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My Life, My Story by Clair

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"During my service, I saw places I probably never would have been able to visit and I met a lot of good guys from all over the United States."

When Veterans share their stories through the My Life, My Story project we build stronger connections between Veterans and their health care teams. We'd like to thank all the Veterans who have shared their stories so far and for sharing their stories with you.

My Life, My Story believes that stories heal, teach and are powerful. You have a story that we want to hear, contact Casey Gunderson at 612-629-7618.

Clair's My Life, My Story

My name is Clair. I’m 92 years old and I was born on the family farm in Redwood County, MN in 1926. I was the 4th of 5 children with 2 older brothers and 2 sisters.

Some of my first memories when I was young were from the depression in the 30’s when the banks failed. It was a difficult time. We felt fortunate to live on a farm and at least have food. Some farmers would mark their mailboxes for hobos going from home to home looking for food or work. My mother cooked dinner for some. They would go down to the creek to bathe and then sleep in our hay barn. When WWII started, it helped end the depression.

Early on in the war, some German prisoners captured by our troops in North Africa were sent to POW camps here in MN. There was one close by in New Ulm, which has a large German population. I remember seeing some of these prisoners working in a nearby field one day. They also worked at the canning factories, replacing our soldiers serving in the military.

Because this is such a German area, most people treated the POWs very well, making them good meals. You could get in trouble and be fined for treating them too well. Some of these guys even came back to the area after the war and became citizens.

All 3 boys in our family served in the war, but at different times. I was a sophomore in high school then and they allowed one son to stay on the farm to help with the farm work.

My oldest brother, Urban “Judge”, was drafted into the Army in 1942. He was in the Normandy Invasion, Northern France, The Battle of the Bulge, Central Europe and the Rhineland Campaign. He made it through all of these, but didn’t like to talk about his time there.

My sister Ruth’s husband was a Navy doctor and served on a destroyer in the Pacific.

In 1943 my brother Ralph enlisted in the Navy and served in the Aleutian Islands west of Alaska. When he discharged and came home, I enlisted in the Army and trained at Camp Polk, LA. I was assigned to a troop ship en route to Japan. At that time they sent soldiers by ship, not planes. It took us 21 days on a ship to get there, stopping for 2 days on the island of Guam. It was towards the end of WWII when the Allies, led by General Douglas MacArthur, occupied Japan. Tokyo had been heavily bombed, but not the Imperial Palace. I served with the Military Police battalion there and our role included patrolling, working on the riot squad and sometimes we did escort service on our motorcycles for General MacArthur, although he had his own honor guard.

The civilian Japanese people I met were mostly courteous and cooperative, with good family values, but not their soldiers. One night our chaplain was walking outside while reading from his breviary prayer book. He was fatally stabbed by a Japanese soldier carrying a grudge I guess.

Another night I was on duty and I got a radio message that our barracks was burning. By the time we got there, it was gone. All our things…gone. There were guys digging in the ashes for diamonds they got on the market. We never found the cause of that fire.

During my service, I saw places I probably never would have been able to visit and I met a lot of good guys from all over the United States.

After I was discharged, I came back to the family farm. I was 21 years old. My mother died that fall from cancer. She was 52. Well that changed things. Instead of going to school, I thought I better stay and help my dad with farming, so I did. I met my future wife Gwenn in 1948. Her parents farmed nearby. We dated awhile and then she went off to school and work on the West Coast. We reconnected 5 years later when she moved back. We married and have 5 daughters. Today is actually our 65th wedding anniversary and I feel very fortunate to have such a good wife and good daughters. Gwenn and I still live on the family farm and it was recognized as a century farm last year for being in the family 100 yrs.

I still love to read and have morning coffee with my friends. We have a large lawn that I mow and I help my wife with her organic garden. We’re a little too old to travel much now.

I would like my providers at the Minneapolis VA to know how much I appreciate them. They provide great care and it’s one of the best VA’s in the country. They’ve always been good to me. I’ll be 93 in August and I’m lucky to have such special people helping me.

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