MARSHALL - It was a day like any other at the Marshall Adult Community Center, except this day was filled with reminiscences about that day on Dec. 7, 70 years ago, when America was plunged into the Pacific war.
"I remember what I was doing that day," said Warren Saetre. "I was out on Battle Lake fishing through the ice for croppies. It was colder than a pistol and there were four of us. I went to the car to warm up, turned on the radio and it was 'Pearl Harbor,' 'Pearl Harbor.'"
Saetre later went into the U.S. Army Air Force and flew P-38 fighter planes.
"I flew over the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean," Saetre said. "I went from one to the other in 15 minutes, I was in Panama."
Center Director Barb Lipinski came up with some facts and figures about the attack on the American Navy base on "the pearl of the Pacific." About 2,500 people were killed in the attack, and 1,000 wounded. Twenty-three sets of brothers, in twos and threes died on the USS Arizona, and the entire ship's band was killed. To this day fuel continues to leak from the sunken battleship. More than 30 former members of the Arizona's crew have chosen the ship as their final resting place.
Of the 12 seniors present Wednesday morning, three were World War II veterans, though none were at Pearl Harbor. Some were only children when they heard the news.
"I was only a little girl," said Karen Murphy. "I remember mom running out and telling us Pearl Harbor was attacked."
Strange as it seems now, blackouts were enforced in homes and factories in Minnesota during the war for fear of Japanese air raids.
"We lived in a small town, Amiret," said Evelyn Hively. "My mom said, 'You come in the house now,' and she pulled the shades down and turned off the lights."
Her husband Ray Hively grew up on a farm outside Montevideo and went into the Army after graduating from high school.
"Remember the headlights?" Ray Hively said. "All blacked out except for a narrow strip? I heard about factories spending a lot of money on blackouts."
Murphy asked the veterans present if anyone had a hard time after coming home.
"I was in the Navy and I was glad to come home," Maurice Louwagie said. "I didn't have any problems. I was in a yard freighter in the Philippines."
Others were not so lucky.
"Back then people blamed you for your problems," Ray Hively said. "My sister blamed my uncle for his alcoholism. I told her, 'If you'd been there you'd have drank, too.' You've got to learn to live with it, and you've got to learn to talk about it. I had a friend whose friend was killed beside him and he never told anyone until he told me."
Clarence Zylstra remembers an uncle who came home with a diagnosis of shell shock.
"His first Fourth of July home somebody lit a firecracker and he dropped to the ground and started digging," Zylstra said. "He was a scout in the Philippines."
Murphy remembered her own two uncles' problems after the war.
"My mom had two brothers," Murphy said. "One became an alcoholic and one had a nervous breakdown."
For some coming home provided opportunity, and unexpected challenges.
"Returning home? It was great," Saetre said. "I had the G.I. Bill and went to college. I joined the Minnesota Air National Guard and then got called up for active duty in Korea."
Surprisingly, when Lipinski asked if the veterans thought returning was harder for young veterans today, they agreed though World War II was often physically more demanding, it was probably harder for modern veterans to reintegrate into society. Some cited today's rules of engagement in combat, some said it was harder for veterans to find work now.
There will not be many more reunions of those present at Pearl Harbor as the few survivors find it more and more difficult to make the trips to Hawaii or even local commemorations. The Pearl Harbor Survivors Association is disbanding on Dec. 31.
Young people sometimes do not even recognize the name, or if they do, have little conception of how the war affected an entire generation of Americans, how hard-fought the war was, and how much depended on victory.
"We could have lost the damn thing," Ray Hively said. "It was pretty close."