Legionnaire of the Month
The next long time American Legion member we are recognizing is Tom Willems. Tom was born on 5/15/28 on their farm homestead in Pipestone County. Tom was the youngest of 11 children. When he was only 6 his mother passed away. At the age of 10, due to family difficulties, his family of was split up. Tom moved to live with his Aunt Virginia Willems in Garretson. Mel and Virginia took over the role of parents and that is how Tom came to call Garretson home for the rest of his life.
Although Tom was separated from his 6 older brothers, he knew they had all served in the military. He wanted to do the same and after graduating from high school he took his physical to join the Navy. To his disappointment, the Navy told him that he was too nearsighted and although vision was correctable, he was rejected. Tom thought if he could not be in the Navy, maybe he could join the National Guard. Evidently they did not have the same visual requirements and in Jan 1951 he was undergoing basic training at Camp Rucker, AL. After basic he was sent to Fort Jackson, SC for supply school. He soon advanced to the position of Battalion Supply Sgt. They needed troops in Europe so Tom volunteered for the Far East Europe tour of Duty. Tom said, “Wouldn’t you know, instead, they sent me to the Far West Europe tour of Duty. There I was stationed as Supply Sgt. at the Berlin Military Post. This was before the Berlin Wall was erected and things were heating up in this Russian Zone. Although there was no actual fighting or war going on you had to very careful about where you went”. (Tom, I think any more items of interest about Russia that most of us would not know about would be interesting). After his Berlin Tour was completed Tom returned to Camp McCoy, Wisconsin where he was discharged in Oct 1952. He returned to Garretson after discharge..
It was not long after returning home that he met who he calls his “blind date sweetheart”. He and LaVonne McClure were married on Nov. xx, 19xx. Tom did a variety of things to make a living to support their large family including farming, managing the bar, parts manager at DeSchepper Implement and owning and operating Tom’s Place. Together he and LaVonne raised 10 children. Although 3 are deceased the remaining 7 now live in the Garretson area. Tom and LaVonne have 16 grandchildren and 7 great grandchildren to spoil.
Since returning home Tom has also been active in the Garretson Community including St. Rose Catholic Church, Garretson Development Bd. Palisades Manor Bd., City Council, Commercial Club and Split Rock Telecom.
Tom joined the American Legion after returning and has been a continuous member for 63 years. Through those years he has held most every office including Commander in 1964. Tom was also part of the Color Guard and was Post Legionnaire of the year a couple times and Dist. Legionnaire in 1960. Since 19xx Tom has also been one of those who heads up the very popular August “Chicken and Sweet Corn Feed”. When ask to comment about changes he has seen in Post 23 Tom said, “When I joined the post our building was about 20x80 feet. I was involved with the first addition and each improvement since. We have always been able to meet the challenges to ‘stay with the times’. The new roof is probably the best thing that was done to the ‘Dug Out’. I wish the present and future legionnaires the best of luck”.
Although Tom made this comment in the past tense, it is worth noting that he has not quit his service at Post 23. He agreed to take over as the Service Officer after Merle Lamp could no longer continue those duties for Post 23. After this interview, Tom fell and had a bad break that will require him to complete much Rehab before he can get back on his feet. While he must reside in the Nursing home during this process it has not stopped him. When asked if he was willing to continue as Service Officer, he said “I’ll sure give it a try”.
Tom, on behalf of the American Legion and Garretson Community thank you for your service. The above improvements to Post 23 you mention take more than ‘Luck”. They happen because members like you and others in the Garretson Community help to make them happen.