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WWII vets meet for 75th anniversary

Bob Watts, one of the last surviving members of the 125th Field Artillery. (Photo submitted)1 / 2
Bob Watts and friend at the Iwo Jima memorial in Virginia.2 / 2

On Tuesday, Feb. 9, the last two remaining Northland members of the 125th Field Artillery from World War II will meet for lunch at the Pickwick, as they have so many times before.

Bob Watts, age 93, of Canyon, and Captain Willard Nelson of Lutsen, 101, will be joined by two dozen or more "honorary" members of the 125th, surviving spouses of men who served, younger military members, friends, family and others that Watts adopted into the 125th Field Artillery Association.

Weather permitting, Watts and Nelson will dine together the day before a most remarkable anniversary for the pair of WWII veterans.

Seventy-five years ago, on Feb. 10, 1941, the members of the 125th, headquartered at the Duluth Armory on London Road, were inducted into federal service. Together they went off to training in Louisiana, expecting to come home after 10 months to resume their usual lives.

Then Pearl Harbor happened and their lives changed forever. The first and second battalions of the 125th were split up and the first battalion attached to the 34th "Red Bull" Division. They shipped out for the European theater of operations in early February 1942, stopping in Northern Ireland and England before setting sail for North Africa, where they joined the 34th Division Task Force and its invasion of Algiers.

They fought their way through North Africa, then to Sicily in July 1943 and on to Naples and up the boot of Italy: Leghorn, Pisa, Florence and into the mountains. Bologna was seized in April in 1945, then Milan and Venice. The war in Italy ended May 2, 1945.

Members of the 125th and Red Bull were discharged four months later, coming home to Duluth to little fanfare but many happy friends and family.

The survivors set up a meeting place at the Zelda Inn in downtown Duluth, "where the boys could get together," said Watts.

Two years later, the 125th Field Artillery Association was organized and monthly meetings were set up at the Pickwick Restaurant on East Superior Street.

They've been meeting there for 64 years now.