Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Veteran Raymond Theobald

Born Sept 6th, 1934 in Jay Township, West of Sherburn, MN
Korean War Era Veteran
Currently lives in Sherburn, MN

Raymond “Swede” Theobald says he was born on the kitchen table at the family farm becoming one of eight kids in the family. By 1952 he had graduated from Sherburn High School and because of the Korean War, decided to enlist in the United States Army to help in the effort.

Following basic training at Fort Riley, Kansas, he joined the 10th Army Infantry Division, 86th Regiment. His military training continued at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland where “Swede” spent 16 weeks in Army carburetor/ignition school. “I got to drive M-46 and M-48 Patton tanks, doing testing on the firing range,” Swede recalled. These armored battle tanks were the principal fighting tanks during the Korean War.

After another duty transfer to the Red River Arsenal in Texarkana, Texas, Swede finally got the call to head overseas. But instead of heading to Korea, the Army shipped him to Germany. Swede boarded a troop transport along with about 3,800 other enlisted men, plus officers and their wives. “I was about half way across the Atlantic Ocean on our way to Germany when they signed the truce to end the fighting in Korea,” he said.

Stationed at the U.S. Army base at Bremerhaven, Germany, Swede quickly worked his way up the ranks from PFC to Staff Sgt. E-5 ranking. “I was a driver and squad leader because of my rank, working as Assistant Motor Sargent and 10-ton wrecker operator, mainly,” he remembered. “We had about 30 trucks that carried parts, plus Jeeps and such. We could head out and be in the field in less than two-hours. Once there we could rebuild a Caterpillar engine in the field if we had to.”

With the Korean War over, the scope of the Army’s mission in Germany changed. “I played basketball during the winter months,” Swede admitted with a smile. “I didn’t have to pull duty. We just played basketball and ate.”

Swede spent a total of 23 months of active duty in Germany with the Army before being shipped back home to be honorably discharged. “I really enjoyed my time in Germany,” he said. 

Once back in Martin County, Swede working in road construction, paving Highway 4 from St. James to Sherburn. Then in 1958, Swede and his brother Chuck bought the old Chevrolet dealership in Sherburn, owning and operating Theobald Chevrolet at the south end of town for about ten years. They eventually sold to Hawkins Chevrolet of Fairmont. Swede went on to establish his own home based automotive radiator and mechanical repair shop in the garage of the home he shares with his wife Mickey home. He eventually retired in 2010, but still tinkers with things mechanical.

In October of 2015, Swede and his son Dan, were flown on a one-day Freedom Honor Flight to Washington D.C. “It was very humbling and emotional,” he said. “There were 79 veterans on the journey; seven World War II veterans and the rest Korean War veterans. Somehow, they got 57 wheelchairs on that plane along with a full medical staff and other volunteers,” Swede remembered. 

Flying from La Crosse, Wisconsin, once on the ground, the veterans rode buses to and from the various Washington monuments, including a stop at Arlington National Cemetery and inside the grounds of the Pentagon at the spot where American Airlines Flight 77 crashed on 9-11. “We had police escort the whole time. And everywhere we went people lined-up and applauded us,” Swede said. “What an experience.”

Story and Photos © 2017 Joseph Kreiss Photography

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Mike Thomas

Born in 1969 in Gig Harbor, Washington
Currently lives in Fairmont, MN
U.S. Air Force Veteran

When Mike Thomas enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in 1988, tensions were high between the United States and the Soviet Union. Both countries were upset over each other’s deployment of medium and short-range nuclear warhead-carrying missiles in Europe.

Following basic training at Lackland AFB in Texas and abbreviated U.S Army training at Fort Dix in New Jersey, Thomas was assigned to Ellsworth AFB near Rapid City, South Dakota.
“I had cross-trained in base law enforcement and had the job of guarding aircraft on the ground at Ellsworth,” he recalled. Now, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty) between the U.S. and the Soviet Union had been signed by U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev but had not yet gone into effect. “We had to keep a close eye on these planes since they were fully loaded with armament,” Thomas remembered.

Another battle going on at the time was the “War on Drugs.” Panama had become a center for drug money laundering and a transit point for drug trafficking to the U.S. and Europe. Under the George H.W. Bush administration, the United States military invaded Panama, code named ‘Operation Just Cause.’ Thomas said the Air Force sent him to the South American country as part of the U.S. augmentation forces.

“I never had been so terrified in my life,” Thomas admitted. “We were sent into the jungles to locate make-shift (aircraft) runways and to report on any drug trafficking activities we discovered.” He recalled being sent on four such missions while in Panama.

“After it was over, I was glad to be back home, but at the time, you felt like you were doing something important.” From the jungles of Panama, Thomas was reassigned to RAF Lakenheath AFB in England where he worked once again guarding the U.S. military’s aircraft.

Thomas was injured during his time in the military, and after 7 years of service, had to be discharged. He returned to his Pacific Northwest home and worked in port security along the Seattle waterfront. In 2000, Thomas moved to the Fairmont area where he resides today.