November 11 was a red letter day in Luverne this year. Helmer and Leroy, the two remaining members of the Last Man Club opened the bottle of Bourbon, took a swig, and named and honored their deceased friends in a last ceremony.
Helmer Haakenson is 98, and Leroy Luitjens was 93, I believe. Helmer is the thinner man. Leroy died a couple of weeks later in November. The club was started in 2010, comprised of Second World War veterans who met every day at the grocery store for coffee and mutual support. My dad was a member. Every guy had a coffee cup with his name on it. Glen, the grocery store owner, provided free doughnuts. When you died, they turned your cup upside down and placed it in the cup rack on the wall. The rack also contained a huge bottle of expensive bourbon. The bottle was to be opened by the last man, who then was to name his fallen comrades and drink a toast to their memory.
After the founder of the club died earlier this year, Helmer and Leroy decided to open the bottle at the town Veteran’s Day Ceremony. Former Governor Pawlenty’s wife was a special friend to the group, and she participated in the ceremony. Ken Burns, who featured Luverne in his documentary The War, wrote a congratulatory letter, which was read aloud. Then they opened the bottle, drank a toast, and the name of every member was read and a passing bell was rung.
Helmer insisted that the remaining members in 2014 be honorary pall bearers at my dad’s funeral. He is a hero to me, along with Leroy. I have known them both since my childhood. I need to write to Helmer.
Who are your heroes?