Members of the Milaca Korean War Last Man’s Club get together each year at the Milaca American Legion banquet room. This photo was taken in 2013. The group includes (front, L to R) Harold Hassing, Gene Eggen, Charles Yetzer, Louis Smith, Robert Beaver, (back L to R) Ralph Sagerstrom, Kenneth Edgren, Ernie DeBoer, Bob Becker, Leroy Ekberg, Bill Lindholm, Lyle Helmen, Henry Michael, Sid Santema, Arnold Eggert and George Besser. Contributed photo
Those who serve together often form a unique bond. For a National Guard unit out of Milaca, that bond is still holding strong more than 60 years later.
George Besser, of Sauk Rapids, grew up in Milaca and was listening to WCCO radio with his dad when they learned that George’s National Guard unit was being mobilized to prepare for duty in the Korean War. It was a couple of weeks before Christmas, 1950.
“I was shocked,” said George, “I had a cousin who had just been killed in Korea so the news was very tough on our family.”
The Milaca Company C First Battalion 194th Armor Tank/47th Infantry Division gathered at the railroad on Jan. 16, 1951, for a send off to Camp Rucker in Alabama. A group of 110 guardsmen boarded the train that day. Each soldier received cigarettes and candy bars from the the local VFW and American Legion. The Geideon Camp had distributed New Testaments to each of the men earlier in the week.
“The day we left, it was freezing,” said Besser. “It is 25-30 below zero. They let the schools out to see the train leave.”
Four members of the group, Jarvis Anderson, Bill Lindholm, Ralph Segerstrom and George Thome, stayed behind as they were still attending high school.
The ride down was very cold, and many were sick by the time they reached Camp Rucker. They picked up additional troops in Princeton and Anoka. The Hutchinson unit also joined the delegation. Despite a full train, all those bodies weren’t enough to keep the train warm.
“I was a cook, and when we got there, all the food was froze up. All we had to feed the group was salt-cured ham and bread,” said George.
Upon arrival, the unit, led by Paul Olson, started to train on an M4A3 tank, working with a crew of five men.
Training was tough. To replicate the conditions in Korea, the men trained in the swamps of Alabama. Besser said the biggest concern during these training sessions were snakes, as several soldiers received snake bites.
The Company “C” 194th Tank Battalion 47th Infantry Division came together for a photo on Jan. 16, 1951. The group includes Noel Asp, Amemer Anderson, Jarvis Anderson, Oscar Anderson, Ronald Anderson, Robert Beaver, Robert Becker, Hollis Berg, George Besser, Jr., Myron Bloomquist, Neil Bloomquist, Robert Burckhardt, Sr., Robert Buckhardt, Jr., Eugene Burk, James Burns, Harry Byker, Donald Christensen, Donald Cotch, Frank Dahl, John Dahl, Mahlon Dahl, Chester Dahlberg, Jr., Ernest DeBoer, Gerrit DeBoer, Charles DeHart, Leroy E. Eckberg, Kenneth Edgren, Gene Eggen, Arnold Eggert, Alvin Freese, Theodore Green, John Gunnick, James Halverson, Douglas Hammill, Harold Hassing, Gordon Heim, Dale Helmen, Lloyd Helmen, Lyle Helmen, James Holmgren, William Hopp, Robert Hovland, Harold Jacobsen, Alan Jacobson, Donald Johnson, Kenneth Johnson, Larry Johnson, James Kelly, John Kulyas, Kenneth Kuperus, Carl Lepinski, William Lindholm, Edward Lundberg, David Lundgren, Grant Magnuson, Albert Mathie, Melvin Mattson, Henry Michael, Dean Moline, Hobart Moline, Edwin Monroe, John N. Nelson, John R. Nelson, Wayne Norrgard, Paul Olson, Gerald Otten, Eugene Palmquist, Earl Pleak, Maurice Quam, Myrland Ramsdell, Garritt Santema, Sidney Santema, Henry Schreur, Ralph Segerstrom, Ted Sienko, Max Slater, Edward Smith, Joseph Smith, Louis Smith, Orlin Stanchfield (killed in action), John Strait, Carl Stromberg, George Thome, Peter Tingblad, Roy Warolin, Kenneth Weaver, Francis Weaver, Francis Welty, Mark Wise, S. Henry Wood, Charles Yetzer, Gerald Ziemer.
After the initial round of training, according to an article in the Mille Lacs County Times, 15 men from Company C then received orders to the battle lines in Korea. Others continued to train and prepare for battle. On July 27, 1953, the Korean War was resolved with a military stalemate. All but one of the men was able to come home. Orlin Stanchfield was killed in action over in Korea.
Shortly after returning home, the unit started to meet regularly in Milaca, at the American Legion. Sixty years later, the group is still meeting at the Legion.
The group is now to referred to as the “Last Man Club,” and its membership has declined significantly over the years. While the unit membership is declining, remaining members have vowed to continue to meet annually until the last man is standing. The last meeting was held just a couple of weeks ago in Milaca, and about a dozen men were able to attend.
“It was an unbelievable group of men,” said Besser. “I was very proud to work with them.”
The remaining men in the Last Man Club are Jarvis Anderson, of Plainview, Robert Beaver, of St. Cloud, Robert Becker, of Cannon Falls, George Besser, Jr., of Sauk Rapids, James Burns, of Foreston, Don Christensen, of Rochester, John Dahl, of Vernon, Fla., Ernest Deboer, of Wayzata, Kenneth Edgren of Blaine, Gene Eggen of Onamia, Arnold Eggert, of Mora, Lyle Helmen, of Duluth, Bob Hovland, of Sparks, Nev., Donald Johnson, of Bloomington, Carl Lepinski, of Brooklyn Center, William Lindholm, of Alexandria, Grant Magnuson, of Milaca, Albert Mathie, of Milaca, Henry Michael, of Circle Pines, Dean Molin, of St. Cloud, Ervin Monroe, of Milaca, Wayne Norrgard, of Boyceville, Wis., Gerald Otten, of St. Michael, Maurice Quam, of Brooklyn Park, Ralph Segerstrom, of Grand Rapids, Carl Stromberg, of Milaca, George Thome, of Sandy, Utah, Kenneth Weaver, of Northfield and Mark Wise, of Wyoming, Minn.
A list of all the original members are printed in the caption below the photo above.