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A unique twist of fate on a Fargo radio station has helped bring two Korean War veterans from North Dakota closer together.
A unique twist of fate on a
Kenmare Navy corpsman Gerald Rasmusson and Wyndmere Soldier Duane Lillestol were on a ship together in 1953 but lost contact with each other until Oct. 24.
KFGO-AM 790 talk show host Joel Heitkamp brought his program to Kenmare and was broadcasting live during the 30th annual GooseFest.
Lillestol, a frequent caller to KFGO, talked to Heitkamp about remembering a “medic” from Kenmare who helped him get over sea sickness during rough sailing in the
“I talked to him last night,” Rasmusson said. “He seems to think it was me.”
Rasmusson doesn’t specifically remember Lillestol because, as he said, he was treating 800 to 1,000 men on that ship and it could have been anybody.
“You don’t pay attention to one guy when you have that many people,” Rasmusson said. “I treated a lot of people.”
Using a process of elimination, however, Rasmusson is the only known Navy corpsman from Kenmare, actually Coulee is where he is from, to have been on a troop ship in 1953 taking troops home from the Korean War.
“We were aboard ship and everybody got sea sick and I passed out pills,” Rasmusson said. “When you get 800 to 1,000 men sick on a boat, you got a problem.”
Not only was there heavy chop on the water, a typhoon was nearby which caused huge waves and many of the men feared they would go overboard.
“It was a storm and it was rough seas,” he said. “I just shut all that out for 66 years.”
Lillestol was on his way back to
“The ship was going home from
Rasmusson went to
He was in the Navy and by all accounts was a corpsman, a person who helps the sick and wounded.
However, because the Marines didn’t have a medical corps, they selected corpsmen off ships, that’s how he came to be on the same boat as Lillestol in 1952.
Rasmusson took his medical training at Great Lakes,
The Marines “drafted” him and he was sent to a Marine facility at
Following that, it was on to
“The Navy gave a test and I guess I qualified for that work,” he said of being a corpsman. “There were quite a few amputations. I got in on a few amputations.”
For the men on the troop ship, it may have seemed like something as dramatic as losing a limb. For Rasmusson, it meant distributing as much as a duffle bag full of Dramamine to keep as many as possible from getting seasick and the ship from falling into chaos.
He also witnessed what was happening on the Puson Perimeter, a small area of
“So it was four years and out,” he said. “I came home in 1953.”
Lillestol, who is also known as “Dewey,” was a radio operator in an Army artillery unit. He spent the better part of a year in
But, Rasmusson, who carried a .45 caliber pistol added, it didn’t matter what branch of service someone may have been in, they were treated all the same.
“I didn’t fire a weapon,” he said. “But I saved a lot of lives.”
On Friday afternoon, Rasmusson still wasn’t certain that he and Dewey were at the same place at the same time.
“We’re going to get together again on the phone,” he said. “If it was me, great. If it wasn’t, then I don’t know.”
Lillestol is certain it was Rasmusson. Also 87, he wanted to use Heitkamp’s Kenmare broadcast to find Rasmusson, or find someone who may have known him.
“I thought, here’s your chance buddy boy,” Lillestol said. “So I got on KFGO, then got a call from Gerald’s son on Thursday.”
When he got to
Lillestol was one of seven from
Four years after Rasmusson got home, he was part of another traumatic event. He witnessed the
“As we drove away from it, I was driving my father-in-law’s car and I could feel it fishtailing,” Rasmusson said. “When we got back, my car was gone and the house was gone and there was water shooting up from the ground.
He later found his Naval medical school entry photograph on the lawn, but lost all others from his time in the military.
Rasmusson admits 66 years is a long time, but it’s a blessing the two Korean War service members have been able to reconnect and it’s all thanks to a
“He pinpointed it when he said Kenmare,” Rasmusson said. “He wanted to find the guy in Kenmare.”
Lillestol got married before he left for
These days it’s hard to travel so Lillestol isn’t sure he and Rasmusson will be reunited. His wife has some health issues and he said they need to stay close to home.
It is his intent, however, to occasionally talk to Rasmusson by phone.
“Two things I wanted from
Now, Lillestol has another reason for coming home unscathed... Read EVERY WORD on EVERY PAGE of The Kenmare News by subscribing--online or in print!