NOTE: This newspaper article, on the 1983 reunion in Minneapolis, MN, was written by Staff Writer Dave Wood and appeared in the Neighbors section of the Sept. 17, 1983 Minneapolis Star and Tribune.

[Bracketed] information was not in the original article. Thanks to Lawrence and Maggie Bray for providing me with a copy of the article.





By: Dave Wood
Staff Writer

Jake Verkennes of Edina called the other day to tell Neighbors he was taking off on a 16-day trip in September. Verkennes served in the U.S. Army's Ninth Armored Division. He fought in the Battle of the Bulge and his battalion captured the bridge at Remagen, made famous in books and a movie.

The trip, he said, would take him and his army buddies to the sites where they fought in 1945. Verkennes thought Neighbors might be interested in a story. A Neighbors reporter was very interested, but his editor pointed out that the trip, which would stop off at places like Bastogne, St. Vith, Koblenz, Leipzig and Malmedy, might cost a bit more than the budget would allow.

To be exact, $1,750 from John F. Kennedy Airport.

So the reporter opted for the next best thing-the 26th reunion of the 818th Tank Destroyer Battalion, held on Aug. 18-20. Not in Normandy where they landed. Not in the Rhineland or Ardennes-Alsace. Not in Central Europe. But at the downtown Holiday Inn, Minneapolis. The reporter plugged a parking meter on Nicollet Av. with a quarter. The rest of the trip was free.

The 818th had reserved a suite and on the first day of the reunion folks were checking in from all over the country. "Hi, Haber," shouted a bunch of fellows in leisure dress to a fellow who had just walked in, sporting a red-and-white-checked coat. William Haber [deceased-1998] of A Company waved back, explained that he'd missed the reunions after 1979, when he had a heart attack. A.F. Allison [C Company deceased-1997], a lanky guy of 69, stood by the reception suite door, shaking hands with old buddies. He was the first out-of-towner to arrive. He lives in Little Rock, Ark., these days, but remembers when he was a truck driver in Tennessee and was drafted. "I was supposed to be a gunner. That was my M.O. But I was just one of the boys. In our outfit, whatever we had to do, we did it. I went back to the 'States' after the war and started trucking again. How many reunions have I been to? Oh, I don't know. Just say a bunch of 'em."

One man who hasn't been to a bunch of them was Pfc. Larry Bray [A Company], 64, of Minneapolis. "I had an unlisted phone number," said Bray, "so I didn't get found until 1974." In 1982, Bray was elected president of the 818 TD BN at the group's meeting in Hammond, La., and this year he and his wife Maggie, had lots of busywork and headaches as hosts to the event. But as people came in, Larry said all the headaches were worthwhile. Former president Joe Goeden [B Company], 67, a construction-company owner from Yankton, SD., stood by his side as vice president. They greeted recent arrivals and passed out materials about Minneapolis and about the 818 TD BN, "Seek-Strike-Destroy." A mimeographed history of the group was prepared by Lt. Col. T.L. Haworth [Hdq Company deceased-1989], now a real estate appraiser in Tulsa, Okla.

And a meticulous roster has been kept for many years by battalion secretary Oscar Gingrich [Recon Company], now of Waterloo, Iowa. The constantly updated roster lists an American melting pot of names and places, some of them stamped "deceased." Names like Earl Christopherson [Recon Company deceased-1992] of Irene, S.D.; George Perez  [Recon Company] of North Hollywood, Calif.; Harry Drinkwater [A Company] of Manchester, Conn,. And Fowler Wright [A Company deceased-1987] of Cookeville, Tenn.

The deceased section comes at the end of the roster, a cryptic, haunting, final chapter in one of the wars to end all war: Hubert Murphey [Recon Company] of New York, N.Y., died at Conde-en-Brie, France, Aug 28, 1944; Raymond E. Ledbetter [B Company] of Sigel, Pa., killed in action, no one seems to know where. Harry Simpson [A Company], no hometown or date, "killed in action, no one knows where." And "[Sgt John] Pasternak [A Company]," no first name, no hometown, no nothing, simply, "killed in action [1 Aug 1944]."
     "I didn't know there was another Swede in the outfit!" exclaimed Veryll Magneson [Hdq Company] of Villisca, Iowa. The object of his exclamation was Delwin Johnson [A Company], who brought his wife, Grace, to the shindig, all the way from Loomis, Neb. Magneson not only brought his wife, Ruth [deceased-2001], but also his daughter, Connie, of  Red Oak, Iowa.

And so it went that first morning of registration. Albert Ortiz [B Company deceased-2001], 66, a retired carpenter from Alburquerque, N.M., popped in. He was drafted out of a Colorado road construction gang when he was 24 and ended up as a tank driver. "This is the nicest bunch of boys. They don't make 'em any better and (Gen.) Patton was a great old man, boy," said Ortiz, who was president and host when the group met in Alburquerque three years ago. Ortiz is a jolly fellow, unwilling to talk about the war unless the context promises fun. "Seemed like the tank I drove always had to go in first. I never was scared going out. We'd fire our rounds, then head back. Then I'd be scared as hell. I'd ask myself, 'Why weren't you scared going out?' And the answer would be, 'It must have been the cognac.'" Ortiz said life had been good to him since the war, despite the fact that his wife, Rena [deceased-1989], needs the service of a kidney machine. But she was with him in Minneapolis and as he spoke, she was returning with other wives from a tour of the Betty Crocker Kitchens.

The fellows standing around the Holiday Inn suite looked pretty much like most guys in their mid-60s. They didn't talk about the horrors of war or the close shaves this buddy or that were party to. They talked about what's happening now and about the evening's cruise on the Mississippi's Jonathan Padelford, about the trip to Fort Snelling on Friday, the banquet on Saturday and dancing to the music of Vic Tedesco, St. Paul councilman and "Polka King."

Neighbors finally realized it wasn't going to get any grisly notes for a latter-day version of "The Red Badge of Courage," so retreated from the Holiday Inn, and stabilized its position in a redoubt at the Star and Tribune.

Pfc. Larry Bray is a soft-spoken man, and four days after his tour of duty as head honcho at the battalion reunion, he was pooped out. He worked for years in supply at Oxford properties, but a back injury laid him low and he hasn't worked for more than a year. He agrees that not many of his old buddies talk about the war these days. "They're more interested in just getting together and talking about what's happening now." He says the reunions have changed over the years.

“I guess they used to be wilder, more booze. But we've got away from that. We didn't provide any liquor in the hospitality room. Some people like it, but some don't. So why cause a problem? I figure people make more sense when they're talking if they're not drinking."

Bray sat in his chair in the living room of the Brays' comfortable apartment in the old Maryland Hotel. He smiled, shook his head and remembered the days when he did his share of drinking, how he ended up on Washington Av. In 1958, working temporary jobs, drinking full time, how he made up his mind to go into treatment. He hasn't had a drink since.

u_1983-3He figures he got too deep into booze during those difficult days in 1944-45 when his battalion spent almost a year at the front, when he spent his time running reconnaissance alongside the open-turreted tank destroyers that raced across Europe, or stringing telephone lines back to command posts when the vehicles dug in to double as artillery emplacements. "When we got to France, we got Calvados first, apple jack. Tasted like lamp fluid. But later there was cognac and champagne at Reims. Good stuff. I guess we were just up there too long. Oh, not that it was so bad toward the end. The German troops then were trying to fight with nothing. Actually, I felt sorry for them. Except for the SS, of course. They were terrible."

The farm boy who grew up near Renville, Minn., spoke haltingly, remembering when he jumped into a foxhole-on top of two dead German soldiers. Of the frozen turkey leg he ate in Belgium, Christmas 1944. Of the time a U.S. plane strafed his company, puncturing his canteen and his bedroll, but not him. And of dead Germans "stacked up like cordwood" along the hedgerows after a U.S. strafing that hit the right targets.

"Y'know? It's terrible that a world can be so ignorant. During the reunion, I didn't see a paper for four days. So I read it this morning and can you remember when the world's been in so much trouble? Sure, they say they're trying to avoid another war, but I wonder if Reagan is going about it right. I heard (Andrew) Young, the mayor of Atlanta, speak last year. He's a wonderful speaker. He said these people over there don't need guns. They need to eat. That makes sense to me."

But then it was back to recollections of the reunion just past, how more than 100 people had attended, how Pauline Scott [deceased-1986 spouse of Oril E. Scott A Company deceased-1997] of Fort Worth had sewed together the huge patchwork quilt with everyone's name and how several officers, including Capt. Robert Christianson [B Company deceased-1997] of Minneapolis, had attended this year, how Rena Ortega's crocheted throw had gone for $80, how people enjoyed the myriad of activities, restaurants and shops in Minneapolis. And how Harold Seymore, not a battalion member, came from Manhattan, Kan., to tell the boys of battle honors bestowed on them that they'd never heard about. "The only thing people complained about was the 12 percent hotel tax. That can mount up, I'll tell you. Maggie and I had a room for four days and the tax was $60. Just think of that.

"It was a lot of work and a lot of worry, but when you see how they enjoyed Minneapolis, I guess it was all worthwhile. I guess I was lucky I've been laid up. It gave me time to mail all the letters and lick all the stamps."


We have many more Reunion photos.

(Click here to view the photos)