Holding On To History: Veterans Memorial Hall remembers posthumous Medal Of Honor recipients on Memorial Day

Published: May. 29, 2023 at 9:28 PM CDT
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DULUTH, MN. (Northern News Now) - Arleigh Birk of Hoyt Lakes was one of the first Northlanders to fight in World War Two. He was a gun director on a cruiser at Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941. Nearly 80 years later, he still remembered his battle station.

“My battle station was air aft sky two.” said Birk in an interview several years ago.

Arleigh lived to be 99 years and 364 days old. Memorial Day is not for him. Retired Minnesota Army National Guard General Ronald Hien urges us to remember that Armed Services Day is for those still serving, Veterans Day is for those who have served and Memorial Day is for those who fell in battle.

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“You often hear of people who have given their lives for their country, I don’t believe that’s true; I believe their lives were taken from them for the service of their country.” said General Hien at Veterans Memorial Hall.

Veterans Memorial Hall in Duluth’s Depot pays tribute to service people killed in action as part of its mission. One story on display at the Hall is that of Major Henry Courtney who was a lawyer in Duluth and an officer in the Marine Corps Reserve. His World War Two service took him to Iceland, Guadalcanal and Okinawa where he posthumously earned the Medal of Honor.

“He rallied his crew, they were expecting a counter-attack so they decided to attack instead and he led the charge up Sugarloaf Hill and it became a decisive moment in the battle of Okinawa.” said Jay Hagen of Veterans Memorial Hall.

What we now call Veterans Memorial Hall started in 1910 in the then new Saint Louis County Courthouse. It comprised a reception room, kitchen, library and stage for Civil War vets to use. Today’s hall now pays tribute from the war between the states to Vietnam and beyond. Another Medal of Honor recipient to learn about there is Dale Wayrenen of McGregor. In 1967, he was an Army Specialist fighting for the lives of his comrades near Duc Pho.

“He saved his whole platoon, he jumped on a grenade and saved his platoon, he died not long after, he did survive the initial explosion but for selflessness and courage in saving his platoon he was awarded the Medal of Honor.” said Hagen.

Memorial Day is a serious occasion at Veterans Memorial Hall in Duluth
Memorial Day is a serious occasion at Veterans Memorial Hall in Duluth(kbjr)

This Memorial Day, the Duluth Honor guard divided into two teams to cover all the ceremonies that needed them. Vietnam War Marine Corps combat vet Dan Streu tells us the veteran volunteers took part in remembrances morning, night and noon.

“So we’re honoring the war dead and at noon we raise the flag to celebrate the freedom that the people sacrificed their life for so we can enjoy freedom.” said Streu.

Veterans Memorial Hall also has displays at Duluth International Airport. One of them pays respect to James Hubert. He was reported missing in action in the Pacific. His remains were finally found 73 years later and were returned home to Duluth.

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