MOORHEAD, Minn. — At times, Bob Elliott and Norman Felde looked like a couple of naughty schoolboys misbehaving at a school assembly as they sat on the tiny stage at Moorhead’s American Legion Wednesday, April 14. When the speakers talked about Elliott’s and Felde’s days in the service, the two veterans shared a couple of giggles and even a little mock outrage at tales, perhaps, being told out of school.
"I'm not sure which one of us he's talking about," said Elliott, with a grin, when an anecdote was being shared about driving a Jeep too fast. (It was definitely being told about Elliott.)
But the speakers weren’t there to embarrass Elliott, who turns 90 next month, and Felde, who turns 98 in June. Instead, the two veterans — Bob was a Marine Corps private from 1950 to 1952 and Norman was a corporal in the Army during World War II — are receiving certificates of appreciation, special pins on their lapels and even homemade quilts, all tokens of appreciation for lives well-lived and missions accomplished.
“We Honor Veterans” is a program from the Hospice of the Red River Valley, which seeks to let ailing veterans in end-of-life care know how much they’re appreciated when they can still enjoy it.
“They served our country. We need to serve them and honor them with dignity,” Tracee Capron, Executive Director of HRRV, said. “It’s about honoring life as long as they’re alive."
Tracie Mallberg, HRRV Medical Director, agreed.
“It’s so nice to bring family together for a celebration before they attend the funeral,” she said.
Family and friends showed up in force to watch retired Air Force Colonel Jim Stirling do the pinning, telling each man they “set a high bar” in their lives and careers.
Felde was born in 1924 in Barnesville and moved to Fargo in the sixth grade, where younger brother Philip Felde remembers playing baseball with him.
“I was his warm-up catcher. I soon realized that I needed to buy a catcher’s mitt, he was throwing it so hard,” Philip said.
Felde was a top athlete in high school and at what is now Minnesota State University Moorhead, where he earned the degree that allowed him to teach and coach for decades.
Bob Gerke taught at Moorhead’s Thomas Edison Elementary School when Felde was the principal there.
“A wonderful man, you couldn’t beat him,” Gerke said as he looked at Felde still on stage after the ceremony shaking hands with his adoring fans.
Elliott’s friends and family also showered Bob with praise.
“He’s just awesome! The most kind, family-oriented man,” said daughter Deb Aakre.
Elliott’s mother might not have thought the young Bob that awesome when he tried to enlist in the service before he was old enough. He said he “misstated” his birthdate. But the recruiter figured out Elliott was just 16, called his mother and sent him home.
Elliott returned at 19 to make it official. He became a proud Marine, worked as a Jeep mechanic and earned quite a reputation.
“The story has been told that, after test driving the Jeeps, they were usually returned in worse shape than when they started,” someone wrote in his biography for the ceremony.
Funny then, that after leaving the service, Elliott would make a lifelong career out of being a Minnesota State Patrolman. He was stationed in Detroit Lakes and lived in Hawley, Minn.
Hospice of the Red River Valley has been doing the pinning ceremonies for veterans like Felde and Elliott for about three years. They’re usually done where the veteran lives. But because both Felde and Elliott reside at Farmstead Living in Moorhead, COVID-19 restrictions limited the number of people into the residence.
Farmstead leaders say they couldn’t be happier to bring Felde and Elliott out for a little party.
“They’re both very spunky. They like to have a good time and joke around with everyone. They’re lighthearted and enjoy every bit of life,” said Lisa Martin, the Executive Director of Farmstead Living.
And what did the guests of honor have to say about all of this — the crowd of people here standing, clapping and singing just for them?
“It’s unbelievable, just unbelievable. We didn’t do anything,” Elliott said.
"It’s very nice, very nice. We don’t deserve all of this,” Felde said.
Of course, the crowd wholeheartedly disagreed.