It is a sad fact the veterans from World War II are hard to find. Most have died.
They were part of what is widely regarded as the “Greatest Generation.”
One of those veterans, however, is not only very much alive but remains as active as ever. The name of the remarkable man, who lives at Country Manor in Sartell, is Larry Tillemans. Throughout the years, the Newsleader has published stories about Tillemans, and reporters are always amazed and re-amazed at how much he has accomplished.
In World War II, Tillemans was a typist during the war-crime trials of Nazi criminals in Nuremburg –the upper-echelon men responsible for the torture, brutalization and deaths of millions of people, mostly Jews who were shot, hung, gassed and burned. As Tillemans typed up thousands of pages of evidence, he was sickened and appalled by what he was reading. He vowed then and there not to let the world forget those atrocities committed by men blindly loyal to their leader, Adolf Hitler.
“Never forget!” Those two words are a warning to people everywhere to be aware always of what happened in the Holocaust – the systematic butchery of so many human beings.
Tillemans has always taken that warning to heart. He is determined to remind people of what happened. In the past few decades, there have come to be wrong-headed fools who claim the Holocaust did not happen. One of them is the current president of Iran.
Tillemans cannot abide such fools. To counter their lies, he has given nearly 500 riveting talks to groups in schools, churches, civic organizations and to anyone else who will listen. Now in his mid-80s, Tillemans is the last living typist from those war-crimes trials. As such, he has a front seat to history and knows, in great detail, the monstrous cruelties that occurred and that some fools now try to deny.
One of Tillemans’s oft-spoken warnings is this: “The Holocaust was evil, and evil will thrive when good men do nothing.”
Tillemans is also remarkable for another reason. A recovering alcholic, he has given hundreds of talks about the dangers of alcohol and drugs to AA meetings, jails, recovery units, schools and churches. Tillemans experienced a spiritual awakening while he was in the Otter Tail County Jail many years ago. He quit drinking and has been sober ever since. In his talks, he combines his story of long-time addiction with insights into the importance of spirituality in leading a good life.
For Tillemans, every day is a Memorial Day. He is a living exemplar of the Greatest Generation who shares his memories, good and bad, for the benefit of other people, for the betterment of humankind.
Larry Tillemans, we salute you. Keep up the good work.