Four Duluth WWII Vets, One Undying Friendship

Four Longtime Friends and War Vets Reunite Once a Year In Hometown of Duluth

DULUTH, Minn.-A cocktail of nostalgia and joy is always served at reunions. Seeing old friends and sharing memories of a time long past.

“It’s wonderful, it really brings back good memories, and bad,” said WWII Staff Sgt. Dave Hennings.

Some of those memories are darker than others, riddled with violence, conflict, and strife. These four friends saw it all, serving in WWII.

“It was a different world, we had a country to defend then,” said 4th Class Sgt. LeRoy Haglund, quick and nimble at 98 years old.

The four friends actually grew up together, right here in Duluth. They were all baptized at Bethel Baptist Church. They were all lifeguards at Park Point, “seeing all the pretty ladies” according to Hennings.

They roamed the streets of Duluth under the nickname “the Fleckenstein Boys.”

Forming a strong bond, at a time when the whole nation was united in struggle.

“We all came up through about the same hard depression years that many of us endured, and as a result we developed a close friendship,” Hennings said.

They jumped into the fight of their lives. Prepped, by their lives.

“Needless to say we had hard times, but it prepared us for what we had to leave as we were younger, and into the service, and so forth.”

They entered the war, armed with weapons in one hand, and Minnesota Values in the other. Not out for glory, just hoping to do their part protecting others.

“The rank didn’t mean too much to me, except it always helped,” said VMF 223 Plane Captain Chuck Gustafson.

“But it was what I was doing that really sat with me.”

Despite challenges, they still found a way to keep their spirit–and sense of humor–alive.

“I was based at the time in San Diego, the Marine Corps base,” Gustafson said. “And my friend Roger was in the navy at Treasure Island, in San Francisco…So we worked it out to meet in Fresno, California.”

“And then the next thing we did, we exchanged uniforms. He became a marine, and I became a swabby.”

But one memory stands out clearer than the rest.

“Now the best part of the whole thing,” said Hennings, “was coming home.”

Home. And back to just being Minnesotans.

“I spent probably 30 seconds in Lake Superior pushing the ice aside,” Gustafson said. “We had to go in, to say that we had been swimming in Lake Superior in the winter.”

“We’re just like all kids, y’know, you goof around as much as you can and hope you get away with it.”

All these years later, the Fleckenstein Boys are still together.

“I’ve stuck with them my whole life, and I would say that we’re at the point we would do anything for each other,” Gustafson said.

They may look weathered by their experiences, but their eyes shine with youthful vibrance. A state LeRoy’s brother, Roger, is very thankful for.

“Truthfully, I’m very pleased to be here, I’m pleased we’re all here,” said the 3rd class Electronic Technicians Mate.

“We’ve had our 90th plus birthdays and I think we’re very fortunate to be here.”

“Amen, brother,” replied Gustafson.

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