Remembering the fallen: Professor’s book tells stories of 20 Bemidji State students killed in World War II
Michael Herbert, an amateur World War II historian, spent more than two years researching and writing his recently published book titled “Leaving Campus: A World War II Epitaph.”
BEMIDJI — When Bemidji State University celebrated its centennial in 2019, banners were hung on campus announcing significant events in its history. One of them caught the eye of Michael Herbert, a criminal justice professor at the school.
“1941-45: 20 former students killed in WWII.”
Herbert, a lover of history and amateur World War II historian, wanted to learn more about those 20 men. He spent more than two years researching and writing his recently published book titled “Leaving Campus: A World War II Epitaph.”
“The learning curve was pretty steep,” Herbert said. “What really surprised me was how much information has been lost. For quite a few of the men, I couldn’t find a single family member. And that was a little sad, actually. These students were exempt from the draft, but they still felt it was their duty to leave, and then they all died.”
One of the men who died was Archie Graves, a sergeant in the U.S. Army Air Corps. Graves grew up in Red Lake, and he and his brother, Byron, were noted to be the first American Indian students to enroll at Bemidji State Teachers College.
Archie earned his two-year teaching certificate in 1939 and took a teaching job at Guthrie School. On March 27, 1941, the 22-year-old enlisted in the Army Air Corps. In November 1943, while on leave from Camp Carlsbad in New Mexico, Archie married Florence Lee at the home of Rev. W.K. Boyle in Bemidji.
He was able to come home one last time before being shipped to England in the spring of 1944. On May 27 of that year, Sgt. Graves was one of three men on a bombing mission to northern France when their A-20-G havoc plane was shot down by enemy fire. All three were killed, and Archie was buried in a cemetery at Poix, France. He later was given a memorial gravesite at Fort Snelling National Cemetery.
For the families of soldiers like Graves, Herbert’s book brings new information and comfort.
“We learned a lot of things that we did not know,” said Archie’s niece, Eloise Graves Jallen of Pinewood. She is the daughter of Archie’s brother, Royce. “He did a lot of research and we really appreciate it. We didn’t know he was buried in France. There’s no one for us to ask. We didn’t know that he was an instructor. That was news to us. It was good to know those memories.”
Eloise said she plans to share copies of Herbert’s book with relatives at a family reunion later this summer.
“They were appreciative that Archie Graves got the recognition,” Herbert said, adding that he has heard similar reactions from other families. “They’ve all unanimously said that someone is going to remember these folks.”
Readers will learn about the other 19 soldiers who lost their lives in the war, some of them former Beaver athletes like football and basketball star Jack McCormick. They'll also get a glimpse of what campus life was like during the war years.
About the author
Herbert grew up in a military family. After he graduated from high school in California, his father retired from the Air Force and bought a hobby farm near Lake George.
“I’d never been to Minnesota,” Herbert said. “I came here that summer and thought this was a really neat place. So he enrolled at Bemidji State, where he earned an undergraduate degree in criminal justice and a master’s in applied behavioral science. He later earned his Ph.D. in teaching and learning in higher education at the University of North Dakota.
Herbert served in law enforcement for 23 years, the last 20 in the Wadena County Sheriff’s Department.
After graduating with his master’s degree, he started teaching as an adjunct professor at BSU in the fall of 1992. In 2004 he retired from law enforcement and took a full-time teaching position with the criminal justice department. He will begin his 30th year at BSU this fall.
Herbert and his wife, Deb, have two grown children.
Now that he has completed his first book, Herbert is beginning research for a second one. He plans to write about women of the Bemidji area who served in World War II. So far he has identified 72 names.
“The next book will be more work, but the learning curve is not as steep,” Herbert said.
Although women were not allowed in combat, those who served as nurses were close to the front lines, and he knows of one nurse who was captured as a prisoner of war in the European theater.