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A special tribute to a local WWII Veteran

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As a community reporter, I have had the privilege of meeting a lot of wonderful people. In the process of interviewing people for a story, I often learn about their extended families and things close to their hearts. And many times, I feel that my life has been enriched by getting to know them and having had the honor to share their story with our readers.

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A while back, I did a story about Leonard Amundson. He and his daughter, Lynette, had just returned from their trip to Washington, D.C. as part of WDAY's third WWII Honor Flight. I remember sitting with him in his tidy apartment in the Cooperative Independent Living Center, surrounded by flags and patriotic pillows and memorabilia.

It wasn't easy for him to talk about the war. He talked sparingly, in a halted voice, until he began to relax and feel comfortable talking about a part of his life that he usually carried deep inside.

Leonard had been drafted into the United States Army in 1943 and served in the European Theater of Operations in Rhineland, Ardennes, and Central Europe. He was later sent to the Pacific, and wound up in the southern part of France, serving in the famous Battle of the Bulge.

During our conversation, Leonard told me about going home on furlough once toward the end of the war. Having grown up on a small farm near Skaar, North Dakota, he remembered having a pretty quiet homecoming with no one waiting to welcome him home when he got off the train.

But tears came to his eyes as he told me about all of the fanfare and people standing in line to salute him when he returned home from his Honor Flight trip. The hero's welcome he received at Hector Airport meant a great deal to him.

I remembered thinking, at the time, how lucky his daughter was to have had the opportunity to go on the Honor Flight with him, and share in his memories.

Last October, Leonard celebrated his 90th birthday at an open house at Zion Lutheran Church surrounded by his family and friends. His family graciously invited me to attend.

I talked to Leonard a couple of weeks ago when I was visiting at the Cooperative Living Center. Little did I know that it would be the last time I would see him.

He died on Friday, March 13. His hero's welcome at Hector Airport was nothing in comparison to the welcome home he is receiving now.

We'll miss you, Leonard.

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