Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Lois E Johnson
Moose Lake Star-Gazette 

World War II vet reflects on time in service


November 8, 2018

Lois E. Johnson

Morris Gjessing, 92, at his Moose Lake home.

Morris Gjessing of Moose Lake was just 15 when the news came over the radio that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

"We would listen to Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy on the radio in the evening," he said in an interview in his home last week. "That's when the news came that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

"My mother told me, 'I'm so glad that you don't have to go.' But, a year and a half later, I went."

Gjessing said that he had completed high school in the mid-term when he was 17 and wanted to enlist. His parents didn't want him to go but signed for him. He joined the Navy.

"I had my basic training at Farragut Naval Training Station, Idaho, and then I went and worked in the Seattle Naval Hospital for a year and one day. I was a corpsman on the orthopedic ward, emptying bedpans and taking care of IVs and catheters, for the wounded that were coming back from fighting in the Guam Archipelago. Many of them were missing arms and legs."

Gjessing's next assignment prepared him for a big invasion of Japan in 1945.

"We were going to go overseas," he said. "We were sent to San Bruno, California, for Marine corps training and then we boarded a troop ship. We were planning to set up a MASH unit on Okinawa.

"We got there and slept in pup tents for a while and then graduated to a larger umbrella tent. That collapsed on us in a storm one night. The rain was like needle pricks.

"We had planned to invade Japan November 1 but the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August, and Japan surrendered."

The war was over but Gjessing continued to fill out his time in the Navy.

"We went to China, where I served on an ARL converted LST (landing boat), and then from China we went to Manchuria to help kick the Japanese out," he said. "(General George) Marshall or Chiang Kai-shek made a deal where the Communists would take over China at that time."

As he looked back on his service, Gjessing found his best experiences were at his first post at the hospital.

"That was my most rewarding time, talking to the guys that had lost an arm or leg," he said. "They were always upbeat. One guy asked the doctor if he could dance after he got his artificial leg. The doctor said that he couldn't see why not.

"The man told the doctor that he hadn't been able to dance before he lost his leg."

After he was discharged from the Navy, Gjessing thought about his future and taking advantage of the G. I. bill to get an education.

"I went to the Duluth Junior College for two years," he said. "Elsie Pomush was there too. (Elsie Pomush and her sister later lived in Moose Lake in a home by the park. They owned a store next to the Peterson Drugstore back before the 1960s.) And then I went on to UMD.

"As I thought about a career, I knew that teaching was out. I had a bad speech impediment. I went to Alaska one summer and worked on the Alaska Railroad for $1.75 an hour.

"And then I came back to Duluth and finished my degree."

Gjessing still wasn't sure what career to pursue. He went back to Seattle, where he had enjoyed more pleasant times.

"I spent a month on Skid Row," he said. "I still had credit remaining on the G. I. Bill so I went and trained to be a railroad telegrapher. I worked on several railroads, including the Alaska Railroad, the Northern Pacific and the Duluth, Mesabi and Iron Range Railroad as a telegrapher."

Gjessing felt that he should use his college education. His next journey was to Washington D. C. to train as a cartographer (the study and practice of making maps).

"I was a surveyor in Antigua and Barbados," he said. "And then I went to Greenland and Newfoundland to help install navigation aids."

But Gjessing still hadn't found his lifetime career. He went on to pharmacy school, and that became his career for the remainder of his working years.

Provided photo

Morris grew up in Duluth with his adopted parents. His adopted parents were his childless aunt and uncle. He was one of 12 children of his biological parents in Roseau, Minnesota, and is the last one left still living. He was the 11th child in the family.

"I got to be a pharmacist at the age of 35, and that's when I married Marietta," he said. "I ended up in Moose Lake, working at the state hospital (the hospital treated the mentally ill, the developmentally disabled and the chemically dependent). I was only going to stay long enough to earn two paychecks but I had a lot of fun at the state hospital. Sometimes you couldn't tell the staff from the patients, they got so crazy. I enjoyed my years there."

The Gjessings raised three sons. All live in Duluth.

Morris and Marietta were married for 46 years before she died in 2007.

As he looks back on his life, Gjessing has good thoughts.

"Life has been pretty good to me," he said.

But he is dismayed that veterans organizations, like the American Legion and VFW, are not growing.

"I belong to both the American Legion in Moose Lake and the VFW in Carlton," he said. "The Vietnam veterans don't want to belong to anything. Very few people are trying to hold it together."

Gjessing said that he used to attend reunions of the Minnesota LST Association but that disbanded two years ago.

"Life is short, even at its longest," he concluded.


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