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Hamline's Heros

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Norman Twetten didn’t graduate from Hamline. Nevertheless, the university honored him at a football game last fall. That’s because Twetten died serving in World War II before he could ever collect his diploma. Before entering the military, Twetten attended Hamline for two years and played on the football team. His name can be found on an inconspicuous commemorative plaque hanging in Hutton Arena that lists all Hamline athletes who didn’t survive the war. While the plaque has long served as Hamline’s tribute to its WWII dead, the university recently started remembering those soldiers at present-day sporting events.

Twetten was remembered at the October 20 game against St. John’s. Even though the home team lost, Doris Sheils considered the game a winner. Sheils journeyed from Iowa to watch the Pipers play that day and to witness Hamline honor her big brother. As the national anthem played before the start of the game, Twetten’s funeral flag was hoisted high; it flew above the stadium for the length of the game. The scoreboard called out Twetten’s name and highlighted his service.

“Norman was a sports man. Baseball, football, any kind of ball he liked,” Sheils said. “He was a real gentle person. A quiet type. He would have been real surprised to know he was being honored at a game.”

The commemorative tribute surprised Sheils as well. “I’m eighty-nine years old,” she said. “Norman’s death happened so long ago. I didn’t know what to expect from the service. I knew it would be special but I didn’t think it would impress me that much. I didn’t realize how close it was to my heart after all these years. It was heartbreaking. I’m so thankful.”

Twetten grew up in Stillwater. He enrolled at Hamline as the school’s Methodist roots matched his own. Unfortunately, after completing two years of study, his mother was diagnosed with cancer. Twetten left Hamline to help care for his mom. Soon after her death, he entered the service. It was 1940. He married and together with his young wife, traveled from camp to camp completing military training. He was commissioned as an officer in 1943 and sent to the European front. He fought in the Battle of the Bulge and earned a Silver Star for his efforts. He died in Germany on April 10, 1945.

Besides his father, sister, and wife, Twetten also left behind a baby daughter. Linda Partridge, Twetten’s only child, was born just three weeks before her father’s death. She never met him and for many years wondered whether or not her father had ever received word of her birth before being killed. She later learned through correspondence with another soldier that he had. Partridge joined her aunt at this fall’s commemorative football service in honor of her father. A cousin was also in attendance; health concerns prevented Twetten’s wife from attending. As she had never met her father, the commemorative service was especially significant for Partridge. “I knew that my father attended Hamline, but I’d never been there,” Partridge said. “I was really impressed. It’s such a beautiful campus right in the middle of the city.”

For her, the most nostalgic part of the day was watching her father’s flag flap in the wind. “My mother had given me my father’s flag years ago and it’s been sitting on a shelf in my house,” she explained. “You know, it’s one of those things that you can’t get rid of, but you don’t quite know what to do with it either. I was glad to have it flown. Now it has meaning for me.”

“Institutions don’t always have long memories and it’s a real credit to Hamline that it’s honoring its fallen soldiers,” Partridge said. “The entire day was perfect. It wasn’t overdone or over the top. It was very gratifying. It was a happy day. A healing day.”

“Hamline gave me my first direct memory of my father,” she explained. “Every other memory I have is second hand. There are no pictures of him holding me. No stories of him interacting with me. Nothing. When you lose someone, if you have memories, that’s what comforts you through the pain, but I never had any memories. Now I do.”

Editor’s note: For information on honoring an alumni veteran at a home football game, please contact Dana Johnson, director of development for athletics, at 651-523-2754.

By: Kelly Westhoff