A local family has uncovered personal belongings of a family member, killed while serving his country. They want to share the story of the fallen man’s life and honor his life and service.
The family, who lives in Northfield, have rounded up letters, pictures, pamphlets and other personal items to tell the story of William Arthur Hering. Some of the personal items, set to go on display at a military history museum in Cannon Falls near the end of month, spring from the family's desire to keep the memories of servicemen and women alive for future generations.
William Arthur Hering
William A. Hering was born Nov. 11. 1944 in Northfield to Delmer and Virginia Hering. He grew up on a family farm about 5 miles west of town. Hering has an older sister, Sandi Sanford, and a much younger brother, Don Hering.
He was a gifted athlete In high school, playing football and basketball. He would later play semi-professional basketball while in Phoenix.
After graduating from Northfield public schools in 1962, he moved to Arizona to attend barber school at Phoenix School of Barbering for two years. After cutting hair in Arizona, Hering returned to Minnesota to work at Brockway Glass Company in Rosemount, Minnesota, then in construction on 35W for Woodrich Construction Co., according to a biography provided by his family.
“I remember we went to see him and I opened the door of his apartment and there was a motorcycle sitting in there all in disrepair,” his sister Sandi said.
Hering loved anything with a motor in it, whether it was a motorcycle, truck or car. He built his own engines and raced cars and dragsters in Minnesota, Arizona and on the salt flats in Utah. Hering's 1960 red Corvette, which he towed back with his belongings from Arizona back to Minnesota, was extra special to him.
“He was an extremely fun-loving person,” Sandi said. “He was sort of up for anything.”
He enlisted in the Marines on Jan. 11, 1968. Toward the end of the previous year Hering had been drafted, according to the Northfield News archives. He was married to Anne Okada, on June 29, 1968 shortly before being deployed to Vietnam that December. He began his service at a desk job with a heavy equipment unit, and later asked to transfer to operating heavy equipment, including a road grader.
Hering was killed April 10, 1969 by a hostile rocket that hit the grader he was operating in Quang Nam Province, 9 miles south of DaNang. He was 24 years old. Hering’s body was escorted back to the U.S. by his cousin, says Sandi. His funeral was held April 29 at Northfield's St. John’s Lutheran Church; the interment was at Meadow Ridge Memorial Park in Faribault, Minnesota.
Hering is remembered as a nice, bubbly and outgoing guy. However, at the time Herring’s death was rarely brought up in the family.
“It hurt too bad,” Jody said.
Discussing death and processing death was not something that was a norm in the late 1960s. Sandi says her father in particular avoided the topic.
“That was that generation,” Sandi said. “So I think it was all stuffed inside,” Sandi said of her father’s coping method. Everyone just shoved their feelings away and everyone just tried to move on with life.
“Going to counseling was never heard of or accepted type of thing,” she added. Sandi did go to counseling after Hering was killed, but says it took her many hours of counseling.
“It's hard to get through the whole thing,” she said.
The family digs up the past
Sandi's son, Brad Sanford, has really taken an interest in uncovering military servicemembers' stories and more specifically his uncle Hering’s history as a way to remember and honor the past. This meant digging through files and drawers for more information.
“We knew some of it was in existence; we just didn’t know how much,” Sanford said. “Everybody started looking and everybody found a few pieces.”
Sandi found some items in the bottom drawer of her mother’s dresser, other items were found in the family barn, where Hering’s younger brother, Don still lives. The family worked together to fill in the gaps of Hering’s life story. Greeting cards and letters — personal and some from dignitaries — were among the items found that tell the story of a real person.
“It's not just someone’s artifacts out there that they don’t want, they belong to a person,” Jody said.
Sandi recalls finding an unmailed letter written by Hering during her search. The letter was addressed to a classmate of hers, which she delivered at a class reunion. In the letter, Hering discussed his desire to work on an engine together with the letter recipient once he returned home.
“Well that was a good cry,” said the recipient after reading the letter, according to Sandi.
Curiosity is one motivating factor for Sandi to search for more information about her brother’s past. She says the memories that flood back to her when going through Hering’s stuff are both good and bad.
“Sometimes I can be absolutely nowhere, out in the woods or doing this or that and I've got tears coming out,” Sandi said. “I was told that you don’t remember, maybe, but your psyche and everything else remembers.”
She enjoys hearing new stories about her brother from those that knew him.
“We can’t forget about this kind of stuff,” Sanford said of service members' stories. “People have forgotten about the sacrifices that our elders have made for us.”
Sanford believes remembering the stories is important and explains that most military artifact collectors collect what they do to preserve that memory. He says it is especially important today for people to be reminded of those that have served.
Sanford would have been a toddler when Hering was killed. Prior to leaving for the military it was decided Hering would give Sanford his first haircut. As a gift, Hering also gave Sanford a teddy bear.
“He brought the teddy bear and he cut your hair in the kitchen and that was how that (teddy bear) came about,” Sandi would later tell her son.
That was the last time Sandi saw her brother, although she did talk to him one last time on the phone prior to being shipped off. Sanford still has the teddy bear.
Personal items go on display
Hering’s personal items will soon be be on display at a military history museum in Cannon Falls. Items on display will include his Purple Heart, metals, dress uniform, combat uniform and pictures. Admission to the Cannon Falls Military History Museum is free.
The museum is owned and operated by Vietnam veteran Vince Cockriel, who has collected military items for over 40 years. The museum also includes items from the Spanish American War, the Philippine insurrection and the Mexican Border War. The museum is only open on select days, but appointments can be made by calling 507-263-3698.
Cockriel has hundreds of thousands of items on display and in storage which he says he rotates on a regular basis. Several members of his family served in the war and their personal items were passed down to him.
When asked why it was important to learn about service members stories, Cockriel responded “Well quite frankly they don't teach it in the schools anymore.” He says growing up he would get the facts oftentimes from the mouths of the military men, rather than having altered history from books, magazines and other media.
“So what I've got in there is all legitimate artifacts, all legitimate pictures, nothing has been PhotoShopped, nothing has been added,” Cockriel said.
His goal is to preserve history for people to view and to learn about, he even has music from the Vietnam era playing. The museum provides an opportunity for people to honor and remember those who have served the country.
For Owatonna Veteran’s Roundtable boardmember Rich Quiring, sharing service member stories is more than just a way of preserving historical accuracy, it’s a way to show respect for those that have given up everything. Quiring served during the Vietnam era, he volunteered to go to Vietnam in late 1964, but his skills were not needed there so he was sent to Germany for a couple of years.
“A lot of people, especially the younger people, they really have no concept of what it means to give a life or to protect those freedoms that our forefather have fought for,” Quiring said.
Dick Baumer from the Owatonna Veterans Roundtable agrees that military history is lacking today. Sharing stories can be difficult to do, but in the end can be beneficial to both families and veterans. Sharing the history and memories are important for educational purposes, especially for those that were too young to experience the war or had not yet been born. Baumer served in the Air Force from 1960 to 1964.
It is about honoring the people that have fought for America’s freedom. Telling the stories of loved ones that have been killed in action can create a sense of connection between other families that are going through similar experiences.
Quiring mentioned that sometimes veterans, particular Vietnam veterans were not treated with respect when coming home.
Telling their stories helps people truly understand the sacrifices these men and women made and highlight current struggles veterans face today.
“There is that camaraderie that is developed by veterans that have experience, not necessarily combat, but service,” Quiring said. “It encourages and motivates veterans.”
Sharing stories can also be a way for service members and their family to process trauma, death and grief.
“That's what it boils down to — love of country and love of the flag — and so many people just have no concept, no understanding,” Quiring said. “That's what it means to be a veteran.”
Their stories need to be told.
Northfield Public Schools data from this spring’s distance learning show large achievement gaps between elementary students of color and their white peers.
According to an elementary improvement plan presented on Monday to the Northfield School Board, 43% of students of color demonstrated limited or partial engagement compared with 16% of white students. Elementary teachers reportedly indicated 43% of students of color were reading at grade level compared to 75% of white students. In math, teachers said 49% of students of color were performing at grade level, compared to 80% of white students.
Distance learning began in March after Gov. Tim Walz closed public schools to combat the spread of COVID-19. Northfield Public Schools plans to announce its initial learning format for the 2020-21 school year Monday.
Northfield Superintendent Matt Hillmann said though he doesn’t have related statistics for the district’s secondary students, he expects that would show similar disparities To him, those gaps reflect the fact that Minnesota has one of the most lopsided achievement gaps in the U.S. He said there is evidence that distance learning exacerbated racial disparities and highlighted the issue for people who didn’t want to admit the problem existed.
“We will own the data,” Hillmann said of the achievement gaps.
To Hillmann, there is no easy solution to closing the achievement gap, and he attributes such disparities to a culmination of policy decisions spanning decades. He also believes school and social program funding, and continuing adverse economic circumstances have only exacerbated the problem. He believes the school achievement gap is a symptom of continuing societal racial inequities relating to homeownership and other economic barometers of success.
Greenvale Park Elementary School Principal Sam Richardson said the elementary schools view those discrepancies as unacceptable and consequently consulted with community partners on how engagement for all students could improve. An evaluation of the composition of the Greenvale students who were struggling showed that some families had parents who had work commitments during the school day and weren’t available to help their children with their lessons.
Also, students who were learning English as a second language needed help during distance learning, so administrators enlisted assistance from teachers and other staff.
The district plans to send a list of culturally appropriate resources to grade-level teachers to use with students during social emotional learning to ensure all students feel represented. The plan is for staff and students to address all racist behaviors/comments within a school day, and work together to stand up for and support others.
The district is planning family conferences Sept. 8-11 to allow for all families to discuss their thoughts on the pandemic and provide them with greater instruction on how to use learning devices provided students before the school year begins Sept. 14.
Northfield Public Schools also plans to partner with community organizations to ensure all students have access to their schoolwork in a distance or hybrid learning model. Staff plans to send two positive phone calls, emails or notes to students this year.
To Hillmann, although those approaches might not eradicate existing racial disparities, the hope is that special attention during the process could be given for traditionally marginalized ethnic groups.
“We do our best when we are able to have a strong relationship with the families that we serve,” Hillmann said.
Northfield elementary students will return to exclusively in-person instruction this fall as Northfield Middle School, High School and Area Learning Center students start in a hybrid learning format.
In announcing the decision Monday morning, Superintendent Matt Hillmann said older students will be separated into maroon and gold cohorts. Students in the maroon cohort will attend school in-person Mondays and Tuesdays before engaging in distance learning Wednesdays through Fridays. Gold cohort students will attend school via distance learning Mondays through Wednesdays and attend in-person Thursdays and Fridays. Hillmann noted the district has teams finalizing student cohort assignments.
Face coverings are required for all students engaging in in-person instruction. Staff is expected to create as much physical spacing as possible, and frequent hand-washing/hand sanitation will be encouraged. If COVID-19 symptoms are reported during a school day, an isolation process would be implemented.
District staff will screen themselves for COVID-19 symptoms on a daily basis, and parents are required and responsible for screening their children. They then are required to report COVID-19 symptoms or exposure to the school.
Buses will be limited to 50% capacity. Northfield rural students who will be attending school in-person will be picked up on the first tier in the morning and dropped off at the school. Buses will then be disinfected before all in-town K-12 students are picked up and dropped off at school. That order will then be reversed in the afternoon.
Students are expected to spread out to eat in the cafeteria. Meals will be prepared on-site and served individually packaged when possible. When such packaging isn’t possible, food and beverages will be directly served to students.
All K-12 students will be provided with a district-issued iPad.
“It is vital to understand that the learning model could change before the start of the school year on Sept. 14 if there is a significant increase in infections or documented community spread of COVID-19,” Hillmann said. “While we have become accustomed to having the novel coronavirus as part of our daily lives, we cannot let our guard down on preventative measures. Our local collective effort to contain the spread of COVID-19 will determine whether students can attend school in-person. Wash your hands frequently, wear a mask, and stay home when you aren’t feeling well.”
This is a developing story. Look to the News for more information as it is released.