Legionnaire of the Month
The next long time American Legion member we are featuring from Post 23 is Harlow Sundem. Harlow was born on 5/22/28 on their farm homestead. He grew up on the farm and attended grade school at Dist. 39 just a half mile from his home.
“After graduation from grade school I started high school at Hills MN. But during my sophomore year my dad put me on the corn picker and by the time we were done picking corn, it was too late to go back so I just continued to help on the farm. Some of my friends were joining the Minnesota Army National Guard so I thought I’d do the same. Back in 1947 we didn’t go away for basic training but we would go to summer camp at Ft. Ripley, MN. After a couple years I got busy with farming and in 1950 I just dropped out of the Guard. I also married my sweetheart and neighbor LaVane Stoltenberg. We moved to a farm east of Garretson when in April of 1952 I got a surprise letter from Uncle Sam. It said I was to leave and report for active duty on May 6th. I had our oats in but not any corn. So on May 2nd we had a farm sale and by May 8th I was in Ft. Snelling taking my physical. I passed and from there they sent me to Ft. Sheridan, Wisconsin. Then I went to Ft. Riley, KS for my Basic Training. Next they sent me to Ft. Fungsto, KS for AIT training as a Combat Engineer. By now it was July/August and pretty hot in Kansas so we were happy when cooler temps of fall arrived. In Oct. of 52 I received orders for overseas. But not Korea, instead they sent me to Austria. We first flew to Camp Killmore in New Jersey. Eventually we boarded a huge ship—General HF Hodges. I still remember passing the Statue of Liberty. Our first stop was at Casablanca, Africa. We left off some Greek Troops who had trained in American. After one day there we headed on to Leghorn, Italy. As we came into port I still recall how heavily damaged it was from WW II. Next we got on a truck and headed to Austria. The company I was to join was on maneuvers so we slept in tents for a while. Finally we arrived at Camp Saslfelden. I was assigned to the 70th Combat Engineers Company. I recall other areas of WW II damage and the ruins of bunkers, etc. Along the way we helped an Austrian Ski Troop clean up a camp that had been demolished and burned down. We built cable tramways across big valleys, built timber truss and Bailey Bridges. We worked on 8 hour shifts around the clock. I enjoyed the training, work and the buddies I worked with”.
Like all Combat Engineers, Harlowe also spent some time on the rifle range with his M-1. His early life on the farm shooting gophers and rabbits was evident. He shared the honors of highest top marksman score in his company (see photo). Side note, -- it is also interesting that Harlowe kept his old Minnesota Army National Guard Serial # (which, like many others I’ve interviewed, he could rattle off without hesitation).
Harlowe said, “We had it pretty good and got weekend passes. Ron Remme was stationed in the area so we would go to some of the GI recreation spots on the weekends. We would visit Berchtesgaden, Germany—a real pretty resort. I took a bus ride up to the Eagles Nest. You could drive as far as a long tunnel. We walked through the tunnel and took an elevator to the top story. This was on one of the highest peaks around and on a clear day you could see 7 different countries. We actually went in where Hitler had his headquarters. Our camp was surrounded by beautiful mountains on all 4 sides. In the winter there was lots of snow but never any wind—the snow fell straight down. There was a big Austrian Ski jump area and some of the Austrians were really good. I tried to ski but it wasn’t my best sport.”
In 1953 I was selected to attend the NCO Academy for two months at Camp Mc Couley, Austria. After that I was promoted to Sgt. and became a Platoon Leader. The next thing I knew they also had me giving classes—the one I remember most was ‘how to properly wear Class A Uniform’. I thought; how will I talk about that for a half- hour? “
I asked Harlowe if he had any stories that readers might enjoy. “Well, there was this one incident that was memorable. We always had to post guards around the motor pool at night and of course there was always a new password. One of our guys was walking his post on a very dark night when he heard sounds. He called out, “Halt, who goes there”? No reply—but the step-like sounds kept coming closer. “Halt, what is the password”—no response. The sounds of steps approaching were now really close. He called out one more “Halt,” no reply. So “Bang” he fires his M-1 toward the sound of the footsteps! At this point evidently, the cow stopped walking.” I ask Harlowe if they celebrated by eating steak. He said “no, but that guy had to pay the Austrian farmer for his cow.”
When Harlowe’s tour of duty was up he received orders to go home by ship. “One day we had some really rough seas on the ship ride back. The thing I remember most was seeing the Statue of Liberty for the 2nd time—it was a very welcome sight. I took a flight out of La Guardia to Sheriden Wis. where I was discharged on April 9, 1954. I then flew to Minneapolis where LaVane was waiting for me—an even more welcome sight.”
LaVane had been staying with her parents while Harlowe was overseas. “After returning home I went to work milking cows for Walter Nordstrom. In November we bought Joe Klungness’s farm and lived there for 56 years. We raised a daughter and son but unfortunately; our son was killed in a car/train accident in 1987.”
When asked if Harlowe had any advice for our young people he said. “I don’t think it would hurt anyone to serve—even if just for one year. They teach discipline and you can get a good education. I hated to go but looking back it was a good experience and I enjoyed it all”. One thing that helped Harlowe record the good memories was a camera he bought (his albums are full of interesting photos). In 1999 he, LaVane and their daughter Deb went back to see in person the places in the photos of where he had served. It was a big disappointment as almost all of the camp was completely gone—but the beautiful mountains and countryside was still there.
Harlowe has been an active member of our community and served on various boards and organizations throughout his life. He has been a member of Post 23 for 62 years. He was a proud member of the Color Guard for many years. Harlowe commented, “I’ve seen a lot of Color Guards and I don’t think there are any better than Post 23”. Harlowe has also held many officer positions at Post 23, including Commander. On behalf of Post 23, the Garretson community, our state and nation we thank you Harlowe for your dedication and service.