By Sophie Olson
While at first glance these workman’s coveralls may seem plain and unremarkable, it is sometimes the unassuming pieces of clothing that have the most interesting story to tell. This is certainly the case for the owner of these coveralls, Kermit Brekke, a rural Wisconsin farm boy turned WWII soldier and Bronze Star recipient.
Kermit Brekke was born in 1919 in Trempealeau County. His parents were of Norwegian ancestry, and he grew up on a farm near Blair, Wisconsin. In 1942, when he was 23 years old, Kermit enlisted in the U.S. Army and was sent to Oregon for training at Camp White and Camp Adair.
During his training, Kermit’s sweetheart, Evelyn Stutlien, came to visit him in Oregon. On April 25, 1943, Evelyn and Kermit were married close to the Army training base where Kermit was stationed. Unfortunately their honeymoon was quite brief, as Kermit was sent to North Africa shortly after their wedding. After Kermit was deployed overseas, he and Evelyn exchanged many letters and remained in constant correspondence.
Kermit started his time overseas in North Africa, but was quickly moved to Italy when the Battle of Anzio began. Kermit was a member of the Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 363rd Combat Regiment, 91st Infantry Division. Throughout the Italian Campaign, the 91st Infantry Division continued to march north and drive the German troops out of Italy. While Kermit started out as a rifleman, he soon became a radio operator and repairman. Although he usually carried only a handgun, Kermit was often at the front lines, and many times was pushed ahead of the infantry during the chaos of battle. While he was shot at, nearly bombed to death, and almost captured or killed by Germans on several occasions, Kermit eventually returned home safely to his wife when he was discharged in 1945.
After he returned home, Kermit lived out his life as a farmer in Blair. Kermit continued to be active in the Knudtson-Mattison American Legion Post 231, as well as in his membership with the Sons of Norway and the First Lutheran Church.
Kermit Brekke lived to be 86 years old. While he had many titles throughout his life - soldier, farmer, husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather – Kermit Brekke will be remembered to most by the title of “hero”.
While Italy is often referred to as the “Forgotten Front”, because of people like Kermit Brekke it will be forgotten no more. If you would like to learn more about Kermit Brekke or the life of a WWII soldier, you can view the La Crosse County Historical Society’s Brekke Collection online at http://content.mpl.org/cdm/landingpage/collection/LCCHS.
This article was originally featured in the La Crosse Tribune.