The Veterans Day program put on by Harry G. Fix Post 23 of Garretson, S.D., in November was a bit out of the ordinary. In addition to the emphasis on today’s servicemembers and veterans, the post Legion Family conducted a multimedia presentation on the life and death of a local World War I soldier, and how the first incarnation of what is today The American Legion Magazine helped bring closure to his family.
Martin Haugse was a native of Garretson who enlisted in the Army during the war. He sent letters and photographs back to his parents. And after he was killed in action, the Haugses received more letters – from the Army, the governor of South Dakota, and friends of Haugse’s who had been serving with him when he died in the Argonne on Oct. 15, 1918.
According to post member Jim Kurtz, who also serves on the board of directors of the Garretson Historical Society, a packet containing all this information was dropped off at the society by an unknown person, likely a family member. Each of the friends’ letters “seemed to reference an article in The American Legion Weekly that Martin’s father had apparently written, seeking information.” It was in the “Find Your Buddy” section of the Nov. 21, 1919, edition, asking for more information about the incident that led to Haugse’s death at his automatic rifle position; it is reminiscent of today’s “Comrades” section in the monthly magazine.
Reid Christopherson, director of the historical society and another Post 23 member, took possession of the packet, and contacted National Headquarters to get a copy of the “Find Your Buddy” listing. When he left the society’s board and Kurtz ascended to it, he passed the information on. Discussion then ensued within the post on how best to make it public.
In the end, it was decided to tie it in with the Veterans Day program. Post Commander Steven Warren wrote a script for himself and post Legion Family members to read from; they also read from the actual letters the Haugses received. Kurtz prepared a PowerPoint from the materials; he commented that “it was a powerful presentation; not only the commander struggled with tears, but a number in the audience did likewise.”
Paul Evenson, former NECman for the Department of South Dakota, is also a member of Post 23 and attended the program. He called the Haugse family’s story “an example of how The American Legion was a significant and positive influence for our veterans and their families in the Legion’s early start.”
The program can be viewed on YouTube here.