By PATRICIA BUSCHETTE
Myrna Stolen, of Marshall, looked for the latest issue of Senior Perspective, as was her habit. However, when she saw the front page of the August edition of the paper, she could hardly believe it.
“I am related to that man!” she said after seeing the name and photo of Larry Melsness on the cover story.
The article featured Larry, a brother to Army veteran, Cpl. Earl W. Melsness. Earl Melsness, captured during the Korean War, was unaccounted for, and is presumed to have been killed in action, or killed while in captivity.
The article related the experience of Larry Melsness who traveled from Mound, Minn., to attend a Memorial Day service in Renville, Minn., in 2018. He and his wife Helen came, as they often did, to hear the name of Larry’s brother Earl intoned in the Roll Call.
The scheduled speaker, a Minnesota State Senator, had failed to make an appearance. Chris Dunsmore, the commander of Adwell - Garvey Post 180, described emotions ranging from anger to apprehension. He quickly recovered, and as he later explained, “I always have a Plan B in my pocket.”
He launched into a description of his research of records of local veterans who are missing in action or killed in action. He titled his talk, “Though we are here to remember, there is so much that has been forgotten.” He focused on the disappearance of Cpl. Melsness who was captured at the Battle of Chosin Reservoir in North Korea on Nov. 30, 1950. His body was never recovered. After the program, Larry approached the commander, and said “Earl Melsness was my brother.”
On the Memorial Days that followed, Larry and Helen Melsness returned to Renville. On Memorial Day 2022, they relived the memories of the exchange in 2018. The article told the story of that connection.
Myrna called her brother David Yaeger who lives in rural Granite Falls, who then read the article. He was certain that Larry Melsness was his cousin.
“The first thing I did was to look up the name Larry Melsness,” he said, “I found a number of people with that name, and got a phone number. On my first call, I reached Larry. It took me some time to gain his trust,” he said. He did so by sharing family names demonstrating that he knew the family. “Once he realized who I was, we talked for about 45 minutes,” he added.
Together, the two planned a family reunion.
“We had not seen each other for 70 years,” Larry said, and he and his wife Helen made arrangements to meet his cousin David and other family members. The meeting was agreed upon for Sept. 13, at a restaurant in Glencoe midway between Granite Falls and Mound, Minn.
The table at Bump’s restaurant in Glencoe, was filled that day with members of the family, as lively conversation, memories, and photographs were shared around the table.
Present were David and Darlene Yeager, of rural Granite Falls, Larry and Helen Melsness of Mound, David’s sister, Myrna Stolen of Marshall, David’s sister Beverly Svobodny of Granite Falls, a niece, Barbara Provencher of Litchfield, daughter of David’s deceased sister Eleanor, and Barbara’s daughter Carsti.
While there was family conversation around the table, the connection was primarily between cousins David and Larry. The comparison between the earlier years were remarkably consistent, while the paths of later years were divergent.
Larry was born in Sacred Heart and lived in Renville for a few years. When his mother remarried and later died in childbirth, he went to Redwood Falls School, entering the fifth grade. His mother’s death and his brother’s death occurred nearly at the same time when he was 10 years old. He was happy to spend a summer with his cousin, Eleanor. While living there, he became attached to their dog, and he remembered fondly the fact that they gave the dog to him.
David’s family lived on land near the Minnesota River. The land flooded frequently, and the farm was lost. While Larry has no surviving siblings, David grew up with four sisters and one brother. David’s father left when he was 10 years old to take a job at a silo company some distance away, and the children seldom saw him.
David also remembered spending time with his sister Eleanor and her husband Emmet at their home where he worked. “I liked working for them – Emmet taught me a lot,” he said. “It was a stable environment that we did not have at home.”
Both Larry and David remembered concern for Earl who was in the army. David told of sitting on the stairway steps and listening to the radio for his cousin’s name among those who had been killed.
Larry’s loss of his brother and mother left an indelible pain.
There weren’t many connections between the two when growing up, but the conversation became animated when they talked about swimming and quarries. “We used to swim in Goldmine Lake,” Larry said while David told of swimming in a quarry near Echo. The conversation became lively when they spoke of the enormous depth and frigidity of the quarries. Neither swam well, and both were apprehensive about the experience.
Both experienced careers in education, including successful careers through different routes. During their sharing, they learned that they both had an affinity for mathematics.
“I went to school at Mankato, Northern State University in Aberdeen, South Dakota, and the University of Minnesota,” Larry said. “I went on to teach for 30 years in Orono, teaching fifth grade math and science. I was media director and librarian as well.”
David graduated from Sacred Heart high school in 1959. He worked for Rogers Hydraulics for eight years, gaining the experience required to teach at Granite Falls Area Vocational Technical Institute, now known as Minnesota West Community and Technical College. “Through my experience, I gained the knowledge and expertise necessary to teach,” he said. He began teaching geometry and trigonometry in 1969. “Math was a favorite,” he said. “I could teach in the classroom and go down and put teaching into practice in the shop.”
The subject of sports was a common denominator and the two talked about sports teams. David recounted his experiences as a player on the Sacred Heart football team during the time Larry was a student at Redwood Falls. The two teams were undefeated but the Sacred Heart team prevailed. They bandied about players’ names as if the teams had played last week.
The sharing was interrupted briefly as menus were consulted, food was ordered, and the conversation continued in earnest.
There was discussion about traveling. Larry told of upcoming meetings in Washington DC during which families will learn more about the status of recovery of the remains of US soldiers killed in action. Larry’s DNA is used to establish the identity of his brother’s body.
While there may be closure to the whereabouts of the body of Larry’s brother and David’s cousin, there is no doubt there will be continued sharing between the two families.