The last men standing

Members of the Minot World War II Last Man’s Club have the notoriety of likely being in the only operating club of its kind in North Dakota.

Don Wunderlich, of Voltaire, who was elected president of the Minot club at its annual meeting and banquet on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, held at the Minot Veterans of Foreign Wars Club, said to his knowledge, it is the only club in existence in the state.

Wunderlich also is secretary-treasurer for the club, a position he has held for many years but this is the first time he has served as president.

JB Klug, the immediate past president, succeeded Fred Gruenberg. Klug also has served as chaplain for many years.

“The group was chartered on Oct. 7, 1979, and was a project of the Minot post of the American Legion. After that date, no more members were accepted and from 310 members on that date, we are able to contact only 25 at the present time,” Wunderlich said.

Members of the club were accepted only if they served in the military between the dates Dec. 7, 1941 to Sept. 2, 1945, Wunderlich said.

The local group used to meet about three times a year including May 8-V-E (Victory in Europe) Day and Sept. 2, VJ (Victory over Japan) Day, but now they gather only once a year. Wunderlich remembers when they met at the Clarence Parker Hotel in Minot in earlier years and from 60 to 80 people would attend.

Other members besides Wunderlich, Klug and Gruenberg who attended this year’s event included Harland Hayes, Phil Panasuk, Orlan Tollefson, James White, Allen Drady, Ray Bibow and Jerry Clott. All are of Minot except Wunderlich.

Club members range in age from about 95 and under, and represent all branches of the military. Wunderlich, who is 87, said he remembers when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. “I was 14 or 15 years old at the time,” he said. He said that he and his family didn’t hear about it until about noon that day. He said they were conserving their radio batteries so they didn’t hear it on their radio but when visiting with a neighbor lady, she told them about the attack. Wunderlich served in the Navy from 1944 to 1946.

The Minot World War II Last Man’s Club members can keep track of their members on a board that is mounted on a wall in the Minot VFW Club.

“Brass tags adorn a large roster board mounted on a wall of the veterans’ club, each with the name of an original member of this exclusive group,” said Wunderlich. “A black tag is under each brass-colored name tag, which then is moved to the surface when a member passes on.”

He said about 60 brass tags remain but only 25 members can be located now, although they have 31 people on the list.

“The club was formed when the Minot Legion Post and club was at its height of operation, and it would be a given that many have scattered all over the states,” Wunderlich said.

When the club was formed, Wunderlich said, articles of incorporation were filed on June 19, 1979, with Lyle Conners as president, Marlin Gay, vice president, and Dennis Medenwalt, secretary-treasurer.

“In this document, the procedure for dissolution of the organization is described as follows: ‘The final dissolution of the group shall come when membership herein has been reduced to five members. These five certified members shall then participate in the spirits and distribute the assets as they see fit,’ ” Wunderlich said.

“The spirits are three decanters of whiskey, including a hand-decorated decanter of Ezra Brooks, inscribed ‘WW2 Last Man’s Club’ in 24 karat gold,” he said. Wunderlich is the keeper of the spirits.