74 years after his military service began, Bob Watts was the only World War II veteran at this week's annual gathering in Duluth. But there was no need to be lonely.
The News Tribune reports many family members of those who served with Watts in the 125th Field Artillery Battalion during the war were on hand at the Pickwick Restaurant.
The gatherings mark the anniversary of the day in 1941 when nearly 600 fresh troops marched from the Duluth Armory onto a train that carried them off to serve the country.
The News Tribune says 22 survivors from that group are now spread over 17 states and Watts (at right with daughter Robin Cicmil) of Canyon, Minnesota, was the only one on hand at the Pickwick.
The 91-year-old read a letter he'd written to his mother after 26 months at war, the newspaper reports, describing the paltry rations and exposure to the elements and dispelling any visions of glamor with this line:
“It’s not fun anymore, and anyone back home that wants this kind of glory, I’ll be glad to change places.”
A quarter-million rounds of ammo
Watts was 17 years old when he was inducted into the military. The 125th spent 10 months training at Camp Claiborne in Louisiana before heading overseas soon after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
In a remembrance he wrote for the 67th anniversary in 2008, Watts explained that he was part of an advance detail that left early to set up tents and quarters in the Louisiana mud.
His fellow Duluthians soon joined him after a march down London Road and Superior Street to the Depot for what would be the first trip beyond Minnesota for many of them.
The 125th Field Artillery spent more than 500 days in combat during the war, fighting in Tunisia, Spain, and Italy.
According to a Minnesota National Guard timeline of its history, the unit fired more than 250,000 round of artillery ammunition, which was more than any other battalion.