By Robert Lucke
This Veterans Day, as with most, Lawrence Hofeldt joined a group of World War II veterans who listened to ceremonies and decorated graves of veterans in the Havre cemetery.
For Lloyd rancher Lawrence Hofeldt, the story started on the family ranch in 1944.
"I was the youngest of 11 kids and was working on my dad's ranch when I turned 18," Hofeldt said. "I had to register for the draft at 18 and knew I would probably get drafted out of Blaine County, so I was thinking about it. Finally, they gave me notice to report and I headed off for Fort Douglas, Utah, just out of Salt Lake, to be inducted."
Due to ranches in the family and exemptions, Lawrence Hofeldt was the only one of his family to serve in the armed forces.
Once he got to Utah, things started moving quickly.
"I did basic training at Camp Hood, Texas, during the fall and winter of 1944, had a 10-day leave, and shipped out for overseas from New York," Hofeldt said. "The voyage across the ocean took at least 20 days and we landed at Le Havre, France."
When they docked, Hofeldt said it was the first and last time he ever saw vehicles that could swim.
"They had jeeps that would run on land and come out on the water to the ships," Hofeldt said with a smile.
Things continued to move fast in the European theatre of operations.
"In April, we left France to go up to the front. A bunch of guys were replacements. We moved through Belgium and crossed the Rhine on a pontoon bridge. Then we moved further into Germany," Hofeldt said. "We camped there for awhile. There were 500 of us camped in a large woods. We went into the woods and took prisoners when we could find them. That was all behind the lines. The front lines were moving fast and we were sort of clean up troops coming in behind. We stayed there a month. That was the spring of 1945."
From there, Hofeldt's team moved closer to the Elba River and Hofeldt got into the 81st Field Artillery Battalion. Hofeldt said he remembers that while some officers were fine, others were not so fine, leading one of his buddies upon hearing about his brother to write a strange letter home.
"While I was there, one GI got a letter from home," Hofeldt said. "It said his younger brother had just become a lieutenant in the army. He wrote back home and said that as long as his brother was an officer in the Army, he wouldn't have anything to do with him. A lot of GIs didn't like their officers well and this kid was no exception."
War was over in Europe while Hofeldt was at this camp. And while that was a good feeling, the feeling was short lived.
"I was at this camp when the war ended and that was a good feeling, but before you know it, we were back to France and talk was we were going to ship out to Japan," Hofeldt said.
While still in Germany, Hofeldt and two of his buddies were walking the streets of a town one day and three German girls invited them home.
"One could speak English. She was well educated. She asked us why the United States ever attacked Germany because there were so many people of German extraction living in the United States," Hofeldt said. "I told her the Germans were sinking our ships on the ocean and that Hitler declared war on the United States."
Back in France and ready to ship out for Japan, VJ Day occurred and instead of leaving for Japan, Hofeldt came back to New York. He spent some time at a camp in Kentucky and ended up going back to the same camp in Utah that he was inducted from. He shipped back to Chinook by train, arriving on July 2, 1946.
Hofeldt came back and started ranching in the shadow of the Bear Paw Mountains, like his family, married and had six children.
"I was glad to get back home. I was glad to defend my country, but was I ever glad to come back home alive," Hofeldt said.
Strangest of all, a piece of ground came up for sale and Hofeldt put together a package of savings and borrowed money to purchase the land. Even though Hofeldt had been away defending his country, he could not buy the property because he was not yet 21.
"I wasn't old enough to get a loan until I was 21," Hofeldt said. "I saw the land in July and finally purchased it on March 29, 1947, my 21st birthday. That was some birthday present."
To this day Lawrence Hofeldt has that piece of land, and many other parcels as well. He ranches in partnership with his son, Bruce, and cattle graze this day on that first land bought on his 21st birthday after fighting for his country in World War II.