Arnold Roen sat in the front row at the River Falls Memorial Day Program this year, held in the Meyer Middle School gym due to rain. He sat on a folding chair with his wife, and one of his daughters on bleachers nearby, for the program.
Known by most as "Arnie," Roen said in a separate interview that Memorial Day is especially important to him as he served for three years and three months during World War II.
When Roen was drafted into the army in August 1942, he was a dairy farmer on a farm that is now about eight miles outside of the city of River Falls.
Roen did his basic training at Fort Sheridan, Ill.; Camp Wheeler, Ga.; Fort Meade, Md.; Camp Carragella, Fla.; and Camp Livingston, in New Orleans.
On Dec. 30, 1943, Roen left Livingston and arrived on Jan. 3,1944 at the Panama Canal. He left Panama on Jan. 7, 1944, and arrived at Oahu, Hawaii on Jan. 20.
Roen listed other locations at which he served:
June 17, 1944, Down Under
June 21, 1944, Ster Date Line
June 28 - July 1 1944, Milne Bay, Neu Guinea
July 2 - Dec. 2 1944, Ora Bay, New Guinea
Dec. 4 1944 - Jan. 24, 1945 Leyte, Philippines.
Jan. 29, 1945 - landed at Luzon, between San Marino and San Antonia
Feb. 14, 1945, left Subic Bay
Feb. 15 1945, arrived at Batan
Roen was in the combat engineers attached to the 38th infantry division.
"If we weren't building bridges or roads, I was with the infantry," he said. "So we were sort of dual purpose."
Roen was a first gunner.
"Our job was to get up there and set up our big 37 milimeter shells and mortar shells and get ready for, you know, whatever might happen," Roen said.
The first gunner is the one who does the firing, Roen said.
"It was a good experience, but hard on the ears," he added. "Your job is to do the firing, and if you need help, the second gunner will help you. I was fortunate that way, I never got hurt, but it was pretty scary."
Not all Roen's experiences in the Army were frightening, though.
"I remember making one invasion, and it turned out pretty good," Roen said. "We'd been there just a little while, and here some natives come and they had baskets on top of their head, and they had fruit for us. Boy, that was really a treat."
Another time, after he'd been in the Philippines for awhile, a Filipino family invited him and some other soldiers to their home for a meal. The family lived in a bamboo hut that was around 2-3 feet off the ground, and everyone sat on the floor to eat.
"It was mostly rice, but it was pretty nice of that family to invite us in for a meal, to show their appreciation," Roen said. "That we had taken over and stuff. That was one of the highlights.
"So with these invasions, you never knew what you were going to get into," he said. "Some weren't too pleasant, and some wasn't too bad."
Another time, Roen said, he received a package of his mother's fruitcake in the mail.
"I remember how good that tasted," he said. "I'll never forget that."
It sometimes took awhile for troops' mail to catch up with them, he recalled.
Roen also had a chance to witness a well-documented part of history, firsthand.
When Gen. Douglas MacArthur returned to the Philippines on April 18, 1945, Roen was with MacArthur when the flag was raised, and MacArthur said " I have returned."
"That was quite an honor," Roen said.
One day, Roen said, a guy in a Jeep came along "hollering and waving."
"He says 'I think the war is over,'" Roen recalled. "'Oh boy,' we thought."
The first thing he and his buddies wondered was when they were going to go home. Up until that point, Roen said, he hadn't even thought about coming home.
"All of a sudden the thought of going home came to us, and it was a pretty happy occasion," Roen said. "Boy, when we landed in the United States, we all got down and kissed Mother Earth. You can't imagine how happy we were."
A hard transition
Roen got out of the Army in November 1945.
"I came home, and the next day I was farming again," Roen said. "I was just so happy! Happy to be back. You can't imagine what a feeling it was to be back."
Roen was glad to get back to the seemingly ordinary tasks of picking corn and milking cows.
"I was pretty happy, with all these invasions, to be able to come home," Roen said, though he did have hearing loss.
Though it was a welcome change, it was an "awful adjustment," Roen said.
"It was a different life again, all of a sudden," he said. "My biggest problem was I was a nervous wreck. I was jittery, and I know I was hard on my brother and my dad, because everything bothered me and I'd get angry and frustrated."
Roen has regrets about those actions, but farming helped him adjust.
"I think it was a good thing though, that I kept really busy, and that maybe helped me get over this frustration that I had," Roen said.
He'd only been home a few days when his neighbor convinced him to go to a dance in Ellsworth at a local dance hall. While there, Roen ran into his brother-in-law, who had also been in the service, who Roen had seen occasionally during the war.
"I was so glad to see him," Roen said. "And then he introduced me to his sister, which became my wife."
A happy family
Evenlyn and Arnold Roen were married in 1947 and have been married for 71 years. Their secret to a long and happy marriage, they say and their daughter Bonnie said, is that Evelyn and Arnold are a team.
The two had four daughters: Bonnie Kennett, Kathy Swenson, LuAnn Johnson and Karen Danielson. They have eight grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.
One of their great-grandsons now runs the farm that Arnold Roen farmed for most of his life.
"It was a good living," he said. "I made a good living, and made a pretty good retirement, so I can't complain."
Both Arnold and Evelyn have enjoyed woodworking as a hobby, working in tandem. Arnold would craft furniture and other items, and Evelyn would stain and varnish them. They hand-made many Christmas gifts for every person in their family.
They also camped together for many years as part of the Kinni Campers group.
Roen joined the River Falls American Legion and was part of the honor guard for about 30 years, until about four or five years ago.
"I was really honored to be able to do that every Memorial Day," Roen said. "And my family was really good about taking that day off."
Now, his daughter Bonnie Kennett said, Roen rides in a Jeep during the River Falls Days Parade, and can watch the Memorial Day program as a spectator.
Now 98, Roen raised the flag during a Memorial Day Program when he was 94, which he said was an honor.
Roen said he never used to talk about his time in WWII, but in the last few years, he's talked about it more. He continues to attend events such as Memorial Day, where Roen joined his fellow veterans and the community in honoring those who did not make it home.