Kevin Bonham, Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald, Published September 14 2009
National Guard members reunite at camp
What do you expect to hear from this feisty World War II veteran who volunteered to jump out of airplanes during combat duty in Europe – despite his mother’s objections – fought in the Korean War, served 21 years as a city police officer in Bismarck and spent 13 years in the North Dakota National Guard?
While he enjoys retirement, he wishes he had more to give to his country. A couple of years ago, he marched into the National Guard state headquarters in Bismarck and volunteered to re-enlist to serve in Iraq.
“I said, ‘Assign me to an outpost, give me a good machine gun and some food and I’ll be fine,’ ” he said. “When it’s all over, I’ll be there, because I can’t run anymore.”
Fahlsing, a Lisbon native now living in Colorado, returned to Camp Grafton, the National Guard training facility south of Devils Lake, over the weekend to see some longtime friends. About 130 Guard veterans were expected at the event, running through today.
While in the Guard, he served as the noncommissioned officer of the commissary at Camp Grafton during the Guard’s annual two-week training sessions. The commissary supplied food for the mess hall to feed the 3,600 soldiers during annual duty.
“I haven’t seen some of these guys in 35 years,” he said.
Fahlsing was just 17 in 1941 when he tried to join the Army right after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. His mother refused to sign the papers.
He volunteered for the draft in 1943.
“I got in the paratroops, because I saw a newsreel,” he said. “In one of my rare letters home to my mother, I said I was thinking of the paratroops. She didn’t write me a letter; she sent me a telegram. ‘Don’t you dare.’ I was already signed up then.
“I was a little ticked off at her because she wouldn’t sign the papers for me when I was 17.”
He was sent first to Italy as part of the 517th Parachute Regimental Combat Team, one of the Army’s first elite combat units.
“It’s like today’s Navy Seals,” he said, or the Army’s Special Forces or Green Berets.
After training near Naples, the 517th, with some 2,500 troops, spent some time along the front lines in Italy.
The 517th’s largest piece of equipment was a nearly 1,500-pound 75mm Pack Howitzer, designed to be quickly broken down into packs that could be dropped from airplanes and hauled by hand.
“We were the mules,” Fahlsing said.
The 517th also saw combat duty in southern France and the Battle of the Bulge.
Fahlsing’s only combat parachute jump was in southern France in 1944, during what was termed Operation Dragoon, which involved assault forces formed from three divisions, totaling more than 94,000 troops.
The 517th was part of the 1st Airborne Task Force for the assault, one of the invasion’s leading units.
“In the paratroops, I found out what it’s like to be a man,” he said. “We spearheaded the airborne invasion of southern France. We did our job so well, the unit following us came in standing up, drinking beer.”
While southern France was his only jump into combat, the 517th was poised for seven other airborne combat invasions.
“I sweated out seven, but I didn’t have to do it,” he said. “That was worse than jumping.”
After World War II, Fahlsing returned to North Dakota, where he worked construction with his father.
He also traveled to Ohio with one of his fellow paratroopers for a visit, where he was supposed to meet one of his paratrooper sisters, Betty. He did meet her. Eventually, he married her.
Fahlsing also served for a year in Korea before being forced to retire from active duty after a back injury.
In 1955, he was hired as a police officer in Bismarck. Two years later, he enlisted in the North Dakota National Guard.
He recalls Camp Grafton in the late 1950s.
“We slept in tents,” he said. “The showers were too hot when you started and too cold when you finished.”
He was assigned to run the commissary.
“It was an old building, entirely crude,” he said.
When he was appointed, he learned he had no staff. So, he borrowed a .45-caliber gun from a fellow soldier, marched into an officer’s hall to get some people to work in the commissary.
“I said I want two from that unit, three from that one, and a couple from over there,” he said. “I got my men.”
Ed and Betty Fahlsing were vacationing at a lake cabin in Minnesota on Sept. 11, 2001. They didn’t hear about the terrorist attacks until friends and relatives called.
They’ve been married for 62 years and have five grown children, ten grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. Two of their sons served in the military – Army and Air Force, with one of them still serving. The other, who also was a paratrooper, retired as a colonel.
One grandson is serving in Iraq.
Fahlsing’s been retired for about 25 years now.
“And loving every minute of it,” he said.