More than a name
This Memorial Day, Balaton veteran LeRoy McDonnel will be remembered with the presentation of the Prisoner of War Medal, for his service in WWII
BALATON — It’s a time to honor U.S. military members who gave their lives while serving their country. But it’s important to remember those service members as more than just names in the Memorial Day roll call, Balaton American Legion member Lew Roberts said.
That’s part of what members of the American Legion post in Balaton hope to do on Monday, for LeRoy McDonnel.
“His is one of the stories that needs to be told,” said Duane Loeck, a Balaton native and a retired Air Force Senior Master Sgt.
McDonnel, a Balaton community member who died in 1976, was not only a soldier who fought in World War II, but a prisoner of war in Germany after the Battle of the Bulge. During the Memorial Day program in Balaton on Monday, McDonnel will be posthumously awarded with the Prisoner of War Medal.
The program will begin at 10 a.m. at the Ralco Technology Campus auditorium in Balaton.
Col. Kyle Nordmeyer will present a display of the medals McDonnel was eligible for to members of McDonnel’s family, including his son Duane and his daughter Glenda (McDonnel) Roe.
Loeck said he was a high school student in Balaton at the same time as Glenda McDonnel, but he never knew her father had been a prisoner of war.
“He was of that generation,” where many people didn’t talk about their wartime service, Roberts said. “They went, they did it, and they went on about their lives.”
“I started researching, and nobody in Balaton knew anything about the prisoners of war in the area,” Loeck said. “Balaton is rich in military history,” he said, with infantry members, pilots, and even Pearl Harbor survivors in its history.
Loeck and other community members began looking into those military histories, starting with McDonnel’s story.
McDonnel served in the Army from March 1944 to September 1945, and was a prisoner of war from December 1944 to May 1945. However, Loeck said it took a long time to officially prove he was eligible for the Prisoner of War Medal. Part of the difficulty was that McDonnel’s military records in St. Louis, Missouri, had been lost in a fire.
Loeck said local newspaper articles from 1944 and 1945 helped prove McDonnel was eligible for the medal. One news story local researchers found dated to December 1944, and said McDonnel was missing in action.
“The next article talked about him being a prisoner of war,” Loeck said. A third story talked about McDonnel being assigned to Camp Carson, near Colorado Springs, for rehabilitation for frostbitten hands and feet.
Loeck and Balaton Legion Commander John Daniels said McDonnel did eventually talk with his family about some of his experiences. McDonnel and other prisoners were marched across fields through cold weather, with little food, they said.
McDonnel and other veterans like him came back to Balaton and helped build the community, Roberts said. McDonnel served on the Balaton school board.
Legion members say they hope to continue bringing the stories of Balaton community members to light, and recognizing the names on the town veterans’ memorial.
“The whole town is behind the veterans, that’s for sure,” Daniels said.
Monday Memorial Day programs
• Marshall — A Memorial Day program will be held at 11 a.m. at Liberty Park. Jeff Gay will be the featured speaker. Following the program, a meal for veterans will be served at the American Legion post in Marshall. There will be a fre-will donation for the meal.
• Members of the Marshall American Legion and VFW will hold Memorial Day services at area cemeteries. Ceremonies will be held at the Lynd Cemetery at 8 a.m., at Green Valley Cemetery at 8:30, at Marshall Cemetery at 9:00, and at Calvary Catholic Cemetery at 9:30.
• Balaton — American Legion Post 237 will hold a Memorial Day program at 10 a.m. at the Ralco Technology Campus.
• Canby — VFW Post 117 will hold a Memorial Day program at 10 a.m. at Canby High School.
• Clarkfield — A Memorial Day program will be held at 9 a.m. at Clarkfield Charter School. Dennis Kohlman will be the featured speaker.
• Cottonwood — A Memorial Day program will be held at 9:30 a.m. at the Cottonwood Community Center.
• Currie — Memorial Day services will be held at 9 a.m. at Willow Lake Cemetery, at End-O-Line Memorial at 9:30, at Pioneer Cemetery at 9:45, at IHM Church at 10:00, and at the bridge on the north end of Mill Street at 10:30. A program will be held at 11 a.m. at the Currie fire hall.
• Echo — A Memorial Day program will be held at 10:30 a.m. at the Echo Community Center. The speaker will be Ben Lecy.
• Garvin — A Memorial Day program will be held at 10:30 a.m. at Bethel Cemetery in Custer Township. In case of rain, the program will be held at Lake Sarah Lutheran Church in Garvin.
Prior to the program at Bethel Cemetery, the Garvin Legion will pay tribute to veterans at Modum Cemetery at 8 a.m., Lake Sarah Baptist Cemetery at 8:15, Bethany Cemetery at 8:45, and Hoiland Cemetery at 9:15.
• Granite Falls — A Memorial Day program will be held at 11 a.m. at Veteran’s Park. Tarin Gatchell will be the featured speaker. In case of rain, the program will be held at Yellow Medicine East High School.
• Hanley Falls — A Memorial Day program will be held at 9:15 a.m. at Yellow Medicine Lutheran Church. Mike Oftedahl will be the featured speaker.
• Hendricks — A Memorial Day program will be held at 10:30 a.m. at Hendricks Public School.
• Ivanhoe — A Memorial Day program will be held at 9 a.m. at Lincoln HI Elementary. Placing of flags at cemeteries in Ivanhoe, Wilno and Arco will follow the program.
• Lake Benton — A Memorial Day program will be held at 9:30 a.m. at the Lake Benton Opera House.
• Lucan — Patriotic music will start at 6:30 p.m. at the Community Center, with a Memorial Day program following at 7:00. Chris Dinsmore will be the featured speaker.
• Milroy — A Memorial Day program will be held at 10 a.m. at the Milroy school. Lee Simmons will be the featured speaker.
• Minneota — A Memorial Day program will be held at 10 a.m. at the American Legion building in Minneota. Special speakers will be Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Norby and VFW Commander Pamela Gregor.
• A “Light the Lights” program will be held at Veteran’s Park in Minneota at 8:30 p.m.
• Porter — A Memorial Day potluck will be held at 6:30 p.m. at the Porter Hall.
• Russell — Memorial Day services will be held at 11 a.m. at the Russell Cemetery. A potluck meal will be held at the Russell Community Center following the service.
• Ruthton — American Legion Post and Auxiliary 506 will hold a Memorial Day program and free-will donation lunch at 11 a.m. at the Ruthton Community Center.
• St. Leo — American Legion Post 524 and Auxiliary will hold a Memorial Day program at 11 a.m. at St. Leo Catholic Church.
• Taunton — American Legion Post 604 will hold a Memorial Day service at 9 a.m.
• Tracy — American Legion Post 171 will hold a Memorial Day program at 9 a.m. at the Caboose. Chuck Childs will be the featured speaker.
• Tyler — American Legion Post 185 will hold a Memorial Day service at 10 a.m. at the Tyler Legion Hall. Michael Dale Thompson will be the guest speaker.
• Vesta — A Memorial Day program will be held at 7 p.m. at the Community Hall. Bill Palmer will be the featured speaker.
• Wabasso — American Legion Post 263 will hold a Memorial Day program at 10 a.m. at the Wabasso Community Center. The speaker will be Gabrielee Cohrs-Rohlik.
• Walnut Grove — A Memorial Day program will be held at 9:30 a.m. at Westbrook-Walnut Grove Elementary. Jim Mertens will be the featured speaker.
• Westbrook — The Westbrook American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars will hold a Memorial Day program at 10:30 a.m. at the Westbrook-Walnut Grove High School gym. Prior to the program, Legion and VFW members will hold observances at 9 a.m. at Rosehill Cemetery, and at Mennonite Cemetery at 9:15.
• Wood Lake — American Legion and Auxiliary Post 556 will hold a Memorial Day program at 10:30 a.m. at the Wood Lake Community Center. Mike Oftedahl will be the guest speaker.