Melrose–Two framed military photos sit on a shelf in Bill Middendorf’s room at Pine Villa Care Center in Melrose.

“One was taken when I went in and the other when I came out,” said Bill, 89, the first of five Middendorf brothers to serve in the military. 

There was Bill, Victor, Ralph, Art and Jerry.

“We lived about five miles west of Melrose, in Sauk Centre Township and then in 1954 we moved down  the road and were in Melrose Township,” Vic said early afternoon on Oct. 31, sitting in the Pine Villa Fireside Room with Bill and Jerry. In front of Vic are his discharge papers.

Their parents, Joseph and Veronica (Toenyan) raised 10 children--George, Bill, Leroy, Joe Jr., Vic, Margaret Klasen, Ralph, Art, Betty Thieschafer and Jerry. Ralph and Art have passed away. The oldest living sibling, George, is 92 and the youngest, Jerry, is 71.  

Bill, in his early 20s, was drafted into the Army in 1952 and left home in January of 1953.  At the time the Korean War was winding down. 

“Everybody had to register for the draft at the post office when you were 18,” said Bill.

“If not, you would have been a draft dodger,” said Vic. 

Bill traveled by bus to Minneapolis where they “ran you through a physical.”  He rattles off last names of other local men on the bus—Raeker, Horch, Braegelmann. 

“I remember the morning Bill left,” said Jerry who was around age six. 

“Me and Joesey were doing chores,” said Vic, who was in his teens at the time. 

Bill was issued his military clothes and equipment at Fort Sheridan in Chicago before heading to Camp Roberts in California for basic training.

“Everybody was more or less light infantry,” said Bill. 

They were each issued a rifle. 

“And you didn’t dare call it a gun. It’s a weapon,” said Victor, with Jerry adding, “or rifle.”

And if you did call it a gun, “you did pushups,” said Vic. 

Bill was stationed in California during his two-year tour of duty. 

“We were the keepers of the Golden Gate Bridge. When planes came in, and they weren’t identified, we had to get our rifles ready to fire,” he said.  

Thankfully, they never had to shoot planes down, “but we loaded the rifles a few times.”  

He received $75 a month, and his first set of military clothes. 

Bill was discharged on Jan. 6, 1955. Jerry remembers the day Bill arrived home. 

“It was a Sunday afternoon. I was looking out the living room window and saw the Greyhound bus left him off by the mailbox,” said Jerry.   

Ralph, although he was younger than Vic, enlisted in the military in 1955, serving for two years.  He ended up in the Navy, not by choice. The Navy was short men.  

Ralph didn’t talk much about his military experience. 

“He did say the best thing was he got to sit on Marilyn Monroe’s lap,” said Jerry.  

Ralph returned home in the fall of 1957. 

“I was picking corn when Ralph came back,” said Bill.

That November Vic, then around age 23, was drafted into the Army for a two-year stint.

“I was the last one to be drafted out of the Melrose Draft Board before the disbanded,” said Vic. “The draft board was a bunch of guys who decided who was going to go (be drafted). There was no number system. That was later,” said Vic, now age 84. 

He added,  “This area got hit pretty hard for the draft.” 

Vic left home, by bus, heading to Minneapolis on Nov. 9, a date he won’t forget because it was two days before Armistice Day on Nov. 11.  

He received basic training in Colorado and further training at Fort Benning in Georgia, before boarding a train to New Jersey and eventually a ship to Germany. 

“Good food and beer,” Vic said laughing when asked what he did in Germany. 

Troops were needed in Germany to protect the cities, but that was soon disbanded. Vic was in the Company B Engineer Battalion, which involved building and fixing things. His pay was $78 a month. 

Thanks to what Vic called a good cook, they ate pretty well.

“He would make German chocolate cake, that reminded me of what mom made at home,” he said. 

Vic was stationed in Germany for 17 months. He talks about the rough 13-day trip home by ship, compared to five days going there.  

“When we went over there is was almost as smooth as Wolf Lake, but the waters were rough coming home. A lot of guys got seasick,” said Vic. Smiling, he said he wasn’t one of them. 

Vic arrived home to the farm, with his duffel bag in hand, around 2:30 a.m. one morning in 1959 and by 9 a.m. was cutting up logs with Bill. 

“We picked up Uncle Fritz and brought the logs to the Hinnenkamp saw mill,” said Vic. 

Art joined the Sauk Centre infantry outfit of the National Guard in the 1960s and was in for six years. 

Six years later, during the Vietnam War era, Jerry, then age 18, joined the same National Guard unit, with basic training in Fort Polk, Louisiana. 

“My advanced training was in truck driving, but I didn’t drive a truck when I came back here,” said Jerry.  

He attended sometimes twice a month training at Camp Ripley and summer camp, but was never called for active duty. 

“For a while we thought we’d get called up, but never did,” he said, estimating his pay was $80 a month. 

When he enlisted  it  was the time of the hippies. Guys came in with hair down to their shoulders and with one swipe, zoom,  it was gone, Jerry said.  

“I bet it didn’t take a minute for a haircut. They just kept hollering, ‘Give me another man over here,’” said Jerry. 

Vic said they received a haircut every week for around $1. 

Initially, the guys received a $10 bill, calling a ‘Flying 10,” for a haircut and personal items.  

Bill earned the rank of sergeant, Vic specialist 4th Class and Jerry sergeant E5. All three were honorably discharged.

Ralph died at age 66 from cancer.  Art suffered from dementia when he passed away at age 75. 

Two of their nephews were also in the service, in the Air Force and National Guards.

Bill, Vic and Jerry agree serving in the military was “all part of growing up” and the “American way.” 

“It was a learning experience,” said Jerry. “You met a lot of people and got to know different cultures.”