Duevels thankful for a lifetime together after Arnold returns from war
By Jennie Zeitler, Correspondent
When Arnold Duevel, now of Royalton, was growing up in Melrose and later in Flensburg, he never thought he would be in the military. But then Pearl Harbor happened — the Japanese attack on the United States naval base in Hawaii, Dec. 7, 1941. The United States entered World War II and needed able-bodied young people to fight for her.
Duevel was drafted and entered the Army Air Corps in June 1942. He travelled first to Fort Snelling and then to training at Sheppard Field near Wichita Falls, Texas. After some schooling there, he was sent to Santa Monica, Calif. to study airplanes. For about two months, he trained to be an airplane mechanic. His next assignment took him to MacDill Field near Tampa, Fla., where he was assigned to a B-26 bomber.
“We took two trains from California to Florida,” said Duevel. “It took an entire week to get there.”
He became a member of the 21st Bomb Group at MacDill. Duevel began as a helper mechanic and was soon promoted to crew chief. He was there about a year before the Group was sent to England in January 1944. Due to the length of the trip, there were many refueling stops along the way. Their first was in Brazil, followed by Ascension Island, French Morocco and Dakar. From there they flew nonstop to England, but had to fly around Spain and Portugal, which weren’t in the war.
“It was a long ride,” Duevel said. “It was supposed to be a secret; we didn’t even know exactly where we were going. But before we landed we heard Axis Sally on the radio saying, ‘Welcome Col. Coiner and the 21st Bomb Group. We’ll have you blown out of the water in no time.’”
Duevel rode along on a couple missions after getting to England.
“Anti-aircraft flak sounds like you’re in a big hailstorm,” he said. “The airplane comes back full of dents.”
Headquarters soon stopped crew chiefs from flying, though.
“We were short on crew chiefs and they couldn’t supply them fast enough,” Duevel said.
“Good thing, too. That’s why he’s here now,” said Duevel’s wife of 68 years, Margaret.
The Group was part of the D-Day landing on the beaches of Normandy. Duevel’s plane took three loads of bombs over the English Channel during that battle.
“As soon as it came back it was refueled and we put on another load of bombs,” he said. “All the crew survived; we were lucky.”
As the war progressed, Duevel’s unit moved to France and then into Holland. Duevel grew up speaking low German and was pleased to be able to understand Dutch and communicate with people in Holland.
“I was listening to a couple old guys talking one night,” he said. “When they found out I could talk with them, I didn’t have to buy any more beer that night.”
The day the war ended in Europe, May 8, 1945, Duevel was in Saint-Quentin, France.
“It was pretty wild. Everybody got hold of champagne; everybody had a quart,” he said. “Everybody emptied their guns, shooting in the air.”
A day or two later, Duevel’s pilot wanted to fly over Berlin and Duevel rode along.
“We could look down into the basement of the buildings there, because none of them had roofs,” he said. “It was terrible.”
It took several months to transport all the troops home. Duevel waited with his unit near Marseilles, France for space on a ship. As a tech sergeant, he was in charge of about 40-50 men.
“The guys would find a beer joint and come back talking smart,” he said. “But I never got in a fight with anyone. I was 6-foot, 2-inches; most guys were under that.”
Duevel’s ship left for home in October 1945, taking 18 days to make the trip. When Duevel saw the chow line that first night and everyone waiting for something to eat, he thought he ought to get up early in the morning to be there first. When he showed up, no one was there. It turned out that most everyone else was seasick.
There were 400 people on the small boat and it was crowded. The weather didn’t always cooperate.
“One day we went only 18 miles in 24 hours, bucking the wind,” Duevel said. “I didn’t think we were going to make it home at all.”
After docking in Newport News, Virginia, some older ladies met the troops with pints of milk.
“I hadn’t had milk for a year or two,” he said.
Duevel waited a day or two for orders and had another physical. Then he caught a train bound for the Midwest. He was discharged at Camp McCoy, Wis. and took another train to Minneapolis, where his girlfriend, Margaret Lindborg, was waiting for him. The next day, Nov. 6, he was back home in Little Falls.
The Army paid Duevel $50 a month for three months after his discharge. He decided he was going to be home for the holidays and waited until January to go back to work in the steel mills of Duluth, where he had been employed when he was drafted.
Duevel had written to Margaret every day while he was gone and she kept every letter. But it was a challenge finding things to write about when the letters were closely censored.
“It’s pretty hard to write a letter when you can’t say what you’re doing,” he said.
He and Margaret were married May 6, 1946 at St. John the Baptist Church in Swanville. They bought 240 acres of land a half-mile south of Royalton Lumber. Duevel spent many years farming and building houses. Together they raised seven children and are now the proud grandparents of 23 and great-grandparents of more than 30.
As Memorial Day rolls around, Duevel is glad “to have another one” at the age of 95.
“We remember all the people who’ve gone before us,” said Margaret. “Three of my high school classmates were killed in World War II, all on D-Day.”
The Duevels will be attending ceremonies at all three Royalton cemeteries on Memorial Day, laying wreaths at the graves of veterans who, like themselves, fought for our country.