Sunday, July 31, 2011

Our Minnesota vacation

As we mentioned in our last newsletter, we are now in the U.S. Although we’re writing mostly about our stay with Steve’s mother Mary Anne, those of you interested only in Corregidor and WWII in the Philippines can skip down toward the bottom for some items we hope you’ll find interesting.

The most economical way to fly this time was through Beijing. The airport was absolutely huge and modern, perhaps in part due to the recent Olympics. The area appeared to be ensconced in fog, although some of our fellow travelers told us it was pollution. Leaving Beijing, Marcia had a window seat, and we were disappointed that we couldn’t see the Great Wall. Soon afterward we saw the mountains, many of which were covered in giant windmills, no doubt generating electrical energy.

We flew pretty much over the North Pole, and were surprised to fly right over Lake Vermillion and Duluth in Northern Minnesota—in the area where Steve spent his growing-up years. Who would think that those places would be on a direct route from Beijing to Chicago? We flew on to Detroit where our son Nick met us. We were so happy to be able to spend some time with Nick and Carrie and our six fun and well-behaved grandchildren. Claire, who is six, wanted to play card games with us at every opportunity. She is almost unbeatable at “Go Fish.”

From there we traveled by Amtrak to Minnesota and spent a couple of days in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul with Steve’s sister Paula and her husband Terry. Then we drove to Virginia, Minnesota, to spend a month with Steve’s mother Mary Anne, who lives in her childhood home. One of the main reasons for arriving when we did was to attend the Krebs Family Reunion. It was a great get-together, the first in 11 years, and well attended. We were especially happy that Nick and his family could also attend.

Everyone enjoyed 4th of July festivities. As usual we attended the Gilbert parade on the night before the 4th. Since our grandkids were here, we went to Virginia’s Olcott Park for races and other kids’ activities. The park is 100 years old this year, and is certainly one of the city’s highlights. Later we had our traditional “day at the lake,” another family gathering at Ely Lake, where Mary Anne’s late-twin-brother Stanley lived. The weather was perfect—not too hot, as much of this summer has been for the locals. (Not for us!) Later we watched the grandkids enjoy sparklers in Mary Anne’s backyard, joined by her good friend Greta.

We did some hiking around the city, once taking a 14-mile round-trip walk to and from Gilbert. We often went to the local cemetery, located next to Olcott Park, to water flowers and trim the grass around family markers.

Marcia returned to the Twin Cities to attend a ‘sisters, cousins, nieces and aunts’ brunch at her cousin Michelle’s home. She spent a couple days with two of her sisters before being joined by Steve and Mary Anne. Steve’s sister Della took the three of us to a Minnesota Twins baseball game to celebrate Mary Anne’s birthday…the Twins kept it a close game until near the end, but were unable to win. It was one of the hottest days of the summer, but we had shaded seats, took frozen water bottles with us, and Mary Anne brought a couple fans to create a breeze when needed.

One day we drove to Island Lake for an overnight visit with Steve’s cousin Dave, his wife Deb and their granddaughter Hannah. Another day we took a trip to Duluth to visit retired dentist Bill Dols. He was part of the U.S. occupation forces in Japan, and wrote a letter to the newspaper editor which garnered our attention. His late wife was from Brainerd, MN, so Bill knows quite a bit about the 194th Tank Battalion and had known several Death March and POW survivors.

Speaking of Brainerd, we spent of couple days with our friend Wally McKay and his wife Margaret, their daughter Patty and son-in-law Tim. We were visited by Jim Knudsen, whose uncle, a part of the 194th, disappeared soon after the Bataan Death March. Since his name is not listed at Camps O’Donnell and Cabanatuan, it is thought that he may have died on one of the infamous work details which were even more deadly than the wretched prison camps. Thomas Clark and his friend Violet Halverson, both WWII veterans, joined us along with Tom’s daughter Ellen Nelson. The three of them, along with Ellen’s husband Bob, had been with us on our October, 2009 trip to Leyte, since Tom had landed there with the main wave of troops on MacArthur’s famous return to the Philippines.

Shortly before leaving Virginia, we walked to the “Mineview in the Sky,” which overlooks the city and also the retired Rouchleau Mine, one of the area’s deepest and richest iron ore mines. There are a few pieces of mining equipment displayed, and looking at the truck by which Steve is standing will give you some idea of the size. While there, we noticed a map of the world in which visitors could put a pin to mark home locations. Someone had already placed a pin for Manila, so Marcia added one for Corregidor.

Virginia boasts the Range War Memorial, a beautiful tribute to regional service men and women of World Wars I and II, and the Korean, Vietnam, and first Gulf Wars. To raise money, bricks were sold, and there are three that are of particular interest to us. Charles Snyder was with the 4th Marines, was captured on Corregidor, and later operated a local funeral home. Edward Pearsall was captured on Wake Island, and as you can see from the picture, was a POW for close to four years. We’ve been told that Charlie never talked about the war, while Ed seemed to make it his life’s mission to make sure people remembered. Steve’s dad Walter, a third POW of the Japanese who lived in Virginia for 20 years before he passed away, was somewhere in between, not wanting to talk about being a POW but not shying away from it either, especially after his life-changing experience of returning to Corregidor in 1980.

Finally, there is a row of international flags a couple of blocks from the War Memorial. We were excited to see the Philippine flag included at the very end of the row, making it stand out.

We will now head back to the Twin Cities for a few days, taking Amtrak back to mid-Michigan at the end of the week. We will spend a couple of weeks there before heading back to the Philippines on August 18. We hope to have a chance see some of you while we’re in Michigan. Send us an email if you would like to get together and we’ll see what we can do.

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