...and then there were two
One of Luverne’s most celebrated World War II veterans died Thursday, Oct. 26, leaving behind a legacy of military service in a community that meant the world to him.
Warren Herreid Sr. was 96 years old when he passed away peacefully in the Minnesota Veterans Home in Luverne.
The coffee mug with his name on it has been turned upside down in the Luverne grocery deli where Herreid and his comrades founded the Last Man’s Club in 2010.
“He was a good guy — a real good guy,” said 98-year-old Helmer Haakenson. “I was in the Army with him, and he wasn’t afraid to do anything.”
He and LeRoy Luitjens are now the only remaining Last Men of the 24 original World War II veterans in the coffee club. They will be honorary pallbearers in Herreid’s funeral Thursday morning (today).
“It’s coming to an end,” Haakenson said. “There’s nothing we can do about it.”
Only a few years back, the Glen’s Food Center deli table was filled with World War II veterans sipping coffee, swapping war stories and joking about which branch of the military was better.
Haakenson said he and Herreid had known each other since they were kids. They and their other club members grew up in a 1930s-era Luverne where the military was a way of life when boys lied about their age to join the National Guard.
Haakenson said he clearly remembers Jan. 16, 1941, when he and Herreid boarded a train with 124 other local recruits at the Luverne depot where thousands gathered to bid them farewell.
He and Herreid chugged along on that train to California and to a whole new world of military service. Six months later they were in Kodiak, Alaska, and then to battlegrounds in Europe.
Years later they returned home as grown men, forever changed by the influences of war.
In a Star Herald Millennium special edition, Herreid talked about a particularly dangerous Battle of the Bulge in 1944 when communication lines were cut.
Herreid and another soldier braved heavy artillery fire to reconnect wires between the command post and headquarters. In the process, he was injured by shrapnel to his leg.
The Army awarded him the Bronze Star, which would be the first of many commendations.
“He was very good with his hands,” Haakenson said about his friend who went on to repair clocks and watches in the family Herreid Jewelry business back in Luverne.
Herreid, like most other combat veterans, didn’t forget those days on the battlefield.
“I think you’ll find that most any combat veteran will be reluctant to talk about their experience,” Herreid said in that summer of 2000 interview.
“I saw lots of dead bodies — thousands of German bodies. We had to walk over them on some battlefields. I’ve tried to forget about lots of things that I saw and had happen to me during that war.”
Despite his war experiences, he never considered himself a hero. In fact, he turned down a Purple Heart medal, because that was for his “many friends and comrades who suffered serious wounds, lost limbs and even their lives in battle,” he told the Star Herald in 2003.
“With my minor Band-Aid wound, I couldn’t in good conscience accept this prestigious medal,” Herreid said.
“Those, like my good friend, (the late) Johnny Johnson, who honestly earned this award with their sacrifices, are the true heroes of the war.”
This humility was characteristic of most Last Man’s Club members and of the Greatest Generation as a whole.
“We got out,” Haakenson said last week. “The heroes are the ones who lost their lives.”
Service beyond the service
When the war ended, Herreid continued serving in the National Guard and retired in 1981 as a sergeant major.
He was active in the Luverne VFW and served as post commander from 1993 to 1996. After that he was appointed by the governor to the National Citizen’s Committee of Luverne, and he continued to serve as a member of the southwest Minnesota ESGR (Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve).
These efforts didn’t go unnoticed.
In 2002 Herreid’s name was etched in stone in Camp Ripley’s Court of Honor Military Museum, which was established to honor individuals “who have, through dedicated service to State and Nation, attained uncommon prestige or who have performed otherwise highly distinguished service over an extended period of years.”
It was a proud moment for Herreid.
“That made me feel really good to see my name alongside of these people I’ve respected through the years — almost all generals are on this list,” he said that spring about the award. “It’s kind of an awesome honor.”
Herreid was nominated for recognition by the Camp Ripley Memorialization Board, which is comprised of decorated colonels and generals, mostly retired.
“I really am very proud to be able to represent Luverne and my National Guard family from Luverne,” Herreid was quoted as saying. “Luverne is a very strong Guards town, and I’m proud to represent my generation of that family with this honor.”
His nomination to the Court of Honor stems largely from his role in developing a military leadership weekend course after he became operations sergeant of the G-3 in the mid-1970s.
His book, “The Professional Military Leader,” was the preface of a teaching manual used in the course, which became the precursor to training later conducted by the Minnesota Military Academy.
“Luverne is a great town. I have a lot of military comrades and friends here,” he told the Star Herald in 2002.
“There’s something special about the Guards family that help you through life. Also, the women of the Guards are very important. It takes you away from your family a lot, and my wife (Joyce) has been very supportive.”
Herreid’s son, Warren Herreid II, often returns to Luverne to honor his dad’s mission. He and his wife, Jeannine Rivet, established the KAHR Foundation, which has helped to fund the Rock County Veterans Memorial and the Veterans Memorial Building (the former jail).
The most recent KAHR contribution will bring a new Minnesota National Guard Armory to Luverne in 2020.
Honoring and remembering
Luitjens said he admired Herreid for his dedication to veterans.
“He was a person who could get things done and it would be done well,” he said. “And he liked to joke around with us … I guess that comes from military life.”
At their first Veterans Day toast in 2010, Herreid introduced the club’s purpose.
"To some, it may sound morbid, waiting for everyone to die except one," Herreid said. But he explained the group's purpose was to honor the members and to remember the ones who had died.
Seated with Herreid at the Last Man head table were Tim Tangeman, Ray Anderson, Helmer Haakenson, Jake Boomgaarden, Earl Glaser, LeRoy Luitjens, Casey Van Engelenhoven, Russ Swenson and Bob Anderson.
Seats and nametags at the table noted members unable to attend that night. Johnny Johnson, Big Carrigan and Bob Juhl were absent for health reasons, and Conrad Tofteland had already moved to Florida for the winter.
Chairs shrouded in black were placed at the table with name cards for the members who recently died.
"They may be gone, but they are here with us in spirit," Herreid said at that 2010 banquet, his voice cracking as he toasted the missing members. "We miss them. … We will never forget the hours spent together at Glen's coffee."
Those names included Ted Anderson, Lawrence Akkerman, Floyd Goembel, George Gabrielson, Harvey Ball, Darwin Rogness, Charles Mann, Lawrence Overgaard, Bill Veenhof and Ray Slieter.
And then there were two
At one point this spring, Herreid pondered the notion of the last three last men — he and Haakenson and Luitjens — sharing a toast together from the Last Man’s Club bourbon.
“Maybe we’ll invite Mrs. Pawlenty,” he told the Star Herald in May during a visit to his room in the Veterans Home.
Mary Pawlenty said the Luverne World War II veterans “captured her heart,” and she paid visits to their coffee group and invited them to tea in the Governor’s Mansion in 2005.
Now, it’s up to Luitjens and Haakenson.
Article Ten of the Last Man’s Club bylaws dictates what will happen when one remains:
The Last Man will remove the Official Bottle from the cabinet and put it in front of his own place setting at the banquet table.
At the conclusion of the meal, the Last Man will unseal and open the bottle and present it to the maitre d’ who will fill the glass of the Last Man. The Last Man will then propose a toast to the Members who preceded him in death, with a salute to them before taking the first drink from his glass.
At that time, the maitre d’ will fill the glasses of the guests who will propose a toast to the Last Man Club, raising their glasses to those who have gone before, and finally, to the Last Man before drinking.
Herreid’s complete obituary appears on page 7A.