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North Dakota family honored for military service

PARK RIVER, N.D. - During times of war, many North Dakota families have seen their young men enlist in the military and ship overseas to protect America. But one family was recognized this Fourth of July for its incredible sacrifice that set a st...

Marlin, Edward and Lyle Lothspeich
Marlin Lothspeich, left, smiles at his brothers, Edward and Lyle, before receiving the North Dakota State Meritorious Service Medal on Saturday at the American Legion Club in Park River. Marlin, Edward and Lyle are three of nine brothers who served in the armed forces, which is a North Dakota record. Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald

PARK RIVER, N.D. - During times of war, many North Dakota families have seen their young men enlist in the military and ship overseas to protect America. But one family was recognized this Fourth of July for its incredible sacrifice that set a state record.

All nine brothers in the Lothspeich family, originally from Wales, N.D., served in a military branch and at least one of the brothers was on active duty during a 15-year period. The Lothspeichs fought in World War II, the Korean War and also served during the Cold War.

But Marlin, one of three brothers still alive today, always felt a little disappointed that they were never officially honored for having the largest family of soldiers in state history. In early May, he asked Mayor Dan Stenvold of Park River to help his family gain acknowledgement from the state.

Marlin said he didn't think about it much after he made the request. "He never said anymore about it," he said. "I told him it was no big deal."

Brothers' surprise


In the midst of Park River's Fourth of July and 125th anniversary celebrations, military and government officials, members of the media and dozens of relatives and friends all gathered at the city's American Legion Club to finally give Marlin and his brothers the recognition they deserved.

It was meant as a surprise, but media attention to the story and an early news release let the cat out of the bag. Even though Marlin's kids "fessed up" about the plans Saturday morning, he said he was still stunned at how big the ceremony was.

Mayor Stenvold's weeks of preparations enabled what he called "a true band of brothers" to get their time in the limelight. Several photographers and reporters were at the scene to interview the Lothspeichs about their experiences and new honors.

Maj. Dan Buer of the North Dakota National Guard presented Marlin, Lyle and Edward with the State Meritorious Service Medal on behalf of Gov. John Hoeven, but that was just the start. Lonnie Wangen, commissioner of the state's Department of Veteran Affairs, gave each brother a plaque and thanked them for their patriotism.

Shawn Ferguson, a legislative assistant to Sen. Kent Conrad, gave the brothers copies of statements read into the record by North Dakota's congressional delegation about their service, and also presented three U.S. flags flown over the Capitol building in Washington, D.C.

And the North Dakota Legion state commander, Jerry Samuelson, gave the Lothspeichs plaques for their sacrifice "above and beyond what should be asked of one family" and talked about how strong their mother must have been.

"She had to have been a saint obviously to raise nine boys," he said. "It's a truly gut-wrenching thing to send one off to war. But to send nine of them, you can't truly comprehend."

An unintentional record


Lyle entered the Army in 1951 and was stationed in Hawaii, Iceland and eventually West Point as a rifle instructor. He was wearing sunglasses during Saturday's ceremony, but it was still apparent that the surprise recognition had choked him up as tears welled in his eyes.

He said he wanted to follow in the footsteps of his five brothers that had entered the military before him and thought the ceremony was a very nice way to honor his family.

"I'm so proud to serve my country," he said.

Edward shed a few tears as well after a few minutes of the celebration and said he thought only Marlin was going to be honored that day. "I never did expect it," he said. "I felt honored."

Edward served as a machinist's mate in the Navy from 1943 to 1946 and spent time stationed in Hawaii and San Diego repairing damaged ships.

Marlin enlisted in the Air Force in 1951, received training for the Medical Service Corps and served for more than two years in Japan. He now lives in Park River.

He said with a smile that his favorite part of his military career was "probably getting out," but that he also enjoyed his overseas experience. His family didn't know for a long time that they had broken the state record, Marlin said, but he was glad that they were finally recognized.

"It's a record, and it's something to be proud of I guess," he said.


Anna Mae, the youngest Lothspeich child and the only girl in the clan, was at Saturday's ceremony to watch as her brothers were honored. She said she was too young to remember when two of her brothers, Eugene and Harold, went overseas during World War II. But she still remembers when they finally came back, and she realized how big her family really was. "I said, 'Are you my brothers too?' "

Anna Mae said she was "spoiled with love" by her brothers and mom, and didn't have any regrets about her family's boy-to-girl ratio. "I think I always wanted a sister, but I wouldn't part with any of them," she said.

She drove from Williston, N.D., to be a part of her older brothers' official entry into the state record books.

"I knew they deserved it," she said. "I wouldn't have missed this for the world."

The Grand Forks Herald and The Forum are both owned by Forum Communications Co.

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