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Across The Lake

Sometimes you meet another person and the impression you get is one that lasts. Sometimes you can get an impression like that without even meeting the person. That was the case with a fellow who died just a few weeks ago, a person of whom I had a fairly indelible impression. Also, an impression of a person I never met.

It all started about three years ago. I was told about a family from Kelliher, a family with five brothers who had all served in World War II. There was a sixth brother, one who worked in a munitions plant and who was also mentioned. The focus of the story, though, was on those who served in the armed forces. Folks from Kelliher will probably realize I'm talking about the Hoffman brothers.

Paul was an Army Sergeant, Herman a major, Ben a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force. William spent 19 years in the Army, rising from private to colonel during that time. Lloyd went into the Army and when the story appeared in these pages in the fall of 2007, he wrote to say thanks. It was the start of an exchange of letters that lasted, off and on, until a couple of months ago.

His handwriting had forced him to use lined paper, but his thoughts seemed clear as ever. He'd sometimes make reference to his years in service, but seldom mentioned working for the state or as a pilot for Northwest Airlines. I'd learned that he was one of nine children, that he was born in Dent, moved with his parents and siblings in 1932 coming to Kelliher, where he graduated from high school. In February 1941, he enlisted in the Army. His story got more interesting after that.

Lloyd applied for Staff Sergeant Pilot Training. Assigned to a Flying Class, he went through training in Alabama and Georgia, finishing in the fall of 1942 before being sent on for additional training in Louisiana and Puerto Rico. In 1943, he and his flight crew sailed for England aboard the Queen Mary. Once there, he took over as pilot of a B-26 Martin Marauder, medium bomber and flew eleven missions. On the last one, enemy fire knocked out one of the plane's engines, disabling the landing gear. Reaching their home base, he brought the aircraft down, skidding half the length of the runway.

There's an Oak Leaf cluster on his Air Medal and a Purple Heart earned in that crash landing in England. No longer able to serve, Lloyd was discharged in the fall of 1944. He was no longer a staff sergeant, but now a second lieutenant. He was proud to be a member of the Army Air Corps Enlisted Pilots Association, a group with a membership of roughly just two hundred men who served as officers while still in enlisted status.

When Hoffman came back to this country, he was hired as a pilot for Northwest Airlines. Just before the end of World War II, the Minnesota Department of Conservation tabbed him to become the agency's first flying pilot-warden. He started with a PA-12 Cub Cruiser based at Warroad and then eventually at Sauk Centre where he retired in 1976 after 30 years of service.

He celebrated his 90th birthday Dec. 3 and died three weeks later, the last of the Hoffman brothers. Ironically, his death came as he and his Audrey would have celebrated their 63rd wedding anniversary. They'd married in Gatzke and his obituary in a Sauke Centre paper noted that he liked to fish, visit casinos with Audrey, fish, spend time with his family and friends and then go fishing again.

Thoughts while drying the dishes... Thousands of men and women fought and died in World War II, just as they are still doing in Afghanistan and as they did in Korea and Viet Nam. Others survive the fighting but then return home and live out their lives finding their own way to be of service. It would be nice to be able to tell the story of each of them.