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War tells just small part of bond for five regional vets

The Montevideo contingent of World War II veterans includes John Handeen, from left, Milt Hoidal, Verdie Gilbertson, Stan Folkestad, George Stai and Connie Stai. Handeen lives on a farm outside of town, while the other five all live within a few blocks of each other. Aaron Hagen/Daily Globe

WASHINGTON -- Five Montevideo men who embarked on Honor Flight Southwest Minnesota's third journey recently to Washington, D.C., shared more in common than simply serving their country in World War II. All now live within just a few blocks of each other in a town they've called home for more than 40 years, if not their entire lives.

Milt Hoidal, Verdie Gilbertson, Stan Folkestad, George Stai and Conrad "Connie" Stai each had a different mission in World War II. Hoidal was a member of the Marine Corps, Gilbertson was an Army man, George Stai and Folkestad served in the Navy, and Connie Stai was in the Army Air Corps.

"I was a staff sergeant in the Air Force, making top secret maps for General Arnold," said Connie Stai, who served from 1943 through the end of the war. At 93, he was the oldest veteran on this Honor Flight.

The top secret maps he made are on display in the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

Stai said it was great that he could make the trip with the fellow World War II veterans of his neighborhood, including his younger brother who lives a block down the street.

The five men all have different stories of war.

Folkestad served as an aviation ordnance man aiding with bombs and fuses for the airplanes. George Stai served aboard the USS Flint CL-97, a light anti-aircraft cruiser, in the Pacific.

"We were with Admiral Halsey's tourist fleet," George Stai said. "He was quite a tour guide. I started the war in the Philippines, then went to Iwo Jima, Okinawa and a few other places."

Gilbertson trained in Kentucky, North Carolina, Texas, Oklahoma and New York before being sent overseas as an infantryman.

"We backpacked across France and Germany," he said.

While a few of their war stories were shared on the Honor Flight journey, Gilbertson said they don't talk about them much at home anymore.

"Nobody believes them anymore anyway," he said with a laugh.

The Montevideo men get together every Tuesday afternoon at the American Legion in town, where they watch a movie and visit.

"It's war stories -- what else would we watch!" the 91-year-old Hoidal added with a chuckle.

As a Marine, Hoidal served in the Second Division in the South Pacific. When nearly his entire group was wiped out in the battle at Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands, he was transferred to the Third Marine Engineers.

"When I was ready to come home, I was carried out of the jungles on a stretcher and I had 31 days in Fleet Hospital 11 at Guam," Hoidal said. "I had malaria, Dengue fever and jungle rot. I had a 106 (degree) fever from the malaria."

He was sent home on the USS Maryland and they stopped at Pearl Harbor for a repair before making the final leg of the journey to Bremerton, Wash.

"The first thing I did was get a malted milk shake," Hoidal said with a laugh.

Julie Buntjer writes for the Worthington Daily Globe, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.