Monday, December 11, 2017

Robert Malo

Born north of Fairmont in 1927
World War II U.S. Army Veteran

It’s a common story. One repeated thousands of times throughout the Midwest during the War years of the 1940s – High school graduates leaving the family farm and joining the military to fight. For Robert Malo of Fairmont, it was no different.
Malo was 18-year-old when he enlisted in the United States Army. “I wanted to go in early, but my parents wouldn’t sign the waiver when I was 17, so I had to wait,” Malo remembered.
After basic training at Fort Dix in New Jersey, Malo was sent to radio operators school. It was around the same time as the Japanese surrender. He joined up with the 25th Army Infantry Lightning Division with the Signal Corps., then was shipped to California to board a victory ship with other troops headed for Japan.
“It was winter when we got to Yokohama, Japan,” Malo recalled. “It was so cold, and the devastation was unbelievable. There was so much debris, bombs and airplane parts scattered everywhere.”
One of Malo’s duties was standing guard over the Japanese prisoners. “They were still considered the enemy,” he said. Japanese civilians had to be watched, too, Malo remembered. “They would try and steal gas or supplies from the base and we had orders to shoot and not take any prisoners.”
Another of Malo’s jobs was to take mail out to the surrounding units so the soldiers could get letters from home.
The Army veteran brought up an interesting side note, not often addressed when talking about war memories. “There was a real division in the 24th Infantry between the White officers and the Black troops,” Malo said. “It didn’t go too smoothly.” The United States Armed Forces were officially segregated until 1948, although World War II helped lay the foundation for post-war integration of the military. Executive Order 9981 officially ended segregation in the Armed Forces in 1948, but some forms of racial segregation continued until after the Korean War.
Malo was in Japan for nearly 10 months before leaving the military heading back to Martin County. He rejoined his dad on the family farm, eventually taking over the family farming business. Malo said he retired from farming when he was 64 years old. He has two grown children from his first wife. His son, Douglas, is a professor at South Dakota University and his daughter Georgie continues to operate the Malo family farm with her husband.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Donald C. Johnson 

Born in 1936 on family farm near Lakota, Iowa 

U.S. Army Cold War-era Veteran

Don Johnson shared the same problem that many high school graduates have: No money to go to college, no plans and no job. “It was 1955. I was 18 and I enlisted in the Army right out of high school,” Johnson remembered. “This was the next best thing for me.” Johnson was the son of Rinerd and Dora (Pelleymounter) Johnson. He received his education in Lakota schools, graduating in 1955.

The Korean War had ended, and the U.S. Occupation of Germany ended on May 5, 1955, but not the threat of more hostilities around the globe. The United States entered the Cold War era. Following basic training in Fort Knox, Kentucky, Johnson joined up with the U.S. Army’s “Patton Division,” better known as the 3rd Armor Division, Company C, 33rd Tank Battalion.

“We all got onto a troop ship and headed to Germany,” Johnson said. His outfit was headed to Europe to replace another division (the 4th Infantry Division) that was already there. “We took everything with us on that boat, everything but the tanks,” he remembered.

Johnson was stationed at the Coleman Kaserne U.S. Army base located in the German city of Gelnhausen from 1955 to 1958 with the 33rd Tank Battalion. An interesting note is the base had been the garrison of the Wehrmacht's 9th Anti-Tank Battalion as part of the German 9th Infantry Division during World War II.
“Because it was the Cold War era, all our tanks were fully loaded with armament and weapons,” Johnson said. “We were right next to the Czech border. Our mission objective was to delay the Russians by 20 minutes from getting into Frankfurt, Germany.” Johnson said his outfit was mobilized and sent to the border area whenever the “other side” would mobilize or build up forces near the border. 

Once his tour of duty was over, Johnson was honorably discharged from the Army in Chicago. He immediately headed back home to Iowa. “I hadn’t been home a week when I was out looking for a job,” he recalled. “I worked as a carpenter, then onto Farmer’s elevator, to the Morrell packing house, then into farming.” 1959, he was married to Evelyn Schwartz in Ledyard, IA. The couple farmed, and Don sold Crow’s Seed Corn for many years. 

In 1985 Johnson started a “side furniture business” called Johnson’s Country Classics where he and Evelyn sold furniture and operated the store for several years.

Don Johnson passed away in July of 2017 at St. Luke’s Lutheran Care Center in Blue Earth, MN. He was a very active member of Bethany Evangelical and Reformed Church, serving as deacon, church choir, and singing for weddings and funerals. He also was a member of Farmers Co-op Elevator Board. At his funeral, he received military rites by the Swea City American Legion. He was 80.


Sunday, November 12, 2017

It is with deep sorrow we announce the passing of a mighty warrior and community friend. We just found out that Dennis “Denny” Theesfield of Armstrong, Iowa passed away.
Denny was the very first veteran I photographed for my brand new Portrait of a Veteran Photo Project. It was a very warm, early September morning back in 2015.

I will always remember sitting around the family kitchen table, with coffee and cookies offered by his wife Sharon. His smile and willingness to recall his time in the military, and his patience as I sweated and fumbled in a hot machine shed with strobes and camera settings to get the perfect image of this brave warrior.

In case you hadn't had a chance to read his story, I offer it once again.

Dennis “Denny” Theesfield
1945 - 2017
Combat Wounded Vietnam Vet.
Born in Fenton, Iowa 1945

Iowa native Dennis Theesfield was 24 year-old farmer working the family acreage when he was drafted into the U.S. Army July 2, 1968. They shipped him out to Fort Lewis in Washington State for basic training, then on to Fort Benning, Georgia to attend NCO school.
After a stint in Fort Polk, Louisiana, the Army sent him back to Fort Lewis to wait out his orders to ship out. He headed to Vietnam in 1969 arriving at Cam Ranh Bay with an E-6 rating. He was stationed at Củ Chi Base Camp (also known as Củ Chi Army Airfield) in the Củ Chi District northwest of Saigon in southern Vietnam. Theesfield had only been in 'Nam about three months when, on October 25th 1969, while leading a squad of soldiers with the 32 Bravo Infantry, was critically injured after a landmine exploded where he and another soldier were walking.
“We should have died,” he recalls. He and the other soldier were airlifted out, strapped into a stretcher hanging from the outside of a medivac helicopter and taken to a Quonset hut field hospital. “It's was just like you see on (the television show) M*A*S*H. He survived, but was left paralyzed from his injuries. He still carried a piece of the mine's shrapnel lodged in his spine.
He received a medical discharge from the Army in May of 1970 and came back home to the farm and community he was born and raised in. Theesfield soon was back working at the local hardware store and back on the tractor, even though confined to a wheelchair. “I farmed for 24 years out of a wheel chair,” Theesfield states matter-of-factly. With the help of neighbors and friends, Theesfield devised ways to lift himself off his wheelchair and up into the tractor seat using an electric winch, chain and straps. Others helped adapt the controls of the tractor and combine to allow him to operate them without help. Nowadays, his wife Sharon and his nephews help farm and maintain the heritage 80 acres.
“I loved the service,” Theesfields said proudly. “I'd go back again right now if I could.” But, he adds, the U.S. politicians “wouldn't let us fight,” a common complaint voiced by many Vietnam veterans. “There was a lot of things we couldn't do over there. That war would have been over a lot sooner if we could have fought it they way we should have,” the wounded warrior said.
Theesfield was actively involved with the Armstrong, Iowa Post of the Veterans of Foriegn Wars (VFW) and a member of many other veteran's groups and organizations.
Please take a moment with me to honor the life of this local American Hero.
If you are a veteran, or know of a veteran who is from Southern Minnesota and Northern Iowa, please let me know. I would like to honor as many our area vets as I can with a portrait session. The pictures will be included into a photographic image collection that I hope to turn into a book honoring those who have served... our area military heroes.
There is no cost involved for our veterans, other than an hour or so of their time. Please contact me through this blog or email:

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Sylvester Bartolo
Born in Texas in 1935
United States Air Force
Korean War-Era Veteran

Sylvester Bartolo was only three-years-old when his family left his native Texas in 1938 and moved to Ledyard, Iowa. They were looking to find work in the sugar beet fields in the Lakota area. During World War II years Bartolo was attending school. In 1957, two years after he graduated high school, Bartolo and three of his buddies decided to enlist in the United States Air Force.

Following basic training, Bartolo was stationed at Seymour Johnson AFB in Goldsboro, North Carolina, and then spent his full four-year stint at that base. “I worked in administration and on the flight line,” Bartolo said. “I did monthly reports and collected information from all the hangers.”
The U.S. had just finished its involvement in the Korean War conflict. Bartolo served during peacetime. “We hadn’t heard a lot about Vietnam yet,” Bartolo remembered.
Bartolo said he adjusted pretty good to life in the military. “I had a good time in the Air Force,” he admitted. “I really didn’t miss home that much.” Bartolo was honorably discharged from the Air Force in July 1961 as a E-3 rank.
He returned home to Iowa, got married and went to work at a variety of jobs, including farming and working cows. “In 1981, I finally got on with the Iowa Department of Transportation,” Bartolo recalled. He retired in 2000 after 18 years on the job.