Headwaters Center for Lifelong Learning: Little MN in World War II

September 08, 2020

Headwaters Center for Lifelong Learning (HCLL) presents Jill and Deane Johnson: “Little Minnesota in World War II,” as the second in its online Fall 2020 Series. To access the video, go to HCLL’s Facebook page, or type in the corrected link: youtu.be/oKsKqEJ3_7w. The Johnsons’ presentation to HCLL kicked off the spring 2018 season, where they shared results of their extensive research into the sacrifices made by residents of Minnesota’s tiniest towns. Deane answered the question of “Where do we find all this stuff?” by reporting they went to the National Park Service, National Archives, 

ancestry.com, family members and other sources to gather as much information as possible.

Naval recruiters at the time expressed a preference for farm boys, because they worked hard, knew a lot about the outdoors and could fix anything, said Jill. A total of 165 men from Minnesota’s tiniest towns gave their lives in World War II. Their average age was about 22. The first casualty happened during the very first day of the war, when John Emery of Perley, MN, perished on the USS Arizona. “And then we traveled throughout the whole war,” said Jill. “We found one spouse. She’s 101 and she’s in assisted living in Carlton. Sharp as a tack. She told us the entire story of her husband, Peter Chernich. It was so interesting to talk with her,” Jill said. Merchant Marine Peter Chernich, 3rd engineer, was assigned to the USS Samuel Tilden. While unloading cargo at Bari, Italy, 105 German bombers flew in and hit 17 ships. Chernich died in the inferno. It was later called “the Pearl Harbor of the Atlantic.” His wife, Ailie, never received a widow’s pension. The Merchant Marine wasn’t considered part of the U.S. military service until much later, Jill explained.

Personal stories supplied by families of the featured military members are found throughout the book, which was released Sept. 26, 2017 and is available for purchase at Beagle and Wolf Books in Park Rapids.