WWII vet recalls his days in the South Pacific

Ruben Hoglund in 1945, during WWII. Contributed photo

Ruben Hoglund, of Willmar, slowly rolled up the shirt sleeve covering his left arm, revealing a long scar running lengthways from his elbow and extending nearly to his armpit.

“That’s where a sniper’s bullet hit me,” he said, pointing to the crook of his left elbow. “It entered there and went along my arm and missed my heart by six inches.”

Hoglund, 97, who resides in a senior living facility in Willmar, has a memory as sharp as a razor.

“I have bad knees, but I still have a very good memory,” he said with a laugh.

Sometimes, though, Hoglund would just as soon forget some of the things he saw while being stationed in the South Pacific on the Leyte Island in the Phillipines during World War II.

“I saw a lot of blood,” he said. “I saw plenty.”

One of the things Hoglund didn’t see while he was driving a bulldozer on the island was the sniper that took a shot at him.

“Nope, never did see him,” Hoglund said.

Because of Hoglund’s ability to operate several different machines from his days working construction and also from growing up on a farm, he was transferred from an infantryman to a machine operator. One of his duties was to make gravel for the U.S. military vehicles to travel in the remote mountainous area.

“We had to blast the rock from the mountain to make gravel,” he explained. “We dug 120 holes about six feet deep each and put charges in them and we pulverized the rock. Then I got in the bulldozer to move the rocks.”

While he was seated in the bulldozer, the sniper’s bullet struck his arm.

“I didn’t even realize that I was hit at first,” he said. “And then I saw the blood. The medic bandaged me up and I just kept on working.”

The guard stationed nearby discovered the sniper’s location spot and “took him out.” Hoglund’s commanding officer presented Hoglund with the sniper’s rifle as a souvenir.

“When my tour of duty was over and I went back home, I took the gun with me and used it for deer hunting,” Hoglund said proudly. “I probably shot about 25 deer with that gun.”

Hoglund wants to keep the gun in the family so he gave it to his grandson for safekeeping and told him never to sell it.

Hoglund was never awarded a Purple Heart for being injured in the line of duty because a fire destroyed his and others’ military records in at the National Personnel Records Center. He never pursued getting his complete records reworked in order to get his medal.

Ruben Hoglund holds a photo of him saluting after concluding his speech at a Memorial Day at Fairview Cemetery in Willmar in 2015. Photo by Scott Thoma

“What do I need that medal for?” he said. “I wasn’t (serving my country) so I could get a medal.”

Hoglund grew up on his grandfather’s farm north of Pennock, a small community five miles west of Willmar. He attended a one-room country school until the eighth grade.

After helping on the family farm for many years, Hoglund was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1945. He left behind his wife, Vera, and their daughter Sharon. They also later had a son, Charles, who was killed in a construction accident in 1980.

Ruben and Vera were married for 76 1/2 years before her passing in 2017.

“Hold your temper,” Hoglund responded, when asked about the secret to such a long marriage. “We never fought. What was there to fight about? I always made sure she was well taken care of.”

Hoglund is proud of his family’s military background. His oldest brother served in New Guinea during World War II. His youngest brother served in Korea. So Ruben has been giving speeches about freedom and honoring veterans at memorial services and schools for many years.

At his speech last year during the Memorial Day ceremony at the Fairview Cemetery in Willmar, Hoglund looked dapper in his military blue uniform that held his service medals. One of the things Hoglund talks about in his speeches is something his father once taught him.

“There is one sickness I hope you never get; it’s called hate and jealousy,” Hoglund recalled his father telling him. “Doctors and medicine can’t cure it. No one can cure it but you.”

“Those are wise statements from a man born in the 1880s in a two-room log cabin with a dirt floor, no running water or electricity, and eight brothers and sisters. There is too much greed and hate in America today.”

Hoglund feels everyone should be treated in the same manner, regardless of gender, race or power.

“On my second night of guard duty in the Army, I was working the midnight to 4 a.m. shift,” Hoglund said. “At about 2 a.m., my sergeant and a guard relieved me and told me to go and get a cup of coffee so I could stay alert.”

So Hoglund sauntered over to the mess tent and grabbed a cup of strong coffee.

“I heard a guy laying in one of the cots yelling ‘Help,’ so I went over to see what was wrong,” Hoglund remembered. “I asked him ‘What’s the trouble?’ and he said ‘Take a look’ and showed me his two bandaged arms.”

The young man wanted to write a letter home to his mother to let her know he was still alive, but was unable to with his arm injuries.

The man also had no paper to write on, so Hoglund went to the mess hall and found a paper sack to write on.

“I cut out the back of the bag and wrote the letter on it for him,” Hoglund told. “After I was done writing, I folded it up and wrote the address on it. I then put a little flour and water on the edge to stick it together like an envelope and mailed it for him.”

Hoglund told the story in order to conclude that the young man he was helping was “a colored boy.”

“He was there for the same reason I was; to fight for his country,” Hoglund said, emphasizing his point with a stern look that revealed his dislike for racism.

When Hoglund returned to the United States, he held a myriad of jobs, including working for the Great Northern Railway’s mechanical department for 10 years, owning and operating a blacksmith shop in Spicer for six years, construction, and for 10 years as the City Engineer in Spicer before retiring in 1984.

The personable Hoglund insists maintaining a good diet has led to his longevity. And he still makes all his own meals in his apartment.

Ruben Hoglund saluting after concluding his speech at a Memorial Day at Fairview Cemetery in Willmar in 2015. Contributed photo

“I don’t eat the same thing day after day like some people do,” he said. “I eat two meals a day. I have a good breakfast and a light evening meal. I think breakfast is the most important. It’s like when you’re going to use your tractor; you fill the tank in the morning.”

Hoglund still makes 30 to 40 quarts of applesauce with apples from his grandson’s orchard. And he makes homemade fruit jelly, too.

Currently, Hoglund is helping to raise money for granite “Walk of Honor” pavers that will be placed in the Flags of Honor Veteran’s Memorial northeast of Willmar.

“I love my country, the people and our freedom,” he says during his talks. “God bless America and its people.”

And he always concludes with a military salute.