These stories can also be heard Sunday mornings around 10 am on WILD 102’s “Look Back in Time” program. Each week’s radio story will be posted here on our website.
Weekly radio stories are researched, compiled, and read by Sheila Winstead, RCHS Board Member.
World War II was in full force in 1942, when this article came out in the Roseau Times-Region:
“The realities of war came home with full force to Roseau last week when its first war casualty spread
that Homer Gilbertson was listed “missing in action.”
Everyone knew that Homer, fondly nicknamed “Ace,” was in the thick of the struggle on Bataan Peninsula
in the Philippines, serving with a machine gun unit in the Fourth Regiment of United States Marines.
When Bataan fell and reports came that part of the Marine forces had succeeded to reach Corregidor,
the hope was strong in every Roseau breast that “Ace” was there with the others. But late Thursday
afternoon the dread news, carrying one slim ray of hope, came to his parents, Mr. and Mrs. R. A.
Gilbertson. It was from the Marine Commandant and read as follows:
“Washington, D.C., April 23
Deeply regret to inform you that your son, Private First Class Homer A. Gilbertson, U. S. Marine Corps, is
missing in action in Bataan in the performance of his duty and in the service of his country. It may be that
he is a prisoner of war. Your Anxiety is appreciated and you will be advised when any further details are
T. Holcomb, Lieutenant General U. S. M. C., The Commandant U. S. Marine Corps.”
Thus, in a way, ended a long period of dread suspense with the knowledge ever present that he was in
the thick of battle. Some of that uncertainty is still there but backed by the ray of hope that he may be a
Homer enlisted in the Marines October 24, 1940, in Minneapolis. He was sent to San Diego, California, for
his training. There he displayed his ability and aptness in such a marked degree as to be selected with the
special group of Marines chosen for duty in the International Settlement in Shanghai, China. They left for
the Far East port on January 15, 1941, arriving there on February 21 st . When relations with Japan began to
get strained, speculation and worries began as to what would happen to our troops over there. No direct
information came regarding their removal except what was noted in Time Magazine that the Marines at
Shanghai had landed in the Philippines on November 22 nd . Actual verification of Homer’s whereabouts
came December 23 rd , when he sent a radiogram to his folks that he was feeling fine and was safe at
Manila. He also sent a message of greeting to the Roseau High School Alumni, which came to them at
their annual banquet. The Japanese attack on Manila soon followed and those wires proved to be the last
messages he could get through.
The deepest heartfelt sympathy of everyone is with the family and yet there is an exalted feeling, too,
over a fine soldier who served his country in the most classic battle of all time under that great leader,
General Douglas MacArthur.”
However, a picture of a group of prisoners captured by the Japanese and photographed by the Japanese
and printed in “Life” magazine last summer brought confirmation of hopes to the family that Homer was
one of them. In the foreground was a tall bewhiskered Marine whose pose and physical characteristics
shouted “Ace” all over.
In 1943, the March 25 edition of Roseau Times-Region reported on some servicemen that had been taken
prisoner by the Japanese. The article says this:
“Mr. and Mrs. R. A. Gilbertson and daughter and son, Miss Ruth and John, received the happy news that
their son and brother, Private First Class Homer A. Gilbertson, was a prisoner of war of the Japanese in
the Philippine Islands. The letter from Headquarters of U. S. Marine Corps in Washington, D. C., was
dated March 15 th , addressed to Mr. Gilbertson, and reads as follows:
“A partial list of American prisoners of war in the Manila Bay area has just been received from the
International Red Cross, containing the name of your son, Private First Class Homer A. Gilbertson, U. S.
Marine Corps, confirming the fact that he is alive and a prisoner of war.”
The family was then given an address with the Japanese Red Cross where they could communicate with
him by mail.
The Times-Region published this update on Homer Gilbertson on September 27, 1945.
“Yesterday morning Mr. and Mrs. R. A. Gilbertson and family of Roseau received the wonderful news that
their son and brother, PFC Homer L. Gilbertson, had been liberated from a Japanese prison camp. Last
known he had been transferred from Luzon to a camp on Kiushu, the southernmost of the four Japanese
home islands. It is believed he was put to work there together with other prisoners to work in the coal
The telegram reads as follows: “Pleased to inform you of the liberation from Japanese custody of your
son, PFC Homer Gilbertson, USMC on 13 th September. He sends the following message: ‘Liberated. Will
see you soon. Be home for Christmas. Love, Homer.’
Further details will be furnished you promptly when received. You may send Marine Corps Headquarters
a 25-word message for Homer. Every effort will be made to deliver message before he returns to the
The message was signed by the commandant of the U. S. Marine Corps at Washington, D. C.
On October 25, 1945, another update was published. “Corporal Homer Gilbertson, who came home
Monday evening, was kept a prisoner for some time on southern Honshu, the main island of the
Japanese, and was put to mining coal. He thinks he knows something about coal mining now. At least he
has something to show for it. He brought with him the shoes he was issued, the cap he wore as a miner,
and the eating utensils he was given. The kit contained a wooden spoon and fork, just the iron blade of a
knife. In the kit was also two tiny pipes so he could smoke. They even fortified him with a little iron pick
for scraping the dirt out of his ears. Well, he can laugh about it now.
His camp was not far from Hiroshima, which was the place the first atomic bomb struck. In getting away
from Japan, he had to go by train, and the route was around Hiroshima. He could see what some of the
destruction was like.
Corporal Gilbertson weighed 110 pounds at one time, but looking at him now one wouldn’t believe it.”
Homer Gilbertson lived a good life thereafter, being a teacher and head coach of three sports at
Mahtomedi High School until his retirement in 1979. He died in 1986 and an athletic scholarship fund was
created in his name at that school.
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