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Paynesville Press - January 1, 2003

Top 12 Stories of 2002: Veterans honored

By Michael Jacobson

Three veterans from Paynesville were honored in 2002 for their military service during World War II.

In August 2002, Paynesville native Rudolph Nelson was awarded the Jubilee of Liberty Medal by the French government for his participation in the D-Day invasion, a half century after he stormed the beaches of Normandy and 25 years after his death.

Nelson was a 29-year-old machine gunner when he landed on the beach at Normandy on June 6, 1944. He had been in Europe since January 1943 and would remain there until September 1945. He was injured twice while fighting in France. He lost part of an ear after getting shot through the earhole in his helmet, and he received a wound to his thigh that landed him in a hospital, but he returned to the front line after each injury and continued to fight in Europe until Nazi Germany surrendered in May 1945. Nelson had previously received the Bronze Star for exposing himself to enemy fire while protecting his unit in February 1945 and was awarded two Purple Hearts for the injuries he received. In November 2002, American Legion Post #271 honored veterans Milt Koshiol and Hub Schwandt, who were taken as prisoners of war during World War II, with lifetime paid memberships for their service. Schwandt was captured in North Africa in December 1942 and held in captivity for nearly 30 months, until May 1945. In that time, he traveled from Tunis to Sicily to Italy to Germany and was held in a dozen camps, including eight stalags in Germany. At one camp in Italy, Schwandt lost over 100 pounds in 56 days; he started at 225 pounds and weighed only 119 pounds two months later.

Twice Schwandt escaped captivity, but was recaptured each time. He was finally freed for good in May 1945, after 29 months and 27 days as a prisoner of war.

Koshiol, in the armored infantry under the command of General George Patton, was captured in March 1945 after a daring dash behind enemy lines to liberate a prisoner of war camp 60 miles away. The mission - with nearly 300 soldiers and over 50 halftracks, tanks, and jeeps - was meant to be a lightning strike, and the force did free the camp, momentarily, but could not transport many of the released prisoners. Instead, after a night of fighting and trying to get back to the American lines, the remnants of the column ended up surrounded on a hill and about 150 men surrendered and were taken to the very prisoner of war camp that they had "liberated" just hours earlier.

After 33 days of captivity, including two weeks walking to another camp, Koshiol was liberated from Stalag 7A by Patton and the advancing American army.

The Press featured another soldier, Virl Liebrenz, for Memorial Day 2002. Liebrenz spent only nine days in Korea in 1953. He was killed in a firearms accident in the same month, July 1953, that the truce was signed, ending hostilities.

(Editor's Note: the Press has identified these 12 stories as the top news in the Paynesville area for 2002. For the top accomplishments in sports, see the 2002 sports review.)

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