This World War II veteran served in the Forgotten Theater; now he is 100

By Pamela French
Eugene A. Sandberg at his 100th birthday party at Bagley Post 16.

BAGLEY — In 1924, you could buy a new house for $7,720, a car for $265 and gas was 11 cents per gallon. It was the first year New York City hosted the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Jimmy Carter was born that year, as was George H.W. Bush.

On Saturday, Feb 25, 2024, Irvin Blix American Legion Post 16 in Bagley was the setting where about 80 family and friends, from all over Minnesota, gathered to celebrated Eugene “Gene” Sandberg’s 100th birthday. Sandberg, a Bagley resident, is a World War II veteran.

On Feb. 25, 1924, Eugene Axel Sandberg was born to Martin and Olive (Fredenburg) Sandberg in Bunker, south of Hibbing. He grew up in a section house on the railroad and went to a one-room school with one other family. Sandberg had three siblings.

He graduated from Hibbing High School, where he met his wife, Wilma (Chadwick), when he was 15. The two were married Dec. 15, 1945, less than one month upon Sandberg returning from war. The couple had seven children; Barbara (Janesville), Christine (d.2000), Dale (d.1997), Kathryn (Bagley) and Raymond (Janesville). Scott and Gwendolyn died at birth.

Sandberg was in high school when Pearl Harbor was bombed. He was drafted into the Army in March 1943, induction date May 27, 1943, and began active service June 4, 1943.

Sandberg said that, when he enlisted, “three busloads of boys were brought down to Fort Snelling for physicals and then trained in New Orleans.”

He left for war on Dec. 10, 1943, arriving Jan. 1, 1944 in India at the China-Burma-India Theater — the wars “Forgotten Theater.” From there troops took a train to Calcutta, paddleboats upriver, then a 3-mile walk to another camp.

Sandberg with the rank “technical fifth grade” in the Army.

Sandberg left theater for his return to the States Oct. 27, 1945, arriving in New Jersey on Nov. 24, 1945. He said upon arriving back to the United States, it was “a mad house” as people were coming home from everywhere around the world. After a trip to Minneapolis, the soldiers took coach buses back to Hibbing.

Sandberg was a locomotive mechanic with Co B, 726th Railroad Operations. He received the Good Conduct Medal, and had three overseas service bars.

After his honorable discharge on Jan. 27, 1946, he worked on the Duluth, Missabe and Iron Range Railroad for 21 years. He then moved to Janesville in 1963 and worked at Mankato State University as an engineer. In 1980, he moved to Bemidji to accept a job at Bemidji State University as chief engineer. He retired in 1987. In 2018, he moved to Bagley.

Sandberg was an avid hunter and trapper; he helped form the Trappers Association in Minnesota, was the vice president in 1959 and president 1959-1963. He also was a member of the Free Masons for 50 years.

Gene has 12 grandkids, 30 great-grandkids — plus one coming in August, and nine great-great-grandkids — plus one in July. Sandberg’s “grands” are scattered all over Minnesota; Bagley, Janesville, Owatonna, Hallock, Nevis, Akeley, Kasson and Rice.

Over 16 million Americans served in World War II. According to the National WWII Museum, just over 119,000 were still living as of November 2023, with an average of 131 passing each day.