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Hayfield remembers loyal friend and soldier

By Matthew Stolle

mstolle@postbulletin.com

HAYFIELD — John J. Tobiason was a private man.

Friends of Tobiason — a sergeant first-class in the U.S. Army who was killed in Iraq on Wednesday — say that the 42-year-old Hayfield man enjoyed solitary pursuits. He loved fishing and had a room set aside in his two-story house for playing his drums on his own.

Like a lot of private people, Tobiason was not necessarily an easy guy to get to know.

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But once you did, that same sense of loyalty he had for country and freedom extended to you. You entered his zone, became part of his family, and often found yourself wrapped in one of his affectionate hugs, friends say.

"He always had a smile on his face, and he knew what freedom cost. And the sad thing about it, he gave it all," said Bruce Tiegen, a retired real-estate agent and Vietnam veteran.

Tobiason was no stranger to tragedy. Friends say that a sister of his and her husband died in a car accident years ago.

What defined him was his attitude toward service and country. He had served in Desert Storm in the early 1990s. When he moved to Hayfield, he made the local American Legion Post his second home, working in the kitchen, bartending and helping in whatever capacity he could to fix up the place.

The news of his death cast a pall over this community of 1,400. Many heard the news for the first time during a gathering of bingo at the legion hall, all but destroying the sense of festivity.

Tobiason became the 66th person with strong ties to Minnesota to die in connection with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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