Remembering the day all hell broke loose

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 12, 1999

We call the day given special reverence yesterday Veterans Day.

Friday, November 12, 1999

We call the day given special reverence yesterday Veterans Day. However, 59 years ago, before the nation became involved in World War II, yesterday’s date on the calendar was known as Armistice Day.

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To an older generation of Minnesotans, and even their descendants, Armistice Day of 1940 still revives memories of the worst single blizzard to ever sweep across the state.

Not long ago former Albert Lea resident Sherman Booen, who now lives in Richfield, received the following letter from another former resident who now lives in New Hampshire.

&uot;I have just finished reading the book ‘All Hell Broke Loose’ by Bill Hull. The book was sent to me from my sister who lives in Minneapolis. I read with interest your account of that day in 1940, a day I remember well and in particular listening to you on KATE. I was 15 years old at the time and little did I know that in two years I would be in the service.

&uot;You probably don’t realize how important a person you were to those of my age in Albert Lea. We as you know were thrilled with a real radio station in Albert Lea and you, playing a major role at the station, were the most important public figure that I remember as a young boy. I found your address on the internet and am thankful that I have the opportunity to thank one of my great boyhood heroes.&uot;

This letter was sent by James T. Tuberty. He’s the son of the late James and Beulah Tuberty and grew up in Albert Lea. During World War II, he served in the Asiatic-Pacific Theater as a member of the U.S. Navy until 1945. Then, from 1949 to 1975, he served in the U.S. Army. His Army career included tours of duty in Korea and Vietnam, several decorations such as the Distinguished Service Medal, Silver Star and Distinguished Flying Cross, and retirement with the rank of brigadier general. James T. now lives in Lee, N.H.

The book which resulted in Tuberty’s letter to Booen was written by William H. Hull in 1985. It’s a collection of the memories of 167 people from all over the state who survived the Armistice Day Blizzard.

Nov. 11, 1940, started off with typical chilly late fall weather. A light rain developed, then the temperature dropped and a freezing drizzle evolved, followed by heavy snow and high winds. By the end of the day, nearly all the state’s roads and railroads were blocked by high snowdrifts.

All too many people were completely unprepared for the sudden changes in weather conditions. Hull’s book relays the stories of how the survivors coped with the horrendous blizzard during the next few days. And, as result of this particular storm, 59 Minnesotans died and many others sustained injuries caused by freezing. The heaviest loss of life was among the waterfowl hunters along the Mississippi River in the Winona and Red Wing areas.

One of the 167 people who contributed information used in Hull’s book was Sherman Booen (pages 206 and 207). Booen was the first announcer-engineer at KATE when the radio station started broadcasting in October 1937.

For those several days in November 1940, Radio Station KATE and Booen’s amateur station in his home, W9RHT, were the city’s only contact with the rest of the state and nation. The brutal blizzard had even cut off telephone and telegraph communications. (However, some telephones within the city were still working.)

During those stormy days Booen didn’t get much sleep. At the radio station he broadcast a series of public service announcements and what could be called &uot;comfort messages.&uot; In those days it was against federal regulations to use the radio for person-to-person messages. Yet, it was reassuring for a local mother to know her son or daughter was safely inside at a relative’s home.

Booen evidently had the city’s only amateur radio station in late 1940. When he wasn’t at KATE, Sherm was in contact with other operators in Minneapolis, plus Iowa and Illinois, to provide a communications link for the railroads, the power company, police and some families.

The name of Armistice Day for the Nov. 11 observances may have faded away, with one exception. No one has ever called what happened here in Minnesota on Nov. 11, 1940, the Veterans Day Blizzard.