Randall veteran remembers two tours in Europe

Lyle Nelson was stationed both in England and France during and after World War II 

By Tina SnellStaff Writer

Many World War II veterans have said they spent the entire war in Europe or in the Pacific Arena, not seeing loved ones for years.

Lyle Nelson of Randall was one of those veterans. He was in England for nearly four years. But, he also was sent back to Europe, France to be specific, in 1950, for another year to protect Germany from a Russian invasion.

The second tour was not  known to many, but a crucial part of the freedom in Europe.

Nelson, now 91, grew up in Randall, the son of George, a mortician, and Emma Nelson, who owned a millinery shop in town. He was one of eight children, six of them boys.

A young Lyle Nelson as he looked while serving his country both during and after World War II.
A young Lyle Nelson as he looked while serving his country both during and after World War II.

When Nelson graduated from Little Falls High School in 1941, it was wartime.

“My brother Vernon, his wife, Bernice (Larson) and I went to Oakland, Calif., to work in the shipyards. We were there for seven months until we were drafted,” said Nelson. “I entered the Army Air Corps in February 1942. I never saw home again until Dec. 24, 1945.”

Nelson was with the 8th Air Force, Squadron Fighter Base. Vernon was in the Medical Corps.

“They sent me to Biloxi, Miss., by train and when I asked why I was going there, I was told it was where I was needed,” Nelson said. “I was to be trained with the Security Air Corps, the military police.”

In May 1942, Nelson was sent to Daniel Field in Augusta, Ga., where he did police work with the Augusta Police Department, along with military and medical training.

From there, he and others became what were called “fillers.” Men who would fill out a company that was short of personnel. From New York, N.Y., he was sent to Glasgow, Scotland, then to a P-47 United States fire fighting squadron on English soil. There he guarded the airplanes, the ammunition dumps and “Anything else that needed guarding,” he said.

His squadron was later sent to a P-51 fighter base about 100 miles north of London to do the same work.

A P-47 is a heavier plane than the P-51. It has the ability to carry heavier bombs and travel faster and higher (30,000 feet) than the P-51. A P-51 was used more for strafing at altitudes of about 2,000 feet. They carried the lighter 500-pound bombs.

The Royal Air Force bases were rented by the United States Air Force (USAF).The bomber planes were kept on the southern coast of England while the fighter planes were kept further north.

“During the war, the U.S. troops were able to ride the English railroad at no cost,” said Nelson. “I went to London at least 10 times. Plus, I took a couple of short furloughs to Scotland.”

For a short time, Nelson was sent to Ireland, for aircraft recognition school.

“It was important for us to know what was a German plane and what was an English or French fighter plane,” said Nelson. He and his fellow soldiers were also trained in firing and maintaining .50 caliber machine guns.

“We would practice by shooting at a target being pulled by an airplane,” he said.

Lyle Nelson is now 91 years old. He spent several years in England, guarding the airfields from German invasion during World War II, then another year in France, guarding supplies stockpiled to stop the Russians in case they invaded Germany.
Lyle Nelson is now 91 years old. He spent several years in England, guarding the airfields from German invasion during World War II, then another year in France, guarding supplies stockpiled to stop the Russians in case they invaded Germany.

Nelson’s job was to protect the planes 24 hours a day.

“The hardest part was during invasions,” said Nelson. “We were told the Germans could invade the air bases we guarded and blow them up. But it never happened.”

Nelson said it was quite an experience for a little country boy.

The base he was guarding was bombed by German buzz bombs, but only the perimeter was hit while he was there.

“Our planes kept them away,” he said.

Of all the bases rented by the U.S. in England during the war, none were ever completely destroyed.

“The Germans stuck close to the south of England,” said Nelson.

The Royal Air Force flew mostly at night and the United States Air Force flew mostly during the day. But Nelson said that during invasions, both flew day and night.

Nelson entered World War II as a private and left as a corporal.

At the end of the war, Nelson was chosen as an honor military police, or honor guard, and was sent to Paris, France. For three months, all the planes from the 8th Air Force was sent for an exhibition.

“We were treated royally. Our mission again was security and protection while in France,” he said. “It was quite an honor.”

Nelson got home the day before Christmas, 1945. He married Colleen Nygaard from Cushing in August 1948.

“I stayed in contact with some of my war buddies,” said Nelson. “Two came to my wedding. They were as close as my brothers.”

Each of Nelson’s six brothers were deployed and fought during World War II. His parents were home in Randall for more than four  years, praying for the safety of six of their children.

Brother Kenneth was stationed in France and Germany in the infantry. He was wounded in battle. George was a Naval officer and was stationed all over the world. He made the Navy his career. Clement was in the medical corps, Dennis was in the infantry in both World War II and the Korean War and Vernon was an Army medic.

“It is unheard of today for an entire family of siblings to be deployed at the same time,” said Nelson.

Each of his brothers did make it home safely, but at different times.

After he returned and married Colleen, Nelson joined the Minnesota National Guard in 1949. He was a member for 30 years.

“I was in the Headquarters Company, Supply and Transportation,” said Nelson. “We were then commanded by Karl Vanderhar, the finest officer I ever served with.”

Nelson also mentioned Company Commander Captain Bill Cheeseman, a man he felt was a great officer.

When Nelson left the National Guard in 1980, he was a chief warrant officer.

Nelson and Colleen eventually had three daughters. But before their family was complete, he was deployed again to Europe, this time France.

“In 1950, my unit was called to France to be the headquarters for a trucking battalion. There were about 600 of us and we coordinated the four companies which were hauling ammunition and fuel to the Rhine River,” said Nelson. “You see, the Russians were not friendly to the United States, even though we were on the same side during World War II. The preparations were in case the Russians decided to take Germany back totally. We were preparing for something that may or may not occur.”

This was during the early years of the cold war. Soviet forces were building in Eastern Europe and West Germany was vulnerable. A multination defense agreement eventually became the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The French agreed to provide base sites west of the Rhine River, a distance conducive to air defense warning time in case the Soviets invaded Germany.

Nelson returned home in 1951. He became the Randall postmaster and remained in that position for 28 years. One of his jobs was to travel the five-state area and train new postmasters.

His three daughters have given him seven grandchildren and he now has seven great-grandchildren with one on the way.

Nelson is also a lifetime member of the Randall VFW Curtis Olson Post 9073 and was its commander for two terms. He has also been the Post’s chaplain and quartermaster.

“It’s all been an honor,” said Nelson, who is still active. He was also chosen as one of 23 all-state quartermasters.

Comparing his time during World War II and today’s conflicts, Nelson said the troops today are better educated.

“Many of the men with me had no more than an eighth-grade education,” he said. “Today, most are college graduates. Also, the service is more selective today. A soldier needs good qualifications to serve.”

Nelson said that today, training is far more complex and technical than it was in the 1940s.

“They need really sharp guys,” he said.