttorm and Maren Guttormson. He was part of a draft contingent which left Preston September 22, 1917. After basic military training, he sailed for France June 1918 with Company B, 58th Infantry. Guttormson participated in the Meuse-Argonne offensive and early fighting at Chateau Thierry. He was killed in action, near Aisne River, August 6, 1918. Initially buried in the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery, Romagne, France, his remains were transferred on June 19, 1921, to Union Prairie Lutheran Church Cemetery.
Joseph B. Lund
American Legion Post 299
• Joseph B. Lund, 22, was born December 14, 1895, to Lorenz and Anna Lund. He enlisted May 11, 1917, and trained at Jefferson Barracks and Fort Bliss, Tex. He arrived in France the first part of August with the 7th Division. Lund spent part of his service on the firing line, but eventually attended military school at La Valbonne, France. He served Company C, 21 Machine Gun Battalion. Lund was killed in action November 6, 1918. His body was interred at Mabel Lutheran Cemetery.
VFW Post 5769
• Staff Sargeant Grant H. Kittelson, 25, was born August 13, 1918, to Kittel Oleander and Anna Kittelson. He began service April 1, 1941 and received training at Camp Clairborne, La., and Fort Dix, N. J. He was sent overseas to Ireland June 1942, then, later to Africa in January 1943 as an infantryman. Kittelson participated in North American campaign before going into Italy with the 34th Infantry division. February 4, 1944, he was wounded while fighting in the Cassino sector on the Italian front. He died from his injuries three days later. He was buried at Big Canoe Lutheran Cemetery in Winneshiek County, Iowa.
• Technical Sergeant Albertus T. Onsgard, 22, was born May 11, 1921. February 8, 1941, he enlisted with the Air Force at Fort Snelling. He served with the 338th Bomber Squadron, 96th Bomber Group, Heavy in England. On April 11, 1944, Onsgard’s plane was shot down over the North Sea. He was declared missing in action. No body was ever recovered and he was declared killed in action. A marker of remembrance honoring Onsgard stands at Cambridge American Cemetery in Cambridge, England. A second marker was placed at Riceford Norwegian Cemetery.
American Legion Post 544
• Private George Melvin Hanson, 24, was born on October 28, 1893, to Lewis and Caren Hanson. June 5, 1917, he signed his draft papers. Hanson served in Company G, 132nd Infantry. Along with many others, he departed for Europe May 16, 1918, from Hoboken, N. J. Records show Hanson died of disease, likely flu pandemic, on July 4, 1918, in France. Little else is documented about his military service. He is buried at Ostrander Cemetery.
• Corporal Raymond Hatlestad, 23, was born February 22, 1922, to Anton and Ida Hatlestad. He was an airplane gunner. In October 1944, he was declared missing in action after being shot down on his second mission over New Guinea. His status was later changed to killed in action. His body was recovered, along with his plane, and he was laid to rest in an American cemetery in Manilla.
• Second Luitenant John E. Hatlestad, 34, was born March 1, 1910, to Anton and Ida Hatlestad and is the older brother of Raymond Hatlestad. He served as a WWII combat pilot, in the Philippine Islands, receiving both the Silver Star and Purple Heart after leading two squads on a mission. Just three days after his last letter to his wife, Erma, Hatlestad was killed in action on Leyte Island on December 1, 1944. Notice of his death came within a day of receiving the death notice for his brother. He was also buried in the American Cemetery in Manilla.
American Legion Post 526
• Private Stanford Jerome Gilbertson, 31, was born April 8, 1912, to Edward and Bertina Gilbertson. A 1933 Peterson High School graduate, he was dafted at age 29 on March 22, 1942, he began training at Fort Lewis, Wash., and Camp Hood, Tex. He departed for Europe the following Christmas Eve as part of Company A, 6th Armored Infantry Regiment of the 1st Armored Division, “Old Ironsides,” stationed in North Aftrica. Gilbertson was also active in campaign battles of Tunisia against the German Afrika Corps, including the infamous American defeat at Kasserine Pass. By October 1944, he departed for Algeria and landed on the beaches of Naples as part of Invasion of Italy. He was killed in action January 5, 1944, at Mount Porchia and his body cremated. Remains were buried at the Naples-Rome American Cemetery, but later transferred to the states for burial at West Grace Cemetery.
• Private James Arthur Rude, 35, was born September 10, 1909, to Hans and Amanda Rude. Drafted on March 5, 1942, he became part of the 144th Infantry Regiment, training in Washington, North and South Carolina with the 133rd Infantry Regiment of the 34th Infantry Division, dubbed the “Red Bull” regiment. March 1944, Rude was sent overseas to North Africa in. He also participated in the liberation of Rome, including the Battle near Cedrecchia. On October 2, 1944, Rude was killed in action and buried at the Florence American Cemetery.
American Legion Post 166
• Wagoner Frank Clarence Viall, 24, was born May 9, 1893 to Harry and Lulu Viall. Clarence Viall, as he was known by his friends had traveled extensively, seeing a good part of the United States before he enlisted October 9, 1917. He received his basic training at Jefferson Barracks, Mo. and Gettysburg, Pa., before moving on to Charlotte, S. C. Viall’s position in the 61st Infantry Supply Co. was that of Wagoner, which made Viall responsible for driving the team of horses pulling supply, escort, or ambulance wagons, as well as the detailed care if the animals. Viall and his comrades left for France April 1918. He was killed in action November 3, 1918. He was the first Preston man killed in the line of duty and was buried at Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery, Romagne, France.
• Private Lloyd George Magdlin, 27, was born March 18, 1917, to Fred and Elizabeth Magdlin. His induction was December 11, 1942, at Fort Snelling. He proceeded to training at Camp Clairborne, La., Camp Howze, Tex. He was shipped overseas to England March 31, 1944, with the 61st Infantry 5th Division. By way of letter to his mother dated June 8, Magdlin arrived in France a few days after. In just two weeks, he would be declared missing in action. It was later determined that he was killed in action June 23, 1944, three weeks after departing U.S. soil. No other information was given regarding his death. He was laid to rest at Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery, Romagne, France, but his coffin was later returned to the states and interred at Crown Hill Cemetery, Preston.
• Private Julius A. Gilberston, 25, was born May 6, 1893, to Jens and Anna Gilbertson. As was noted in news clippings of the times, he “left with the boys,” from Preston May 28, 1918, headed for Camp Lewis, Wash. He later trained for a short time at Camp Kearney, Calif., before moving on to Camp Mills, N.Y. Gilbertson left for duty August 2 and departed from Brooklyn, N. Y., August 8, 1918, for Europe with Company F, 160th Infantry. Exactly two months later, October 8, he would succumb to death by pneumonia. His body was returned home and he was laid to rest in Crown Hill Cemetery, Preston.
American Legion Post 94 and Joseph M. Johnson
VFW Post 5905
• Seaman, First Class, Joseph Morris Johnson, 22, was born February 4, 1919, to Helmer and Marie Johnson. He was killed in action December 7, 1941, during the attack on Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii. Johnson’s remains were never identified and he is listed as one of the approximately 390 unknowns from the USS Oklahoma and buried in mass graves at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. He was the first Rushford soldier to give his life during WWII.
• Private Charles H. Murphy, Jr., 25, was born September 24, 1892, to Charles and Margaret Murphy. Little has been documented about his military service. He served with Company K, 132nd Infantry in France and died in action on August 14, 1918. He was the first WWI casualty from Rushford. Johnson is buried in St. Joseph’s Cemetery, Rushford.
Everett H. Hale
American Legion Post 68
• Lieutenant Everett Herbert Hale, 26, was born April 10, 1891, to Samuel and Helen Hale. He graduated from the Ward School in 1908 and was a noted student and athlete. In the spring of 1917, Hale enlisted and was sent to train in Waco, Tex., and Fort Dix, N. J. With Company A, 107th Supply Train, he sailed for Europe January 24, 1918, from Hoboken, N. J., aboard the ocean liner, Tuscania. February 5, off the coast of England, a German U-boat torpedoed the ship, causing its eventually sinking. Two hundred ten lives were lost, but Hale survived. While serving in Europe, Hale opted to attend officer training school in France, eventually earning the postion of Second Lieutenant, Company B, 60th Infantry, 5th Division. The unit pushed on into the western front of the Argonne Forest. On October 4, 1919, Hale was declared missing in action. In July, a letter arrived for his family detailing his death during battle, from a shell explosion, on October 14, 1919. He was buried at Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery, Romagne, France, but his coffin was returned home in 1921.
VFW Post 4114
• Private Raymond Helmer Hanson, 34, was born in 1910 to Harry Hanson. He served in the 117th Infantry Regiment, 30th Infantry Division. Few documents of his military service can be found. He was killed in action July 25, 1944, and was buried Normandy American Cemetery, Colleville-sur-Mer, France and his body later returned to the states. He was interred at Bear Creek Lutheran Cemetery.
• Private Theodore Earl Raabe, Jr., 23, born on January 25, 1895, to Theo. Raabe, Sr. and his wife, Carrie. He served with the 18th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division. Raabe was killed in action October 4, 1918, in Romagne, Gironde, Aquitaine, France as allies pushed through the Argonne Forrest. A marker was placed for remembrance at Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery, Romagne, France and another marker later erected in Spring Valley Cemetery.
American Legion Post 637
• Private Ferdinand Herbin Erickson, 26, was born September 30, 1892 to Hans and Ingebor Erickson. On July 25, 1918, the community sent him off with a farewell. He left for Preston to travel with other “boys” to Camp Wadsworth, S. C. September 17, he and Company F, 54th Pioneer Infantry set sail for France. Just eight days later, he was injured in battle in Clearmont, Argonne Woods, and died the following day, September 26, 1918. He was buried in Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery, Romagne, France, but his coffin was later brough home for burial in Whalan Lutheran Church Cemetery.
• Second Lt. Donald Vincent Rose, 23, born October 28, 1918, to Alvin and Josie Rose. He enlisted April 23, 1941, and served in the Marine Corps and was a Dauntless Marine Air Corps Pilot. For his service, he was awarded the Silver Star August 28, 1942. The award is the third highest military decoration and is given for military valor in combat. Sixteen days later, on September 13th at Guadalcanal, in the Solomon Islands, he was killed in action. 1948, Rose’s coffin was returned to Minnesota and interred at Fort Snelling National Cemetery.
American Legion Post 369
• Private George Joseph Stahl, 27, was born September 9, 1891. He departed for service from Preston on June 24, 1918, for Camp Grant, moving on to Camp Mills, N. Y., to complete his training with the 343rd Infantry, 86th Division. Stahl left for Europe and family received notice of his safe arrival in late September, 1918. Sadly, with days or the week, he became the first WWI death from Wykoff, dying September 27, 1918, of pneumonia. He was buried in Surrey, England.
• Private Walter Friedrich “Lindy” Ernest Linnemeyer, 25, Born April 16, 1918 to Henry and Marie Linnemeyer. He enlisted April 22, 1941, and was sent to train at Camp Clairborne, La., until January 1942. From there he received additional training at Fort Dix, N.J. May 14, 1942, Linnemeyer landed in north Ireland, before proceeding through England and no to North Africa with the 34th Division, 185th Field Artillery. He died May 31, 1943, in Halloran general hospital, Willow Brook, N.Y., two hours after he and other casualties arrived there from North Africa. Linnemeyer sustained severe abdominal and shoulder wounds when a shell exploded. He was Wykoff’s first WWII hero. His body was returned home with an escort and was buried in St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church Cemetery.