Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Howard Jorgenson

73 years old
Born in 1943 in Truman, Minnesota
Currently living in Truman, MN.
U.S. Army National Guard Vietnam War Veteran

Truman, Minnesota native Howard Jorgenson was born and raised on the family farm, and except for his time spent serving our country during the Vietnam War in the 1960s, never left town.

He decided to join the U.S. Army National Guard rather than be drafted, and served with the National Guard for seven and a half years. “We stayed stateside, he recalled. “We protected our military bases.” During his stint in the service, he reached the rank of E-5 (Staff Sgt.) and said he worked with “heavy weapons.”

For a local farm boy who had never left home, Jorgenson's time in the Guard saw him traveling within the United States as various duty assignments came up. He remembers being stationed at bases in Missouri, Georgia, North and South Carolina and in his home state of Minnesota.

After his discharge, he headed right back to Truman to continue farming and raise a family. Jorgenson remembered when his final paycheck from the National Guard arrived in the mail. “I never cashed it,” he said with a grin. “That final check was for one dollar and ninety-seven cents!”

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Veteran Loren Wessel

96 Years Old
Born in 1919 on the family farm North West of Truman, MN
Currently living in Truman, MN
U.S. Army World War II Veteran, Pacific Theater

Loren Wessel has always been known as a man of faith. And his love for God helped him survive the trauma of World War II in the South Pacific Theater during some of the bloodiest fighting of the war.

When his name was about to come up in the draft, Wessel remembers that he could join the U.S. Army right away and not have to wait. So, that's what the Truman, Minnesota farm boy did in 1942.

He was sent to Camp Roberts in California for training before shipping out to Port Adalade, Australia to join up with “D” Company, 128th Infantry, 32nd Division. He headed to Papua New Guinea as a machine gunner to help Australian forces clear the island of the Japanese enemy. The campaign resulted in a crushing defeat and very heavy losses for Empire of Japan. As in most Pacific War campaigns, disease and starvation claimed more Japanese lives than enemy action.

Word of Wessel's Christian faith spread quickly among his outfit, and he soon was known as “Rev,” short for Reverend. One time, his fellow soldiers called for Wessel to stay up and pray for a gravely wounded soldier. He stayed up through the night praying, but the injuries were too great and the soldier died.

Wessel states he was in the U.S. Army for 3 years, 3 months and 12 days, and after his discharge, he returned to Adelade, Australia where he stayed at a local family's home. That's when Wessel met the host family's daughter, Beulah. The two fell in love and got married. Sharing the same faith, the couple served as lay missionaries, returning to Papua New Guinea, the same place where he fought in the Army, to help with rebuilding, construction and church ministries.

After six years overseas in missionary work, the couple made the journey to Truman so Loren could “get back to farming again.” Loren and Beulah, who is 94 years old, have been married 61 years, and live together at the Truman Senior Living facility in Truman, MN.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

With the start of March, the "Portrait of a Veteran" Photo Project is 8 months young and still continuing to get established and recognized. I'm beginning to hear lots of great comments from the local community, and the "LIKES," shares and comments about the photos posted to the Portrait of a Veteran Facebook page has been overwhelming, to say the least. Support to the veteran's pictured is heartwarming.
I want to personally and publicly thank and acknowledge the three project donors that have contributed funds or in-kind services to help the project get it's legs and slowly begin to move forward.

We just this week received a generous monetary donation from the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 832 of Fairmont, MN. This money, along with another generous financial donation by Woodward Broadcasting of Fairmont, will help to make a number of enlargements of the veteran's images for the planned traveling photo exhibit.

And last but not least, a huge thank you goes out again to Jay and Tanya at The Visual Identity Vault of Fairmont for putting tons of time and creativity into designing our logo (seen above), getting some logo shirts made and brochures put together. I look forward to showing these off very soon!

I got big shot of publicity for the project last week in the way of a front page feature story and photos in the Fairmont Photo Press weekly newspaper. I've heard many comments from people who read the great article. Plus, I've had a couple requests to speak about the photo project at local service organizations, which I look forward to, thanks to the exposure in the newspaper.

I have already have two requests to show some of the veteran's photos this coming spring and summer in the Fairmont, MN area. Please stay tuned for more information on these exhibits as details are worked out.  I'll be able to show off the fruits of the recent donations and hopefully get more groups, businesses and individuals to help fund the hard cover photo book I wish to publish containing all the veteran's images and their stories!

Thanks again!!!

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Jeff Hagen

51 Years Old
Born NW of Ceylon, MN on the family farm in 1964
Currently living in Ceylon, MN
United States Army Desert Storm Veteran

Ceylon, Minnesota resident Jeff Hagen considered himself old at the age of 26 when he put up the headphones at the local radio station in 1988 and enlisted in the U.S. Army. “I was looking for some direction in my life,” Hagen recalls. “ I wanted to get some training for my future, plus get some of the benefits of the G.I. Bill.” Following in the footsteps of his father and brother, he was sent to Fort Jackson in South Carolina for basic training, then ended up doing his advanced training at Fort Leonard Wood, the same base in Missouri his father was stationed.

In the Fall of 1988, the Army shipped Hagen to New Ulm. Not the city in Minnesota, but the one in the southern region of Germany. “I wanted to work for the Armed Forces Radio, but found out that wasn't ever going to happen,” he remembers. Because of his farming background, he was assigned as a “88 Mike,” a truck driver. He drove large ammo carriers for his battalion and maintained his vehicles, passing inspections flawlessly. His commanding officer found out about his achievements and put him in charge of driving the top brass around.
“That was an exciting time in world history,” Hagen said. “I was there when the Berlin Wall came down, ending the “Cold War.” Because of this event, Hagen's base in Germany was ear-marked for closure. It was also the beginning of the conflict in Iraq and Kuwait. The U.S. was in the process of shipping thousands of semi trucks to that region of the world and “they needed truck drivers to move supplies and equipment to establish the U.S. military presence over there,” he said. 

On January 20, 1991, Hagen and many of his fellow drivers were flown from Germany directly to Saudi Arabia. While in the air near Kuwait, Hagen said a SCUD missile was launched, targeting the plane he was riding in. “Luckily it missed us and one of our Patriot missiles shot it is down. We had to put on our full “gas gear” in case the exploded enemy rocket contained poisonous gas.”

Once on the ground in the Middle East, Hagen was assigned with the Oklahoma National Guard Transportation unit and immediately began making long trips through the desert hauling equipment and supplies from Port Damman on the Persian Gulf into the front lines. At one point, advancing U.S. troops had made a ground assault on Kuwait City. Hagen said the “bad guys” were trying to escape. Rather than drive their marked military vehicles, they chose to caravan in 60 -to- 70 civilian cars to try and leave the area. Theirvehicles were quickly spotted and a napalm air strike incinerated the group in their tracks.
“It was known as “Death Alley,” Hagen remembers. “They had to use bulldozers to push the burned out cars and the dead off the packed sand roadway to allow our trucks to pass. The smell of death was in the air strong and the memory of the scene still sticks with me to this day.”

Hagen also vividly remembers the “black rain” from burning oil wells. “The enemy was blowing hundreds of oil wells in the desert and the smoke from the oil field fires was so black, it turned day into night.”

In June of 1991, Hagen's tour of duty was just about over and he was out-processed back to New Ulm, Germany, then to Fort Dix, New Jersey before getting to return home to Ceylon. He first moved back to the farm with Mom and Dad and quickly found work in his chosen field of broadcasting as news director at Fairmont radio station AM 1370 KSUM. Hagen worked for the radio station until 1995. He then joined Fairmont Cable TV working on their marketing team. “I even had my own show on TV,” he proudly said. In 2012, the Ceylon native took over as editor of the Fairmont Photo Press, returning again to journalism. 

Hagen continues to be involved in several veteran's organizations, such as the American Legion and the Serviceman's Club. He also was the Post Commander for the Sherburn VFW Post 8261 before it was absorbed into the Martin County VFW.

Hagen said he and his fellow servicemen and women just celebrated the 25th anniversary of Desert Storm. “Looking back,” Hagen said, “I am more than happy to have served. The military is like it's own brotherhood. It taught me a lot about respect of our country, our flag, our history and our freedoms we enjoy. The freedom you've been given is because of those that fought for that freedom.”

Story and images © 2016 Joseph Kreiss Photography