HIBBING — Herbert Garrard received a Purple Heart for his service in the U.S. Army Air Corps in World War II. “He was involved in a total of seven plane crashes and survived them all!” In one incident, his plane was hit while flying over Belgium. The crew lost oxygen, but were able to safely land in Africa.
James Robertson obtained the rank of Sergeant while serving in the U.S. Air Force in World War II. He was a pilot and flew the Consolidated B-24 Liberator, a heavy bomber in the South Pacific.
When Cecil Hess served in the U.S. Navy, he was stationed on the Great Lakes and taking reserves out on the waters for training at three-week intervals. On one occasion, crews on his ship “set up a pulley system” to shimmy him across open waters so he could board another vessel experiencing radar troubles.
These were some of the autobiographical stories Kelly Squires, the activity director at Guardian Angels Health and Rehabilitation Center in Hibbing, relayed to a crowd of staff, residents and visiting veterans during a Veterans Day event on Monday afternoon.
“Today, it is our privilege to say ‘thank you’ to all of America’s veterans to let them know that we appreciate them for their service and honor them for their sacrifices,” Squires said. “We cannot afford to forget those willing to pay it.”
The event was presented by various Hibbing service organizations, including Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1221, American Legion Post 222, Disabled American Veterans Chapter 3, AmVets Post 12 and Post Auxiliaries.
Jack Lund, the commander of the local VFW Post, joined a host of veterans in visiting the residents here to honor the staff and residents here and their families. Brian Tammi, of the Mid-Range Color Guard, performed the placing of the local American Flag. Al Nickila, the commander of the American Legion Post, kicked off the Pledge of Allegiance. And Quentin Johnson, the chaplain of the VFW, read the opening prayer before several dozen people seated in the audience.
When reading a speech from the VFW, Tammi explained that the nation celebrates more than 23 million veterans and service members on Veterans Day “to recognize and honor all those who have placed country above self, who have determined the safety and security of others as more important than their own, and who have done their duty by taking their place in line just as generations of military men and women have done before them.” He continued, “From the jungles of Vietnam to the rocky slopes of Afghanistan, from Pork Chop Hill to the Persian Gulf, and from Bastogne to Baghdad. For every single man and woman who has donned a U.S. military uniform, by virtue of their service and sacrifice, today is their day to stand tall and be recognized by a grateful nation.”
Shane Roche, the administrator at Guardian Angels, shared his gratitude to everyone who came to the event. “I’m honored to have this program here,” Roche said. “Thank you for your strength, courage and dedication to serving our nation.” He also gave thanks to State Sen. David Tomassoni, of Chisholm, for attending the event and for being as “a champion for all veterans.”
Staff and visiting veterans helped hand out gift bags from the DAV Auxiliary to the resident veterans and presented them with small flags and pins for their keeping.
According to the event’s program, the names of other resident veterans included Orville Rittgers, Tony Pingatore, Fred Lunka, Donald Toivola, Richard Krollman and Robert Grewe, who all served in the Army. Patrick Degnan served in the Navy. Staff at the Guardian Angel who served in the military included Sunny Simpson in the Navy; Wayne Kiel in the Air Force; Gene Curnow in the U.S. Marines; and Chad Hughes and Brad Eastman in the Army.
In highlighting military achievements, Squires described how Harold Salminen obtained the rank of sergeant while serving in the Army in World War II. He was training to be a gunner on a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress — which he called “a junker in the air.” He was flying over Georgia at one time when the pilot radioed to them that the war was over. “He obtained his freedom, as he was discharged on July 4, 1946.”
Squires asked the crowd to not forget about female veterans, such as Lynn Johnson who served in the Army Reserve from 1973 to 1980 in the Vietnam War. She was a clerk in California. She was an expert riflist and her unit was the last to be awarded the National Defense Medal. She also earned a Humanitarian Ribbon for her work with Cuban refugees. “This was the most important achievement to her.”
Squires offered another tidbit about Johnson that gained much applause and laughs from the crowd. “During her time in the Army Reserves, they learned that she could out drink the boys at the bar, and she was a terrible driver,” she said. “She almost lost three generals out of the back of the Jeep she was driving. But she wasn’t drinking when she was driving them around.”