Much has been said on this blog about those who gave their lives in service to their country. Today on Veterans' Day, let's talk about those who served honorably, came home, had families, and built Edina.
Those who died gave the ultimate sacrifice, and we do not want to diminish their contribution. In fact, the Edina Historical Society has worked with researcher Marshall Schwartz to identify and create biographies of the 38 Edina residents who died in service for a proposed Veterans' Memorial at Utley Park.
But Edina's history of military service goes beyond those 38 people. Thousands of other veterans left their families and jobs, endured battle, lost friends, suffered injuries and lived to tell the tale.
Or, not tell the tale. Many veterans simply went on with their lives, with their families having no idea of what their war experiences were like.
Harry Halvorson was one of those who didn’t talk much about the war except to say that the Marines who secured the bases where he was stationed and the Seabees who built them were true heroes of exceptional bravery. His own military history might been left unsaid, but his son Jay sat down with his father to document Harry's service in World War II. Jay submitted the following essay for our exhibit, "Edina's Greatest Generation: On the Home Front and the Front Lines" a few years ago.
I supplemented the story with photos and links to other sources for those who want to know more Harry's intersection with big moments in history, like PT boats' key role in cutting of Japanese supplies and atomic bomb testing at the Bikini Atoll. I hope Harry's story gives you a greater understanding of the war, as told through the experience of one man.
Thank you, veterans.
By Jay Halvorson
Harry Halvorson quit high school at the end of his sophomore year in June of 1941. He attended Dunwoody Institute, while managing the service station at 38th Street and 24th Avenue at end of the block where he lived. He often said that by the time he was 17 he was making more money than his father. He turned 18 in April of 1943 and was drafted in May of that year.
After receiving his draft notice Harry took a camping trip to Ely, Minnesota, with his long time friend Wally Ball. This trip led to a lifetime of enjoyment of the Minnesota North Shore that has since extended to his great grandchildren.
In July he rode the Empire builder to Sandpoint, Idaho, for basic training at Farragut Naval base. After basic training he was sent to diesel engine school on the campus Iowa St. University in Ames from October to December. At the time he thought he was headed for Machinist Mate duty on a submarine, but he couldn’t pass the underwater swimming test even though he was an experienced Minneapolis lake swimmer and diver.
(See this KSPS public television clip (beginning at 31:56 to get an idea of what swimming training was like at Farragut. Actually, the whole documentary about this key WWII naval training base is worth watching.)
So after graduation, after a brief visit with the folks in Minneapolis, he was sent to PT boat school in Melville, Rhode Island.
He trained off the Rhode Island and Massachusetts coast from January to March of 1944. A PT boat was powered by three massive V12 Packard engines. His job was to maintain the engines in good running order and to operate them per the Captain’s commands while at sea.
The first time Harry ever tasted a pizza was during his time in Melville. Another trainee of Italian heritage from New York City was able to get a pass for a brief home visit. He returned with homemade pizza for the guys in the barracks to try. An unforgettable experience!
In the spring of 1944, upon completion of PT boat training, Harry rode the train across the country to San Francisco. There he boarded a Liberty ship for the long voyage to New Guinea. While still within sight of the Golden Gate Bridge, he became seasick and spent his first days at sea either throwing up or lying in his hammock. Liberty ships were built quickly and cheaply. The quarters for personal in transit consisted of open area with poles to sling hammocks between. Seating in the mess area was limited, so often meals were taken standing up.
Upon reaching New Guinea the ship sailed up a wide river for a distance, and Harry was disembarked at a PT boat base. Early in the war, during the John Kennedy PT109 era, the Navy looked upon PT boat as a low cost way to attack enemy ships. This soon proved to be suicide for the PT crews so their mission moved to interdiction of enemy supplies.
From the spring of 1944 to the end of the war Harry’s boat served in New Guinea, The Dutch East Indies and the Philippines looking for Japanese supply vessels, mostly at night. General Douglas MacArthur’s strategy called for leaping over and cutting off the Japanese whenever possible. This left many small numbers of Japanese cut off far behind the “front.” The Japanese command attempted to resupply these garrisons via boat of barge at night. The PT boat’s mission was to stop this resupply effort.
When the war ended in August of 1945 Harry’s squadron was in the Philippines. The War Department had no further need for PT boats so after removing anything of value, they were set on fire and cast adrift.
Harry was home for Christmas of 1945, returning on an aircraft carrier with plane decks refitted with bunks, but his time in the service was not complete.
In early 1946 he returned to the South Pacific. He was the Motor Machinist mate on a crash boat on Bikini Atoll. At the end of the war the U.S. War Department was anxious to further test atomic bombs. They had several captured ships Japanese along with obsolete US ships brought to Bikini Atoll to test the effects of an atomic bomb. It took several months for all of the ships to arrive and for all of the other planning that goes into such a large undertaking.
During this period Harry operated the motors on a crash boat. The mission of the crash boat was to keep the sea plane landing area clear of debris and to take anyone arriving via seaplane to their destination. Only two others served on the crew of the crash boat, an officer and a boson’s mate. They patrolled the landing area ahead of any expected sea plane landings for floating debris of which they found plenty. Instead of pulling aboard whatever they found, the boson’s mate would blast it to bites with a .50 caliber machine because a virtually inexhaustible supply of ammunition had been left on the island at the end of the war. Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal was one of Harry’s passengers at this time. He paid him a very nice compliment about how clean and neat the boat was.The bomb test took place on July 1st, of 1946.
Soon after the Navy was interested in reducing manpower so Harry was able to get a discharge several months early. After working in a test center in Seattle he was discharged on Dec. 28, 1946.
In the fall of 1947 Harry married his sister’s best friend, Bev, whom he had met while home on leave in December of 1945. Due to the huge post war demand for houses, they lived in a series of rented rooms until the finally moved into a small house on 17th Avenue in South Minneapolis in November of 1949.
By 1954 Bev and Harry had three children and another one on the way. It was time for a bigger house. Harry’s uncle, Nels Pearson, was building houses in Brookview Heights at that time. The Pearsons had moved into 6601 Warren Avenue during the summer of that year. During a Sunday visit to the Pearson’s, Bev and Harry took a look at the other houses just beginning construction on Warren Avenue and decided to buy the one at 6609.
In those days Brookview Heights, with the exception of a few stands of oaks, was devoid of trees. Harry’s father Hans, a Minneapolis park keeper for 32 years, gave a hand in selecting and planting trees and shrubs around the new house. Hans went to the nursery owned by his old friend Mort Arneson, another former Park Board employee, to buy the needed greenery for the new yard.
Bev and Harry brought children 4, 5 and 6 home to 6609 Warren Avenue and lived there until he retired to Oregon in 1973.
Search this blog:
Jennifer Adam is the Executive Director of the Edina Historical Society. She welcomes your contributions. Comment on a post or send an email (see below). Traditional mail, of course, can also be sent to:
Thank you, your message has been sent
Support this blog!
Help us bring you Edina history with this web site by becoming a member or donating today. Click on the link to our GiveMN.org site to make a donation with a credit card. The Edina Historical Society is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that depends on contributions to continue operation.