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For Willmar man, his war heroics aren't forgotten by faraway land

WILLMAR -- Lyle Sande of Willmar said he was surprised when a UPS driver delivered a letter-size package to his door last month.

The package contained an invitation from the government of the Netherlands.

Sande and six other U.S. Army veterans in Minnesota were to be honored for helping liberate part of central Holland 65 years ago in a dangerous mission that involved more than 20,000 paratroopers.

Sande recalls the fighting was a tremendous battle.

"The Germans were waiting for us. They were not going to leave the country of Holland. It took a little while to get them out of there,'' he said.

Sande, 86, joined the Army in 1943 and was a gliderman in the 82nd's 325th Glider Infantry Regiment. A glider was towed by a twin-engine C-47 and was used to fly troops and vehicles into battle areas. Once the glider was released, the pilot and co-pilot had only a few short minutes to land. Many gliders crashed into trees, killing the occupants.

Sande was among U.S., British and Polish troops who parachuted or floated in gliders into central Holland on Sept. 17, 1944. Their mission, called Operation Market Garden, was to secure a number of Dutch bridges to help Allied tanks get across the Rhine and into Germany near the end of World War II.

Sande had parachuted into Normandy, France, but flew into Holland. The massive and daring midday mission caught some of the Nazi Panzer tank divisions by surprise. But hundreds of Allied troops were killed during the next few weeks.

Two days before the fighting ended, Sande was wounded in the back in Mook, Holland.

Sande and the other veterans living in Minnesota were invited to a ceremony in the State Capitol rotunda Oct. 16 to receive honorary Orange Lanyards for helping liberate the city of Nijmegen during the period from Sept. 17 to Oct. 4, 1944.

Sande says he was not expecting to receive the award. He felt he was just another guy in the service, doing his duty for his country.

"When you're in the service, we're not a hero. We're there to fight for our country, what we do for our country and everything and make our country safe and free. That's what we're there for. We're not there to gain any fantastic medals or anything, but just to keep the country free,'' he said.

"I'm not a hero and I don't intend to be a hero, but I was in there just with the rest of the guys.''

One year after the battle took place, the Netherlands minister of war issued a decree that members of Sande's outfit, the 82nd Airborne Division of the U.S. Army, would receive the Orange Lanyards based on the division's outstanding performance during the airborne operations and ensuing fighting.

Sande hadn't received the award, however, because his records and the records of other soldiers were lost in a fire many decades ago. However, the Dutch government learned from U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman that Sande had not yet received a lanyard, and it was determined that Sande should be invited to the ceremony to receive the award.

The lanyards were presented by the Dutch consul in Minneapolis, Marc A. Al.

Sande was unable to attend due to ill health, but a friend brought his lanyard home.

A native of Garretson, S.D., Sande worked 46 years in the grocery business, including 24 years for the former Tom and Bill's Red Owl of Willmar. He retired on Dec. 31, 1992.

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150