By Jim Palmer
Don’t wait. That is the lesson I have learned over the years as editor of this newspaper. More than once I have waited a bit too long on some really good stories. Other times, we have been fortunate to get the interview and story published just in time.
But as much as I have learned... I’m apparently still learning this lesson. That brings us to the planned story on Clifford Ogdahl, a World War II veteran from Glenwood (where I live and work).
About four years ago, our pastors announced Cliff’s 96th birthday during a church service. He was on my radar before that because he always wore his WWII Veteran hat, but this served as a little nudge/reminder that I had the potential for a great story about a guy sitting just a couple pews down.
Then Covid hit. Interviewing Cliff was off the table for a while. I didn’t see Cliff or anyone from his senior living community for about a year or so. But as restrictions loosened up, I would see Cliff here and there around town.
Last November, I learned that Cliff had turned 99. I remember thinking that the stars were all lining up. Cliff would turn 100 years old this November about the same time we published the Veterans Day special section. I had a list of potential stories for this special section and I wrote Cliff’s name in pencil on top of the list.
In July, I saw Cliff at the grocery store. Here was my chance. He was sitting on a bench near the checkouts. I kneeled down beside him and asked him if he would be open to me interviewing him for a story in Senior Perspective and our Veterans Day special section.
“Oh, I don’t know,” he said, kinda shaking his head.
I had never read a story about Cliff. I’m not sure if his story had ever been told. Many veterans never tell their story, so it is possible that he just wasn’t going to tell his. But we kept talking. I wasn’t going to give up just yet… besides, “I don’t know” isn’t the same as “no.”
“Other than your time in the military and WWII, we can also talk about your life, your family and your upcoming 100th birthday,” I said.
Cliff paused, looked up at me with a half smile, and said, “Well… Ok. Just stop by my apartment sometime and we can chat.”
I thanked Cliff, shook his hand and told him I would be stopping by later in the summer.
His name was now written in pen on my story board for the Veterans Day special section. Our writers and I have done a lot of stories for that special section over the years, but I never had one who lived just two blocks from my office. I was really looking forward to it.
On Aug. 18, a Friday, I made up a list of things to do for the following week. For Monday, I wrote on my calendar, “Call Cliff.” Monday came and it was a wild day, so I moved “Call Cliff” to Tuesday. We still had time. Tuesday came, another busy one but I was planning to call or stop over to his apartment in the afternoon.
Around noon that day, I got a text from my wife. She sent a screen shot of a Facebook post that she saw from a friend. It said, “An officer and a gentleman. Rest in peace, dear Clifford.”
Clifford had died on Monday at the age of about 99.5 years old.
The obituary was posted a couple days later. His birthday was Nov. 4, 1923, exactly one week before Veterans Day. It truly would have been perfect timing to have his story run in the November edition, and have him prominently featured on the front page of the Veterans Day special section. All for not.
Reading through the obituary, I learned more about Cliff. He worked with heavy equipment, helped on a farm for years, was the sexton of the Lutheran cemetery for many years, and also helped at the funeral home all the way up until he was 93 years old.
I scanned the obituary for his military service. There was a paragraph. It read, “Cliff helped his dad and brothers farm until he entered the United States Army on Nov. 21, 1942. He served his country during World War II in New Guinea and the Philippines. He was honorably discharged on Jan. 8, 1946.”
What happened in those 3+ years during WWII was going to be a big part of our conversation. But that conversation didn’t happen. I don’t know if he would have said much about it either. But the potential was there.
Of course, not all veterans are willing to talk about their service. I completely respect that. And my conversation with Cliff at the grocery store is an example of about as far as I will go to try to convince a veteran to share their story. And while I respect the fact that some veterans do not want to share their story, I also see the importance in sharing these stories with the next generation. Sure, kids can read about war in history books, but there is nothing like first-hand conversations with a veteran to really give a young person a true understanding of what war is really about.
Although Cliff’s article didn’t happen, I do plan to make a visit to our county museum to check out his files someday. Perhaps a story was done before I moved to town. I’m curious to learn more about him and his service to our country and our community.
Our special tribute to living veterans, “Heroes Honored,” is included in all five editions of the Senior Perspective this month. And while I was not able to feature Cliff, we did find a 105-year-old WWII veteran willing to tell his story along with a couple of Vietnam veterans with interesting stories to tell. We hope you enjoy Heroes Honored. We are proud to publish it.
The Senior Perspective cookbook (Vol. 21) has been printed and will be distributed between Oct. 27-Nov. 5. A list of locations that carry the books is printed in the middle of Heroes Honored special section, along with the classified ads. Why are these in the Veterans Special Section? Since these pages would be included in all five editions, we add four pages and print them in the special section to save on printing costs. We hope you enjoy this year’s cookbook!