Cover photo for Arnold Hjermstad's Obituary
Arnold Hjermstad Profile Photo
1918 Arnold 2016

Arnold Hjermstad

October 28, 1918 — November 9, 2016

Arnold Reuben Hjermstad died on Wednesday morning, November 9, 2016, at his home at Twin Rivers Senior Campus in Cannon Falls. He was 98. Arnie was born on October 28, 1918, at home on the farm in Wanamingo Township, to Albert and Hannah (Moe) Hjermstad. His baptism and confirmation in the Norwegian language were at the Lutheran Church in Aspelund. He attended the nearby eight-grade Jackson country school and graduated from Cannon Falls High School in 1938. He was a charter member of the CFHS FFA club, lettered in football, basketball, and baseball, and played tuba in the band. He soon went to work selling cars. When he showed a car to a young school teacher named Virginia Waters, he was smitten. They were married on November 9, 1941, in Zumbrota. And yes, he joined his bride in heaven on their 75th wedding anniversary. Their family life was interrupted by the attack on Pearl Harbor just a month later. Arnie was off to war, first to Texas for training. Since he had played the tuba, he was assigned to be a bugler in the quartermaster unit of the 36th Texas Infantry. As a mail clerk, it was his job to deliver and collect letters to and from the soldiers in the division. His next post was at Falmouth, Massachusetts, for more training and to await transport to the war. After zig-zagging across the Atlantic to avoid enemy submarines, he passed Gibraltar and landed at Oran in North Africa. Family and friends enjoyed his tales of seeing a cork forest, riding a camel, and driving the supply trucks in a convoy across the desert at top speed, in the dark, without headlights. They earned the name Hell-drivers. His next adventures were in Italy, where he made D-Day landings at Salerno and Anzio. At Salerno he was in the unit of the first American fighting men to set foot on mainland European soil in World War II. For a mail clerk, he experienced more danger than one would think. He spent several days in a fox hole he "dug deep and covered with reeds and grass" on the beach while the enemy artillery, Anzio Annie, on the high ground fired one-ton "shells as big as a Volkswagen" on the American ships in the bay. At numerous other battles at places named Cassino, San Pietro, and Castellone Ridge, Arnie served honorably as needed, even evacuating the wounded at the Rapido River; a photo in the National Archives documents it. After visiting Rome and seeing the Pope, he was back on a ship heading to southern France for his third D-Day landing. He had a motorcycle to deliver the mail by then, and it took him on many adventures. One day he was heading to the ever-changing front lines with mail, lost his way, and accidentally "liberated" a French town. By Christmas of 1944 he was at Strasbourg. After a sweep through southern Germany, he was in Austria at the end of the war in Europe. He witnessed Hermann Goering's surrender to General Stack on VE-Day, May 8, 1945. When he came home in October, he and Virginia settled in Cannon Falls, where he continued his service to his country. He was an alderman on the City Council; active in the Congregational Church choir and Gospel Generation singing group; and joined the Masonic Lodge, the Order of the Eastern Star (where he was elected Worthy Patron several times), and the American Legion. Arnie was a charter member of the Cannon Falls VFW Post 4452 and was its first quartermaster. For many years he was Cannon Falls' Civil Defense Director, an important role especially during the Cold War years. He also served on the board of directors of First National Bank for numerous years. Millions of returning GI's caused a housing shortage. Lumber was scarce, so Arnie dismantled an old farmhouse for the materials to build their home on East State Street. He even built a fallout shelter in the basement. Using his GI Bill, he went to school to be a butcher, and after training at the local locker plant and meat market, he was the market manager at the National Tea store when his three sons were young. He had worked at Althoff's Hardware in high school, and he returned to the hardware business in 1959 when Walt Saunders asked him to help run the Gambles store. A few weeks later he and Virginia owned the business. They enjoyed being part of the Gambles organization and won awards and trips. Whenever someone had visitors from Norway, they just had to visit Arnie at the store to chat in the Norwegian language. His sons and grandchildren worked at the store and learned so much, and not just about hardware. His strong work ethic was an inspiration, and Arnie just couldn't retire from the store. He was there daily well into his nineties. Arnie and the boys built an outdoor swimming pool. He and Virginia loved camping and playing cards. They went on a cruise, and he also took Virginia to Europe to see many of the places he had been during the war. He saw the Pope again, and somehow it was true what he often said, that he had seen three Popes. In their later years they camped every August at Two Harbors and traveled to Arizona for a few weeks in the winter. One of his hobbies was amateur radio. He enjoyed telling people he knew Morse Code. He continued to be active in sports as an adult, participating in boxing and semi-pro fast pitch softball, and he also played on the church softball team. His Gambles store sponsored a bowling team, and it won the league in 1967. He liked to fish, hunt, and golf. The Randolph horseshoe team was lucky to have him with his remarkable ringer percentage of 78%! When he was serving in the war, he earned several medals that he did not receive at the time. It wasn't that important to a young soldier who just wanted to get home to his wife. His family kept that idea alive, though, and Virginia had saved all the paperwork that allowed him to receive those medals in 2015. For his efficiency, initiative, creativity, and devotion to duty; resulting in boosting the morale of the soldiers in his division through the timely delivery of the mail, often in difficult and dangerous situations, he was awarded the Legion of Merit by the U.S. Army. For the sacrifices and hardships he endured while in France, the French Government awarded him the Legion d'Honneur, the highest award that can be given to a non-French citizen. Among his other awards are the Good Conduct Medal; Four Overseas Service Bars; the European African Middle Eastern Service Medal with four battle stars, the Arrowhead device, and the bronze and silver service star devices; the World War II Victory Medal with V device; and the Meritorious Unit Commendation for the 36th Texas Infantry Arrowhead Division. He was a humble hero, not one to brag about these, but he would often say, "You know, I made three D-Days," and tell a few stories about his experiences. He very much enjoyed those two medal ceremonies in 2015. Arnie was preceded in death by his parents; his wife, Virginia on September 15, 2014; brothers, Lars, Alf, Hans, and Reuben; sisters, Eva Beastrom and Ordella Hedin; brothers-in-law, Alvin and Guy Waters, Olaf Beastrom and Verner Hedin; and sisters-in-law, Mildred, Vera, and Julie Hjermstad. He is survived by his three sons, Bob (Ros) and Jim (Cyndy), all of Cannon Falls, and Gary (Deb) of Deadwood, South Dakota; two sisters-in-law, Sunny Waters and Hazel Peterson; numerous grandchildren and great grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and cousins.

A visitation will be held on Friday, Nov. 18 from 4-7 p.m., with a Masonic Service at 6:30 p.m., at Lundberg Funeral Home in Cannon Falls. Funeral service will be on Saturday, November 19, at 11:00 a.m., with visitation from 10-11 a.m., at the First Congregational United Church of Christ in Cannon Falls. Interment with military honors will follow at the Cannon Falls Cemetery. Active pallbearers will be Ryan Lee, Raelyn Priem, James Hagen, Rosie Ayerhart, Hamilton Ayerhart, Pete Knippenberg, Aaron Hjermstad, Alex Hjermstad, Adam Hjermstad, and David Miller. Honorary pallbearers will be the remaining grandchildren and great grandchildren. Memorials are preferred to First Congregational United Church of Christ or donor's choice.

Funeral Home: Lundberg Funeral Home 5839 Hwy 19 Blvd Cannon Falls, MN US 55009

Previous Events

Visitation
Friday, November 18, 2016
4:00 PM - 7:00 PM
Lundberg Funeral Home

5839 Hwy 19 Blvd
Cannon Falls, MN 55009

Visitation
Friday, November 18, 2016
6:30 PM
Lundberg Funeral Home

5839 Hwy 19 Blvd
Cannon Falls, MN 55009

Service
Saturday, November 19, 2016
11:00 AM
First Congregational United Church of Christ

220 W. Main St.
Cannon Falls, MN 55009

with visitation from 10-11 a.m. at church

Graveside Service
Saturday, November 19, 2016
Cannon Falls Cemetery

Hwy 19 E
Cannon Falls, MN 55009

with military honors


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