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Column: Area had two men at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941

Editor's note: Former longtime Daily Globe Editor Ray Crippen died Dec. 27, 2015. We will continue to publish previously run "Isn't That Something" columns on Saturdays, until further notice, as a tribute to Crippen and his knowledge of local and...

Editor’s note: Former longtime Daily Globe Editor Ray Crippen died Dec. 27, 2015. We will continue to publish previously run “Isn’t That Something” columns on Saturdays, until further notice, as a tribute to Crippen and his knowledge of local and regional history. The following column first appeared Nov. 11, 2006.

 

WORTHINGTON - Today is Veterans Day. Someone wanted to talk one more time about a recent column in which I recalled veterans of nine American wars. This was in a booth, over coffee. “Well,” said a man, “we are a nation of warriors.” “No,” came a response. “We are a warrior nation.” “So, what’s the difference?” “Well - nation of warriors just means we have warriors. We are a nation with an army. Warrior nation means we are out fighting all the time.” Do you follow this? I only listened. I didn’t say a thing. Now erase. New topic. They will tie together. The U.S. census bureau says the population of the United States is now more than 300 million.

Minnesota, 21st among the states in population, has somewhat more than five million people. Five million. This surely seems to me to be a great crowd. The thing I can hardly believe is that all the people of Minnesota are but 1.6 percent of the total number of Americans.

One-point-six percent. This would not be two cents from a dollar.

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The counties in Minnesota’s southwest corner - Pipestone, Rock, Murray, Nobles, Cottonwood, Jackson - have some of the smallest populations. Fewer than one percent of all Minnesotans live in the southwest corner.

All right. Veterans Day. Another anniversary of the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor approaching. How unlikely is it that we - fewer than one percent out of 1.6 percent - would have veterans from nine wars? We surely do our share.

Even more astonishing: our one percent of 1.6 percent came to have two young sailors at Pearl Harbor on that Day of Infamy. Add another astonishment. Few people on all the earth live farther from an ocean than do the people in Minnesota’s southwest corner.

I was thinking of Pearl Harbor lately. Stanley Beal at Round Lake wrote to give me some additional material.

I delivered the Daily Globe’s extra on the evening of Dec. 7, 1941. Ellen Kall was a Daily Globe Linotype operator. We learned in that early hour that Ellen’s brother, Lee, was at Pearl Harbor. His fate was unknown.

The Sven Kall family lived on Eighth Street across from the Worthington power plant. Sven was custodian at the Nobles County courthouse. The Kall house, the courthouse and the power plant all are gone now.

Sven’s boy Lee was graduated “into the Great Depression.” Work was hard to find. The U.S. Navy promised daily shelter, three daily meals and a bunk at night. Lee enlisted.

He survived Pearl Harbor without a wound, though he could see the orange circles on the wings of the lowflying Japanese airplanes and could see profiles of Japanese pilots in the cockpits. After four years of war in the Pacific, Lee Kall returned to become Nobles County’s first veterans’ service officer.

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Stanley Beal was a boyhood friend of Leland Erbes. “He and I were classmates in the second and third grade in Round Lake. … I was a freshman in 1934, so I was a classmate of Leland again until graduation in 1938.”

The Beal and Erbes families were often together. “He was the ‘baby’ in his family while I was the oldest in mine,” Stanley writes. “Leland’s birthday was July 31.”

Unknown probably to anyone at Round Lake, during Stanley and Leland’s senior year, the U.S. Navy was building its second light cruiser of the St. Louis class. Named the U.S.S. Helena, the new cruiser was commissioned Sept. 18, 1939. The Helena was a special pride of the U.S. Navy and it no doubt gave a measure of pride to the new graduate from Round Lake High School, Leland Erbes, that he was assigned to the Helena’s crew.

U.S. battleships were the target of the attacking Japanese airplanes. It was an irony: the mighty USS Pennsylvania, battleship, flag ship of the U.S. fleet, was sent into drydock. The cruiser Helena slipped into the Pennsylvania’s berth.

Three minutes into the attack, one lone torpedo struck the Helena’s starboard side, flooding a boiler room and the engine room where Fireman Leland Erbes was stationed.

Stanley Beal remembers, “When Pearl Harbor happened, all of Round Lake was worried, and no word came.” A telegram from the War Department arrived just before Christmas after hopes had lifted once again.

Leland Erbes is buried in Punchbowl Cemetery at Honolulu.

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