The last men of Luverne prepare for a toast

Bob Collins | MPR News

  1. Listen MPR News host Tom Weber opened the phone lines to veterans on Memorial Day

    May 29, 2017

It’s too late to know now how many of the last men of Luverne wanted to be the last one living.

When their club started in 2010, they bought a bottle of hooch and 24 mugs. When there was only one left, he’d toast the other 23, all veterans of World War II.

Only the aged can reveal the loneliness of losing all of your friends, and nobody really likes drinking alone anyway.

So the three remaining vets aren’t going to wait.

In his interview with MPR’s Tom Weber today, Warren Herreid, one of the three, says they’re going to open the bottle and have a toast. Time uncertain.

Herreid lives in the Minnesota Veterans Home now. His hearing isn’t so good anymore; neither is his eyesight.

“These are heroes among us,” Lori Sorenson, of the Rock County Star Herald, tells Weber on today’s broadcast.

And with good reason.

Luverne is the poster child for World War II service. Ken Burns made it one of four communities profiled in his PBS series, “The War“.

“We joined the National Guard so we’d get a dollar a week; that put us through high school,” Herreid told me when I interviewed him and his clubmates in 2013. “They gave us sweaters and things we needed in high school. Almost all high school guys, juniors and seniors, were in the Guard.”

Three Luverne veterans visited the Herreid Military Museum when I interviewed them in 2013. Left to right: Warren Herreid, Ray Anderson, Helmer Haakenson. Anderson died in December. Herreid and Haakenson are two of the remaining original members. Photo: Bob Collins | MPR News | File

“There’s a lot more going on in their memories and heads than they ever share,” Sorenson tells Weber. “They’re from the Greatest Generation which is known for being quite stoic and quite reserved and the stories that they do have, that they could tell, are pretty heroic. But they just would rather not talk about it.”

She says many of the men she’s interviewed over the years had survivor’s guilt.

I did ask if any of the vets wanted to be the last man when I visited with them in 2013.

“We don’t have any control over it,” Helmer Haakenson, who is still living, said.

  • ec99

    “When their club started in 2010, they bought a bottle of hooch and 24
    mugs. When there was only one left, he’d toast the other 23, all
    veterans of World War II.”

    This is reminiscent of a M*A*S*H episode from decades ago.

    • That episode, involving Col. Potter being the last survivor of his WWI squad, was based on many similar traditions that had its supposed origin (at least its US origin) with Civil War veterans.

  • AL287

    I’m sure many of the Greatest Generation scratch their heads over the more recent generations’ obsession with social media.

    Some of the Greatest Generation have shared their experiences in a limited way like these heroes in brief interviews and in some instances writing a book.

    My mother’s younger brother was with the combat engineers and was first on the beach in the invasions of Saipan and Okinawa. He refused to watch WWII movies or even documentaries about that time in history. The memories were too traumatic.

    My father was drafted near the end of the war and escaped the most traumatic battles and then was transferred to the Phillipines to help rebuild the islands there. He finally returned home in 1946.

    These veterans set the stage for the greatest economic growth in the history of the United States with their strong work ethic,their devotion to family and their loyalty to the country.

    Those of us living in the 21st Century should be so lucky.

  • dukepowell

    My father is a WW II vet who is still alive. It has been only in recent years that he has “opened up” about his war time experiences. The recollections are crystal clear even though, today, he confuses the names of grandchildren.

    I’m going down to southern Indiana in the next few weeks to check up and will make a point to collect his memories.

    • Barton

      My grandpa served in Patton’s army during WWII. He would never ever talk about it. Never, no matter how many times I asked, not even when we watched war movies or documentaries about areas he served in during the war.

      My dad heard him talk about the war once, which was once more than the rest of the family. There was a bad vehicle wreck on their stretch of Hwy 61 in Missouri: one passenger was decapitated. Grandpa said it reminded him of The Battle of the Bulge where if you weren’t careful your head would disappear.

      I am glad you still have your Dad with you.

  • Crikey

    I’d be honored to have a drink with these men any day.

  • Justine Parenteau Wettschreck

    I’ve talked to quite a few of those guys from Luverne over the years. I went on an Honor Flight with a bunch of them. Several of them told me stories that I promised not to share. They just knew I was the wife of a vet and would listen. One story haunts me to this day. I want to go back to that spot in DC and remember that man, feel his hand in mine,the way he gripped it so tight as he told me what happened, and just think about how big he smiled after he was done talking. He said he’d never felt so at peace. “You were married to a snipe,” he said. “You’ve probably heard it all.”