Roger Engebretson

Legionnaire of Month

We are using a unique photo to help reflect this individual’s unique military experience. As I started visiting with Roger, I wonder if his unique experience has any significance in that his life’s story even starts out with rhythm, his date of birth is 11-11-27. Roger grew up on a farm just north of Garretson. I believe God gives all of us special gifts that we can use throughout our life. One of Roger’s special gifts was an ear for music. Although his formal musical training was limited to piano lessons with Nellie Henjum (who trained at Julliard), this gift would make a significant difference in his life.

The war had taken many men from the Garretson community. Even the school system was impacted as Roger recalls Supt. Tandberg and the high school music teacher left Garretson to help with the war effort. Others in the community stepped up to help out where they could. One of those was John Sanders who made it possible for the High School Band to keep going. Although Roger enjoyed band he did not realize how significant this training would be until several years later.

The United States had not been out of WWII long before we entered the Korean War in July 1950. In January of 1951 Roger was 23 years old when he was drafted. Although the war seemed far away for a young farm boy in Garretson SD, Roger saw others being drafted and knew his time had come but did not know where he would go or what would follow.

Roger passed his physical and in January of 1951 was sent to Ft. Riley KS for basic training. It was at Ft. Riley where Roger had an unusual turn of events. Everyone usually completes Basic Training before going on to AIT (Advanced Individual Training). However, Roger has a different story. About half way through basic, during one formation the Company Commander was talking about “special training opportunities”. One of these was that the Army needed musicians. Roger said, “That sounded really good to me”. According to Roger, he went AWOL to check this out at the “Band School” which was also located at Ft. Riley. After some waiting he took a written test and was ask to perform a musical audition. Roger said “They gave me a horn and I had not played in several years--but evidently I impressed them as they said we can use you”.

So Roger is one of the few people I know who never completed basic training but went right into AIT—Band School to become a trumpet player. After 12 weeks of AIT he was sent to Camp Carson in Colorado Springs CO. There he found himself surrounded by some of the most talented musicians in the United States playing for the 179th Army Band. Many of the others had advanced degrees and played in Symphony Orchestras. Most were from the East or West Coast but a few were from the Midwest. They played at Pikes Peak, USO’s and various clubs. Roger said he could not count the number of times he played “taps” at military funerals. Roger played with this band for the remainder of his military career and developed some long lasting friendships. They have had three reunions attended by many and he still has contact with some members.

After his discharge in 1953 Roger returned to Garretson and farmed. He married Devona Nesheim in 1956 and they raised 5 children. Roger continued to use his musical talent and abilities. He taught piano out of their home for over 10 years. He played in a small band and some of you many have danced to the music of the “Toe Tappers”. He continued to play “Taps” for Post 23 Military Services for many years. He has also been an active member of Zion Lutheran Church and played the organ. When ask how long he had been a member of Zion, Roger’s dry humor was evident as he said—“Oh not long, I guess just since 1927”.

At the time, there was not a lot of US Media attention given to the Korean War. However, over 5 million lives were lost. Many more individuals were wounded and lives changed forever. Roger considers himself very lucky to have not been in the thick of these battles. He answered the call of his country and served where they needed him. Many other servicemen’s military experience was made just a little more enjoyable because of Roger’s love and gift for music. Thank you Roger, for your service to our country, Post 23 and the Garretson community.