Eventide residents Vern Nolting, 91, and Oliver Lundell, 90, are pretty different from one another.
Vern’s a pretty outgoing guy, well-known in the community as a longtime Moorhead educator, active in the community and his church.
Oliver, on the other hand, tends to stick to fewer words than Vern, but he doesn’t shy away from sharing that there’s “not much advice to getting old, but you do feel a little stiffer.”
What the two have in common: They’re both United States military veterans who served our country in the 1950s during the Korean War.
We caught up with Vern and Oliver at their homes in The Linden apartments just ahead of Memorial Day Weekend celebrations, where they helped us better understand what it means to be a veteran and how we can honor their service, as well as the many who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.
Oliver Lundell talks about his experience in the Army during the 1950s as a fellow Linden resident listens.
From barn to barracks: Oliver’s story
A farm kid from Kennedy, Minn., a small town located about 60 miles north of Crookston, Oliver was called to serve at age 21.
“I didn’t exactly sign up for it,” he joked of his experience in the Army from 1954-1956. “But it was a good learning experience and I met some nice people. I liked the systematic orderliness of it.”
Though Oliver did not see active combat, his farming background served him well during the hard hours working as a helicopter mechanic stationed at Ft. Riley in Kansas.
“The farm kids all did well as mechanics because we had all that experience fixing equipment on the farm,” he said. ‘Yep, it was hard work, but I liked it OK.”
Oliver received his training at Gary Air Force Base in San Marcos, Texas, which was at the time the largest helicopter training facility in the United States.
“My wife Barbara and I were going to get married the summer I got called to serve,” he said. “We got married before going to Texas, so she was able to be there the whole time. The airbase was something else.”
Oliver and Barbara started their lives in a tiny rental apartment that cost $38 a month. “We had to share a fridge with the landlord,” Oliver said.
The Lundells moved back to the farm in Kennedy in 1956 after Oliver was discharged from service.
Life on the farm ensued, and two kids soon followed, Jay and Janelle.
“Janelle’s family takes care of the farm now,” Oliver said. “They just got the wheat in after such a late spring. If you can get it in in May, you’re doing pretty good.”
Oliver’s advice for future military service people
“It depends on the person. Go in there and give it your best for your country.”
How Oliver honors the fallen
“I’ve been trying to honor Memorial Day by visiting my folks’ graves and placing flowers by them. I like to remember them and hope someone remembers me when I’m gone,” Oliver said.
Oliver’s parents are laid to rest just one mile from the family farm in Kennedy.
How we should honor our veterans
“We need to really be reminded of the sacrifices that have been made for our country. We don’t think about that,” Oliver said. “And pray. For our military and our leaders.”
Vern Nolting explains what it was like spending two years on a military ship.
From combat to college: Vern’s story
Vern lived on a ship for two years.
He served from 1951 to 1955 as a carrier sailor in the Korean War, an experience he said was living in “a little city.”
“There were 3,500 men on board. You got to see a lot of places, but when you’re sleeping, you’re right next to one another,” Vern said. “And if you want to go to the bathroom, there’s 40 other guys right there with you.”
According to Vern, the bounty of food and entertainment made up for the lack of privacy. “There was always food. So much cocoa that we were tossing it overboard!”
Vern was part of a firing squad on board the ship and experienced active combat.
“It’s a dangerous place with the planes coming and going,” Vern said. “But we were pretty safe. They’d never put a carrier close enough to shoot us, and when we were operating, only the people who had to be on deck were allowed on deck.”
The upside, Vern said: “I got to see a lot of places. Memphis, San Diego, San Francisco, and I met a lot of city people who taught me a lot about the world.”
Luckily, Vern’s travels landed him in Nashville where he met his wife Jean, too.
“We got married and came back to Minnesota at Christmas,” Vern, a Bagley, Minn., native said. “She didn’t even have a coat.”
At the time, The GI Bill was much better than the offers modern-day soldiers receive, according to Vern, who enrolled in college at Bemidji State University after being discharged. Both his undergraduate and graduate degrees were paid in full, thanks to his military service.
“It was good,” he said. “My wife got to be a medical technician at the Bemidji Hospital and I went to school. The military paid for my wife’s stuff, my books, all sorts of things.”
Vern’s advice for future military service people
“It’s highly important that you get something you like to do, so when you get out and study, you know what you’re going to do. They’ve got a lot of jobs, like computers and all that stuff,” Vern said. “Find what you like.”
How Vern honors the fallen
Vern, a 67-year member of the American Legion, has a whole list of events he participates in every Memorial Day with his fellow Legion members. He’s also a member of the honor squad and volunteers his time to participate in military funerals, burials and memorials.
How we should honor our veterans
Donate to the Honor Flight program, which funds trips for veterans to visit memorials in Washington, DC.
“They pay for everything!” Vern said. “If you need oxygen, they’ll get that. A wheelchair, they’ll get that. And talk about first-class hotels and food. The only thing they won’t pay for is if you want to get a beer.”
Vern said his experience as an Honor Flight recipient a few years ago is something he will cherish for the rest of his life. “They did a special mail call during the trip where they presented all us veterans with letters family and friends wrote. You got a whole stack of ‘em and it’s enough to make you cry.”
Happy Memorial Day
Our deepest gratitude goes to Oliver and Vern for their service and opening up their stories to share with Eventide and the communities we serve.
And of course, thank you to all retired and active-duty military service people who live and work at Eventide Senior Living Communities. You are all heroes!