The tales of two veterans
Honor, respect and camaraderie. It's those values that motivate veterans John Werner and Larry Kubiak to continue to serve in the Duluth Honor Guard.
"There's a camaraderieship between all of us. We're comfortable around each other. You easily associate with fellow veterans. They might not have necessarily been in your unit, but the camaraderie is still there," Werner said.
Kubiak and Werner didn't serve in the same unit or even the same branch. The Budgeteer reached out to the veterans to share their stories on honor of Veteran's day.
Kubiak joined the Naval Reserve on Park Point in 1960 shortly after graduating from Denfeld High School. In the reserve program, Kubiak went into active service for two years. There was a choice of three different types of ships on which he could serve. Kubiak was assigned to the "biggest and best" aircraft carrier USS Enterprise. It was the first nuclear powered aircraft carrier that launched in 1961. Kubiak is considered a "plank member" or original crew member.
"We were called plank members because we were the first aboard. It's an old traditional Navy term from back when ships were wooden," Kubiak said.
Kubiak's main job on the ship was as a signalman, using semaphore to communicate, although his fellow crewmembers referred to him as a "skivvy waver."
"That was a colorful way of referring to us signalmen. A long time ago, someone decided our flags looked like skivvies, or undershorts, so that was what we were called," Kubiak said.
Kubiak saw some excitement while he was deployed, including a visit from President Kennedy. He also had a brush with another famous person, literally. When the Enterprise was deployed to patrol the Mediterranean, the carrier made a stop in Cannes, France during the film festival. While anchored there, Kubiak recalls spending an hour painting the deck and railing of an upper deck Navy deck gray. He moved up to the next level to continue painting when he noticed a heavyset gentleman and two ladies coming aboard, stepping on the freshly painted deck and leaning on the railing.
"It was Alfred Hitchcock! There he was in this fine, expensive suit, now covered in paint," Kubiak said. "I like to say I'm one of the only men who can say they painted Alfred Hitchcock."
Kubiak's carrier was also in the middle of one of the most well-known events of the Cold War, the Cuban Missile Crisis in October of 1962.
"We were deployed for action. It didn't come to that, but it came very close. It could have been very bad," Kubiak said.
After his two years serving in active duty, Kubiak was given the opportunity to continue on active duty or to become a reserve member. Kubiak decided to return to Duluth. He attended Lake Superior College, then known as Duluth Technical College, trained to be a machinist and worked for Minnesota Power until he retired in 2000. He has served on the Duluth Honor Guard for about seven years.
"It's something I'm very proud to do. We're there at the funerals to thank the family of the service member and honor the veteran for what he did for his country," Kubiak said. "I don't think there's a better thing to do."
For current Rice Lake Mayor John Werner, joining the army was a matter of family tradition. Most of his uncles served in World War II, several of his great relatives served in WWI and the Spanish-American War. When Werner enlisted in 1969 shortly after graduating from Duluth Central High School, after a brief stint in college.
"I'd known since fourth grade that I wanted to be a paratrooper. College wasn't for me. I knew my family had served and I wanted to do the same," Werner said. "My family was, and is, very patriotic."
He served primarily as a combat engineer. His second deployment was to Vietnam. One distinct memory he has was of the sound of an McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom flying overhead.
"At the time, the Air Force base had these F-4s that they'd fly and people around air base here in Duluth would complain about the noise. And it was loud. But to me, that's the sound of freedom," Werner said.
Werner recalls once being in a firefight while in a truck convoy. They called in air support and heard the sound of an F-4 flying overhead.
"There's not a more beautiful sound when you're pinned down and taking heat," Werner said.
Werner's career spanned 41 years. He retired after 35 years, but he was recalled after seven months. He went back for five more years as a command sergeant major while in the Army Reserves. Continuing the family tradition, both sons served in the military as well.
Today, Werner continues to serve his fellow veterans by serving on the honor guard, as a member of the Veteran's Memorial Hall advisory committee and as the vice president of the the St. Louis County Historical Society board of governors. He was instrumental in the recovery and installation of the USS Duluth ship's anchor along the Lakewalk.
When asked why he served, Werner's answer is succinct.
"It was a service to the country and to the American people," Werner said. "It wasn't about glory or glamor. There's nothing glamorous about fighting. But I wanted to do my duty to protect my country. That's it."
The annual Twin Ports Veterans Day march and ceremony will be on Friday, Nov. 11. Doors open 9 a.m. at the Depot, 506 W. Michigan St. Lineup begins at 9:30 a.m. and departs at 10 a.m. All veterans are welcome to participate. The public is invited to watch the parade, which will go up Fifth Avenue West to Superior Street, east to Lake Avenue, south across I-35 and west to the DECC.