Last man standing
Rugby’s remaining WWII veteran recalls club history
Two years before Gabriel Scheet became Rugby’s last remaining World War II veteran, he and fellow Last Man’s Club member Duane Baillie met at the Clarence Larson American Legion Post to discuss the future of their shrinking group.
“We were down to three about two years ago when George Sattler passed away,” Scheet, known in town as “Gabe,” recalled. “It was down to Duane and I. We decided to disband the club and turn whatever we had over to the veterans of the Korean War.”
The club’s meager possessions amounted to a few papers, a bottle of Crown Royal whiskey and a modest bank account.
“I think we had $112 in the bank account,” Scheet said.
“Duane and I didn’t drink anymore, so we decided to hand down that bottle to the Korean War veterans,” Scheet added. “Duane made a motion to disband the World War II Last Man’s Club and I seconded it. That was the grand finale of the whole thing.”
Scheet said the club’s tradition began with World War I veterans who were members of the Clarence Larson Post of the American Legion in Rugby.
“When their last man passed away, I can’t remember the year, exactly, but that’s when Duane started the World War II Last Man’s Club,” Scheet said. “I can’t remember how many members we had at the start.”
The obituary of one member, Army veteran John Heilman, said the club began in 1999. However, Scheet said he believed the club started earlier than that.
Scheet described the meetings, held in conjunction with Veterans Day celebrations at the Rugby post, as “brief.”
Scheet said members of the club paid annual dues of $5 to cover expenses and purchase the bottle of whiskey, intended for the last surviving member.
“There was a roll call taken and a moment of silence for the ones who had passed away,” Scheet said. “There wasn’t much of an official meeting or anything. It was just a bunch of World War II veterans getting together and discussing whatever they wanted to talk about.”
Baillie, who died Nov. 30 at 94 was a natural to organize the club, according to family and friends.
“I think he had a hand in just about everything around this town,” Baillie’s son, Fred, said. “I only put a handful of the clubs and things he was in down in his obituary, too.
“He made friends everywhere he went, no matter where he went, whether it was in state or out of state. He still kept in touch with the people he knew and the people he met not so long ago, right up to his dying days, basically,” Fred Baillie said.
Duane Baillie’s World War II service began just after his graduation from Rugby High in 1944, according to his obituary. Baillie received his draft notice shortly after beginning his first year at the University of North Dakota. After working briefly at the Good Samaritan hospital lab, he began his active duty in January of 1945, training as a rifleman before shipping out to the Philippines with the 81st Infantry Division Special Troops Medical Detachment. After the Japanese surrendered, he served in Yokohama, Japan, before mustering out.
Baillie would finish his education at UND and serve again with the Army in Japan during the Korean War before completing pharmacy school at NDSU. He married his high school sweetheart, Irene Volk, before returning to Rugby and operating Baillie’s Drug Store for many years.
“He spent his whole life here in Rugby, except for his years in the service and everything he did in this town is too much to remember,” Fred Baillie said.
Fred Baillie added, “Dad always had a smile on his face, unless I really agitated him when I was young. But he had that grin. People would come in the drug store he hadn’t seen in years, and he would light up like a Christmas tree, coming walking out, call them by name, shake their hands. The man never forgot a name. I don’t know how he did it, but he could do it.”
Scheet said he enjoyed getting together with Baillie and other World War II veterans.
“We were just a group of guys that had something to tell about,” he said. “Most of the time, the guys would talk about the experience they had in whatever theater they were in. We had guys that saw combat, like John Heilman,” Scheet said, referring to Heilman’s service in Africa, Sicily and Italy.
“I didn’t experience any (combat),” Scheet said. “They stopped the fighting August 5 and the same year, 1945, I was old enough to join the military and I went to Fort Snelling, Minnesota. It was October of 1945.
“When I graduated high school, I thought I could join the Army,” Scheet added. “Mrs. (Myrtle) Hutchinson was the chair lady of the draft board in Rugby at the time. They owned the Rugby Greenhouse. She said, ‘You can’t go at 17. You have to wait until you’re 18.’ So, I turned 18 on July 17, 1945. In September, I went to Fort Snelling, Minnesota, and then, in October, I was inducted and went out to Fort Lewis, Washington, then wound up in Washington D.C.”
Scheet served in radio operations with Company C’s Second Battalion in the Army.
“That was across the road from Washington, D.C., at Vint Hill Farm in Virginia,” he said.
“We had a really nice bunch,” Scheet said of his fellow Rugby Last Man’s Club members. “There was John Heilman, Joe Black from Knox and, of course, George Sattler from Willow City. They belonged to our club here.
“Some members were in the Army; some were in the Navy and a couple had been in the Marines,” Scheet added. “Everybody had something to say about a different branch.”
Sometimes, Scheet said, members from different branches would “give each other a hard time.”
“It was always kind of fun. John McClintock was a Seabee. And Bill Crook would give him a little static,” Scheet recalled with a smile. He’d say, ‘Hey John, what in the hell did the Seabees do in the war?’ And John would give it back to them. It was always a fun thing.
“We had another thing going about the difference between a statute mile and a nautical mile,” Scheet recalled of another Army-Navy debate.
“A nautical mile is one third longer than a statute (land) mile,” he said. “Bill Crook used to say to John McClintock, ‘What’s the difference between a statute mile and a nautical mile?’ So, one night, one of the guys went over and unlocked the school and brought over a great big dictionary to settle it.
“And I remember Joe Black, he went to Germany during the war,” Scheet said. “He drove a staff car for a general. Of course, he would lay it on the line (tell stories about his experience). He could sing German songs, too. He’d sing all the time.”
Scheet had his own story to share.
“I got to meet President Harry Truman,” Scheet said. “When we soldiers had nothing to do, we’d wander around D.C. We’d go down Pennsylvania Avenue, and that’s the avenue that goes by the White House. Two of us were walking down there and here was this guy out there in front of the White House with a little puppy. He was a really white-haired man. We stopped there with our uniforms on, and he stopped and walked part way over to us and he asked, ‘How do you lads like the Army?’ We said, ‘Well, it’s the Army, sir.’ Later, we found out it was President Truman we were talking to.”
Scheet said he and his fellow World War II veterans in Rugby did more than have fun and share stories.
“We’d send cards out to guys in the hospital or families of guys who passed on,” he said. “Other than that, we belonged to the Legion, and we did what the Legion did.
“We were a club that just had a challenge: Who was going to get that bottle,” Scheet said. “And of course, I was the one who outlived them all.
“It feels a little lonesome, I think,” Scheet added. “When I heard Duane had passed away, I thought, ‘Oh, gee, I’m alone now.’ Duane was a really nice guy. He was instrumental in the Last Man’s Club. When there was still a good-sized bunch, we had a lot of fun.”
Scheet said Fred Baillie would pass his father’s club papers to Korean War veteran Ray Norsby, who will continue the tradition with those who served in that era.
“I didn’t know it was going to be this sudden,” Scheet said of Baillie’s death. “I was going to see if there was something they needed from me.
“Duane and I didn’t have any meetings this year,” Scheet added. “But the year before, when they did the Memorial Day service and Veterans Day program, Duane and I were sitting on the stage and Duane leaned over and asked, ‘Do you suppose we’ll see another one?’ We would’ve, but they canceled because of this COVID thing.”
Scheet, who is 93, spent his years after the Army as a handyman and volunteer firefighter. He lives alone in his southwest Rugby home, living room walls decorated with photos of his children, grand and great-grandchildren. Several awards also hang on his walls; one announces his induction into the N.D. Firefighters Hall of Fame. Scheet’s wife, Irene, died in 2006.
“There may be some World War II veterans still around,” Scheet said. “There are World War II veterans in Minot, I know. But I’m the last of the World War II veterans in Rugby.”
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