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Fighting tyranny

Bengtson family’s ties to World War II continue after 75 years

Photos by Jim Muchlinski Betty Bengtson, son Dwayne, and other family members have many memories of the accounts LeRoy gave about his World War II service in Europe. He was part of D-Day, the Battle of the Bulge, and lastly the German surrender prior to Victory in Europe Day in May, 1945.

MARSHALL

When the best known events of World War II in Europe unfolded, LeRoy Bengtson was almost always one of the participants.

After he sustained an injury as part of the June 6, 1944 D-Day invasion, Bengtson spent several months at a hospital in England before returning to the front lines. His second phase of battlefield service included the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944, and then the liberation of infamous Nazi concentration camps.

His family continues to recognize the importance of those events 75 years later. LeRoy’s son, Dwayne, spent the anniversary of D-Day at the Fagen Fighters Museum near Granite Falls. A special observance of the D-Day occasion was organized by museum founders Ron and Diane Fagen.

“What my father told me is still very meaningful,” Dwayne said. “I wanted to spend part of the D-Day anniversary with others who believe it was an important occasion. I thought it was well put together, a great way to remember soldiers like my dad who came back and others that didn’t.”

The D-Day invasion was just the start of LeRoy’s wartime experiences in Europe. While he recuperated in Great Britain he stayed focused on the mission that brought him across the Atlantic Ocean, to keep the world free from the threat of tyranny posed by Axis dictatorships.

“He didn’t want to be sent home,” Dwayne said. “He wanted to get back to his infantry unit as soon as he could. The future of the world was at stake, and he wanted to keep helping them win the war.”

Bengtson’s wife, Betty, who is celebrating her 89th birthday this summer, said LeRoy returned from World War II several months after the May 1945 Victory in Europe and proceeded with his plans to farm in Scandia Township, Murray County, south of Balaton.

When health factors forced him to retire from grain and livestock farming, they moved to a nearly new house in Marshall during the 1970s on Westmar Circle in Eatros Addition. The World War II years remained an important part of family life.

“He didn’t talk all that much about the war, but he had many memories of it,” Betty said. “Probably what surprised him the most was seeing the concentration camp victims when they were liberated. He just said it was something he’d never forget.”

Before he passed away in 2015, LeRoy shared more of his thoughts in an interview with the Balaton Press Tribune. As part of the interview session, he described how hedge rows at Normandy near Omaha Beach were too narrow for tanks, which meant unprotected infantry had to lead the Allied advancement.

Wintry weather conditions at the Battle of the Bulge meant that “many froze their faces and had to be hospitalized. Ears and noses peeled.” Recollections about the last days of the war in 1945 featured highlights such as an account from a concentration camp survivor that Nazi guards had retreated only two hours before the liberation.

He also recalled how German soldiers later walked up to him to surrender and to avoid possibly being captured by Russians, and the night his reconnaissance unit stayed on the dance floor of a German tavern with permission from its proprietor.

Reminders of World War II that have stayed in the Bengtson family include LeRoy’s wartime map of Omaha Beach and a 37-millimeter artillery shell shot from a grenade launcher.

“The war had a big effect on his life,” Betty said. “It gave him even more of an appreciation for his country and for freedom. As bad as World War II was, it was something that had to be done.”

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