Last Man Club honors Luverne’s WWII vetsLUVERNE — On the inside cover of the Official Member’s Booklet for the Last Man Club in Luverne, Warren Herreid Sr., writes, “This Last Man Club is founded by WWII veterans, members of what has been called the ‘Greatest Generation.’ Some may call us heroes, but we are just common men who were called to defend our country and our flag, the symbol of the hopes and dreams of our people.”
By: Julie Buntjer, Worthington Daily Globe
LUVERNE — On the inside cover of the Official Member’s Booklet for the Last Man Club in Luverne, Warren Herreid Sr., writes, “This Last Man Club is founded by WWII veterans, members of what has been called the ‘Greatest Generation.’ Some may call us heroes, but we are just common men who were called to defend our country and our flag, the symbol of the hopes and dreams of our people.”
Though they may shy away from special recognition, it was the members of the Last Man Club — the group of guys that gathers every afternoon for coffee at Glen’s Deli in Luverne — who fueled the idea for Honor Flight Southwest Minnesota. Ten of the 24 members participated in the inaugural flight April 30-May 1.
Two months later, the official Last Man Club handbook was written. Its members, seven of whom died prior to the club’s founding, have four things in common: They are all World War II veterans; they were all invited to the governor’s mansion in 2005 by First Lady Mary Pawlenty; they were or are members of Glen’s Coffee Clique; and they call Luverne their hometown.
Herreid, who broached the idea of a Last Man Club to the coffee clique this spring, ultimately compiled the handbook — complete with a list of members and their responsibilities.
The Last Man Club is not a new concept. Herreid had heard of such groups before, but it wasn’t until he was doing a little research that he discovered the first club in Minnesota was founded by veterans returning home from the Civil War. These days, there are Last Man Clubs across the country, many organized by American Legions.
Herreid researched the bylaws of a number of different Last Man Clubs and, with input from his fellow coffee clique members, they decided to write their own simple rules.
The Last Man Club, while some may consider it morbid, said Herreid, serves as a way for veterans to honor their fellow comrades. Members in the Luverne club have their headquarters at Glen’s Deli, where a custom-designed cabinet built by Steve Heitkamp of Country Cupboards is on display. The cabinet holds each of the 24 coffee cups and an “official bottle” of American-made whiskey.
Last Man Club cups were designed by Herreid’s grandson, Ben Herreid, and feature the member’s name and branch of service, a multi-colored military ribbon and a Purple Heart emblem for those who earned the military honor.
Cups belonging to those veterans who have died have been turned backward to display the words “Last Man Club,” and signs below the mugs include the veteran’s name and date of death. In addition, a black ribbon is tied around the handle of the cup, and a miniature American flag is folded and placed next to it.
“We don’t have too much of a ceremony down there (at the deli),” said Herreid, adding that a group of men referred to as “The Second Generation” handle the details of flipping the coffee cup, folding the flag and attaching a sign to signify the World War II veteran’s death.
“They drink coffee with us, but they’re not old enough,” said Herreid of their second generation helpers. “They’re all military people, but from Vietnam and Korea.”
The rules of the Last Man Club require an annual banquet be conducted to honor the membership and remember those members who have died. The first banquet is tonight, in conjunction with a Veterans Day dinner for all Rock County veterans, at the Blue Mound Banquet Center in Luverne.
“We were looking for a day we thought would be patriotic,” said Herreid.
He will lead the ceremony, during which they will remember Lawrence Akkermann, Theodore “Ted” Anderson, Harvey Ball, George Gabrielson, Charles Mann, Lawrence Overgaard, Raymond “Ray” Slieter, and the three who have died since the handbook was completed — Floyd Goembel, William Veenhof and Darwin Rogness.
On Wednesday afternoon, the club’s remaining 14 members served as honorary pallbearers at the funeral for Rogness, who died Sunday.
Said Herreid, it’s been a difficult year for the World War II veterans in Glen’s Coffee Clique as they have lost three of their comrades.
The Last Man
When the club has dwindled to a membership of one, the official bottle of whiskey is to be removed from its locked case and opened by the Last Man at a special banquet to toast all of the men who have passed before him.
States the handbook: “The guest list for the final banquet will include the Last Man and friends and family of his choosing, second-generation regular attendees of Glen’s Afternoon Coffee Clique, local dignitaries such as the mayor of Luverne, Commanders of the VFW & American Legion, local media and other benefactors and sponsors as deemed appropriate.”
During the final banquet, the Last Man must put the official bottle in front of his own place setting at the banquet table. Once it is opened, the Last Man “will then propose a toast to the members who preceded him in death, with a salute to them before taking the first drink from his glass.”
Each of the departed comrades will be honored with their own place setting and an empty chair covered with a black hood.
Glasses of the whiskey will then be poured for each of the guests, who will propose a toast to the Last Man Club. They will raise their glasses “to those who have gone before and, finally, to the Last Man before drinking.”
The remaining 14 members of the Last Man Club include Ray Anderson, Bob Anderson, Jake Boomgaarden, M.R. “Big” Carrigan, Earl Glaser, Helmer Haakenson, Warren Herreid Sr., John Johnson, Bob Juhl, Leroy Luitjens, Russ Swenson, Tim Tangeman, Conrad Tofteland and Casey Van Engelenhoven.