UND serves and remembers its military veterans
Alumni ceremony, POW stories, Memorial Union Honor Wall part of Veterans Day observance
Veterans Day on Friday is the time when the University of North Dakota honors those who have served or are serving in the United States military and remembers those who gave their lives in service to their country.
As America loses more World War II veterans every day, the Department of Special Collections in the Chester Fritz Library is making interviews of former prisoners of war (POWs) available online through YouTube. At the Memorial Union, plans are underway to create an Honor Wall recording the names of UND students, faculty, staff and alumni who lost their lives in World War II and conflicts after 1945.
Cassie Gerhardt, associate vice president for student affairs, said that by this time next year, she expects there to be an Honor Wall on the second floor of the Memorial Union outside the ballroom area.
“Our commitment in this building is to have one location where we honor those who lost their lives while on active duty,” she noted. “It’s the foundation of why we have a Memorial Union on this campus in the first place.”
Veterans Day ceremony
University President Andrew Armacost – a 30-year U.S. Air Force veteran – will speak on Friday at the UND Alumni Association & Foundation annual Veterans Day ceremony held at 10:30-11:30 a.m. in the Gorecki Alumni Center. Other speakers include DeAnna Carlson Zink, UNDAAF CEO, and Grand Forks Mayor Brandon Bochenski. UND ROTC cadets will participate in the ceremony with cadet Jenna Hogetvedt as master of ceremonies.
“With our proximity to the Grand Forks Air Force Base, the Cavalier Space Force Station and the National Guard facilities in our region, it’s important for the University of North Dakota to serve and meet the educational needs of active-duty military, veterans and their family members,” Armacost said.
“I’m proud that UND is recognized as one of the top military friendly universities in the nation and that Grand Forks is considered one of the top communities in the nation for veterans,” he added.
Armacost said it’s also important for the University to honor the wartime sacrifices made by UND’s alumni, students, faculty and staff who have served in the military.
“We must preserve their memories and honor their sense of duty to protect the freedoms Americans enjoy today,” he said. “We should also pay attention to the hard lessons they learned to avoid repeating mistakes of the past.”
A series of video interviews with former North Dakota and Minnesota POWs have been uploaded to YouTube by Chester Fritz Library Special Collections. “Kriegieland: Conversations with Ex-POWs” were the work of the late Elmer Lian, a UND graduate who piloted bombers during World War II and received the Distinguished Flying Cross. His B-17 was shot down over Germany in 1944 and he spent the remainder of the war in a POW camp or stalag. Lian died in 2001.
Lian’s son Steven Lian, a retired UND alum who lives in North Carolina, remembered that unlike some veterans who preferred not to talk about their wartime experiences, his father harbored a strong desire to share and record what happened to him and other POWs during World War II.
“He took notes when he was in a prisoner of war and wrote his memoirs,” Steven said. “He was always an observer and writer.
“He was one person who was different from those who didn’t want to talk about their experiences in the war,” he recalled. “For whatever reason, he didn’t mind talking about his service and was very proud of it.”
After a reunion with ex-POWs in the early 1980s, Lian decided to contact and interview as many of them as he could. Steven and his son helped in recording interviews at other reunions.
By 2000, Lian had recorded videos with 38 former POWs from the Pacific and European theaters and two from the Korean War who lived in North Dakota and Minnesota. Steven assisted with the video interview of his father, included in Kriegieland.
“He was always documenting these stories, and he told me thousands of World War II veterans were dying every day. He didn’t want their memory to fade away. He wanted to pass on their stories.”
According to Steven, the name of the video series – Kriegieland – comes from the German word that means prisoner of war. The POWs in the stalags shortened the word and referred to themselves as “kriegies.” Kriegieland is slang for the land of POWs.
Making history accessible
Curt Hanson, head of special collections at the Chester Fritz Library, said in the early 2000s, UND’s Aerospace Network turned Lian’s recorded interviews into a TV show broadcast on a local cable access channel. Outside of the Grand Forks area, few ever saw it.
Later, the videotaped interviews were digitized and included in UND’s Scholarly Commons. Still, Hanson believed “Kriegieland” offered a unique point of view from the perspective of POWs, whose stories are often overlooked by historians. He wanted to make the videos more broadly available to scholars, relatives and anyone else interested in the POW’s wartime experience. That’s why they’re now available on YouTube.
“It is a very different experience from the soldiers who were in the frontlines every day,” he explained. “But it’s still an important part of the American military experience from World War II and Korea.”
Hanson, who’s been an archivist at UND for more than 20 years, puts great value on the POWs expressing themselves in their own words.
“It amazes me that with some of them, being a POW was just something that happened,” he said. “They dealt with it, they moved on; it’s a part of their life. For others it was very impactful, a milestone event in their lives.”
Gerhardt sees efforts to recognize and honor veterans as a necessary part of UND’s educational experience.
“Our entire campus community needs to be aware of what of what people have done in service because sometimes it’s lost on folks,” she said. “We had 172 students who lost their lives in World War II. Some of them probably just wanted to come to college and get their degree, but it was a different time.
“They never had an opportunity to complete a degree and utilize it in service to their communities,” Gerhardt related. “So, to me, it’s about sharing that part of our University history.”