by Dennis Dalman
To most people, the names on the big bronze veterans’ memorial plaque in the Sartell Community Center are just that – a lot of unknown names.
But to people familiar with Sartell, its history and its families, the names trigger many memories, friendships, extended family bonds and thoughts both happy and sad. On the plaque are names such as Bettenberg, Hovanes, Hurd, Studer, Weis, Zakrajshek (five of them) and Sartell (seven of them).
All told, there are 84 names to commemorate Sartell residents who served in World Wars I and II. On the top of the plaque it states: “In Loving Memory of Those From the Village of Sartell Who Heroically Served Our Country.” The Sartell Village Council paid a company to create the large bronze memorial in 1949, four years after World War II ended.
There are 17 names of those who served in World War I, including one woman (Winifred Tooley) and 85 names of those who served in World War II, including one woman (Vera P. Zakrajshek).
Sadly, there are seven names that have stars in front of them, the stars noting those who died in war, all seven in World War II – William Bettenberg, Arthur English, Alvin Jancik, Ernest Porupsky, Phillip Weis, Norman Woodward and Joseph Zakrajshek.
For many decades, the hallowed plaque was on display in Sartell Village Hall. Years later it was placed on a wall in the current Sartell City Hall, but by that time the plaque had become so dark with age and tarnished that is was hard to read.
Last year, two members of a Sartell Morning Coffee Club came to the rescue. Ron Hurd and Bill Smoley decided the old plaque should be restored to its original condition. They checked around and discovered that the Cold Spring Granite Co. does restorations of bronze plaques.
The cost, they learned, would be quite expensive, but to their amazement the woman they talked with – Kathy Spanier of Cold Spring Granite’s marketing department – told them she and her husband, Mike, would take care of the cost. Smoley and Hurd were stunned by the Spaniers’ kind generosity. They were also stunned by how good the plaque looked, brought back to its original luster by the restoration.
Hurd and Smoley decided there should be a second bronze plaque to honor Sartell area veterans of other wars. They quickly learned that kind of personal information (who served and from what city) is unavailable because of data privacy. So they decided to have a plaque made without names to commemorate those who served in the Korean War and the Vietnam War, as well as those who served (and serve still) in the Middle East and “Other Areas of Conflict.”
The top of the plaque states: Not To Be Forgotten. The Sons and Daughters of Sartell Who Served In . . . And on the lower side of the plaque it states: “Thank You For Your Service.”
Hurd and Smoley were again stunned when the Sartell American Legion offered to pay for the plaque.
Both plaques now hang side by side on a wall inside the Senior Connection center, which is part of the Sartell Community Center.
After a recent morning coffee-club meeting, Hurd, Smoley and two other members of the club (Duke Knafla and Bob Becker) shared their personal memories and stories about the names on the plaque.
All the men are fairly certain that all but probably two people listed on the plaque are now deceased – all except for Vera P. Zakrajsheck, whereabouts unknown, and Rollie Weis, who is in his mid-90s and who still lives in Sartell and participates in American Legion activities. Weis served in the U.S. Navy on a ship in the Pacific during World War II. Sadly, his brother Philip has a star by his name. He was killed during the Battle of the Bulge in northern Europe, and decades later two walkers in a forest in Luxembourg found Phillip’s dog tags.
Becker, a Vietnam veteran, pointed to a name on the World War I roster of names – the name of George Steven.
“He was my grandfather,” Becker said. “He helped found the Sartell American Legion more than 50 years ago.”
Hurd also pointed to two names on the World War II roster: Darrel Hurd and Lloyd Hurd.
“Lloyd was my dad,” he said. “And Darrel was his brother, my uncle. “Both served in the Pacific, and my dad took part in the invasion of Iwo Jima.”
Smoley noted the woman named on the plaque, Vera Zakrajshek, was the wife of the man named right above her name, Joseph Zakrajshek, whose name is also starred. When Vera learned of his death in the war, she joined the military to become a member of the Women’s Reserve (aka the WAVES).
Becker and Knafla shared some of their war memories.
Knafla, 85, served for 18 months in Korea during the Korean War, 1952-53. A member of the U.S. Air Force, he was a jet mechanic for F-86s. Born in Sauk Rapids, Knafla built a home in Sartell in 1963, which he just sold to move into a patio home. Knafla enjoys golf and fishing.
A U.S. Army veteran, Becker, who was born in Sartell, served in the Vietnam War in 1965-66. Twice he was awarded a Purple Heart for wounds suffered in that war.
The worst of the wounds were caused during an ambush by the enemy on June 6, 1966. A land mine that sent shrapnel into Becker’s back and shattered his left hand.
“It happened so quick(ly) I didn’t realize it at first,” he recalled. “I picked up my rifle to fire back and that’s when I noticed one of my hands was just mush and blood.”
Due to his wounds, Becker was sent back to the United States where he recovered in a Denver hospital, undergoing seven surgeries.
Becker, 72, retired, worked for many years as a carpenter for the Donlin Co. in east St. Cloud. He also served 21 years on the Sartell-Le Sauk Fire Department.
“Most people know wars only through movies,” Becker said, adding that most younger people do not fully understand what soldiers go through in wars.
Like Knafla, Becker stressed the importance of people of all ages learn about wars, attend memorial ceremonies, get to know veterans and pay homage to memorial plaques like the ones in the Sartell Community Center.
The following are the names on the restored plaque:
World War I
Fred Cruser, John Cruser, William Dahlmeier, Leonard Hood, Harold McGarr, Lester McNeal, Henry Nelson, John E. Reider, Norris W. Sartell, Victor J. Sartell, John Smitten, George Steven, Elmer Thornton, Winifred Tooley, Carroll Walburn, Frank Yaklich.
World War II
Olaf Aasen, Milton Ayer, Myron Ayer, Charles Bettenberg, William Bettenberg, Earl Brezinski, Raymond Brezinski, Harvey Burton, Clyde Cripe, Carl DeYaeger, Royal DeYaeger, Alphonse English, Arthur English, Richard English, Chester Gallus, Richard Gallus, Clarence Gilman, Donald Gilman, Clayton Handeland, George Hofstater, Howard Hofstater, Robert Hofstater, Aleck Hovanes, Andrew Hovanes, Darrel Hurd, Lloyd Hurd, Alvin Jancik, Lee Martin, Cyril Maurer, Ralph Maurer, Clarence McKenzie, Firl McKenzie, Mirl McKenzie, Edward Navidonski, Leonard Navidonski, Ren Pearson, Harold Perry, Edward Pikus, George Pikus, Paul Pikus, Stephen Pikus, William Pikus, Andrew Plafcan Jr., Ernest Porupsky, LeRoy Porupsky, Anthony Robatcek, Anthony Rosinger, Edward Rosinger, Frank Rosinger, John Rotar, Charles Sartell, Richard Sartell, Roscoe Sartell, Thomas Sartell, Alex Schaefer, Jerome Schmitt, Victor Shorey, Henry Shank, Joseph Shank, Clarence Sherer, Coyle Sherer, Ralph Sherer, Ronald Sherer, Eugine Smitten, Clarence Staneart, David Staneart, Delos E. Staneart, Frank Staneart, Lawrence Studer, Curtis Thornton, Clifford Trudell, Gerald Trudell, Gilbert Voerding, Raymond Voerding, Phillip Weis, Roland Weis, Norman Woodward, William Woodward, Anthony Zakrajshek, Edward Zakrajshek, Frank Zakrajshek Jr., Joseph Zakrajshek, Vera P. Zakrajshek, Alfred Zupan, Henry Zupan.