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Reuben Korsmo stands in 1945 in Europe with the Jeep he used to drive officers around the war zone after landing in the Normandy invasion in early June 1944. Korsmo died in October in Mayville, N.D.

N.D. vets bring humanity to war zones

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N.D. vets bring humanity to war zones
Grand Forks North Dakota 375 2nd Ave. N. 58203

One of the "greatest generation" passed away last month in Mayville, N.D.

Reuben Korsmo represented the American farm boy who went to war and carried out heroism quietly, showing humanity among inhumane times.


He was in on D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge and came back from the war to spend his life as a quiet business and civic leader and family man in Mayville, never really seeking recognition for his service.

More than 16 million Americans served in World War II and fewer than 300,000 still are alive and about 1,000 are estimated to die every day, according to federal officials.

America has 23.8 million veterans ages 18 to older than 90, according to figures from the Department of Veterans Affairs, based on 2006 population figures, the latest available.

North Dakota has 58,283, including 31 younger than 20, and Minnesota has 408,468 military veterans, 143 of them younger than 20.

About 3,000 North Dakota veterans are in their 20s, many serving in combat zones, following the quiet example of those such as Korsmo.

A new generation

And the younger veterans are setting examples themselves about the greatness of their own generation.

Marine Lt. Clayton Jarolimek, who grew up on a farm near Forest River, N.D., recently was awarded the Purple Heart for injuries to his face from a mine he stepped on while on patrol with his squad in Afghanistan on Aug. 2.

After some surgery to his jaw and eyes, he's recovering well, and waiting with his wife, Lindsey, for the arrival of their first child, expected in about a week, family members said. They live near Camp Pendleton in California.

Jarolimek also represents the humanity of American military personnel. His military job involves not so much fighting, but with health care and agricultural assistance for Afghans, a task he says made easier by his North Dakota farm upbringing that helps him relate to farmers over there.

Plus, on his own time, Jarolimek, a 2008 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, is active in a private nonprofit effort called "Spirit of America" that seeks donations to help Afghanis.

From the farm

Korsmo also brought his farm background to his war experience, he told the Herald several years ago.

One of about 6,000 North Dakota veterans old enough to have served in World War II, he was 90 when he died Oct. 16 in Mayville, one of only about 600 veterans in the state that old.

He was born in 1920 on a farm south of Northwood, N.D., near the Goose River, where his nephew Mark Korsmo still farms.

He was drafted in March 1942 and served 19 months in Europe during the war, including the D-Day invasion and the Battle of the Bulge.

He wrote about the Normandy Invasion in 1944.

"When we hit shore, there was a sight that I will never forget. There were three trucks backed up to the water's edge. I couldn't figure out what was in them until I got a closer look. They were bodies. Three trucks full of bodies. After all these years, that scene still haunts me."

In an interview with the Herald a decade ago, Korsmo told a tale only a farm boy could tell.

He said one of the saddest sights for him -- aside from the unspeakable carnage of dead people -- was the seldom-mentioned plight of abandoned and wounded livestock that wandered across battlefields.

Korsmo said he often would stop and milk cows that were lowing in pain from udders too full.

His training on the farm determined his job in the war, too. He could drive and fix pretty much anything, skills most city boys didn't have in the mid-1940s. So his duty was driving a Jeep, usually with an officer or two in tow.

In the photo shown here, Korsmo pointed out to the Herald several years ago that the piece of iron sticking up on the front of the Jeep was to catch the wire booby traps strung across roads aimed at decapitating Americans.

He came back from the war in late 1945, soon met Edith Harstad of Mayville at a picnic on the Goose River and they married in 1951. They farmed south of Mayville and in 1970 bought the Coast to Coast store and ran it until retiring in 1984. He was a civic leader in Mayville, active in veterans' groups in his quiet way, said his daughter, Jane Winter of Grand Forks.

Like most of his generation, her father never talked much about his war experiences when she was growing up and playing war with her brother.

"But when my sons were old enough to talk to him about it, then he started talking to them, that it wasn't glorious."

He wrote his own booklet about his experiences and was reading it shortly before he died, Winter said.

Jane's husband, Bob Winter, and his siblings and father served in the Air Force, which is marking its 60th anniversary, and one of her sons was in the junior ROTC at Red River High School a decade ago, Winter said.

Until just a couple of years ago, her father still played golf and hunted deer, finding his favorite spot down on the Goose River near his boyhood home, Winter said.

"My impression is that he was kind of shy about certain topics and when he wanted to speak, he said his piece."

Reach Lee at (701) 780-1237; (800) 477-6572, ext. 237; or send e-mail to

Steve Lee
(701) 780-1237