Minnesota veteran recalls serving as a navigator in WWII

By GABRIEL KWAN, Minnesota Public Radio
BLOOMINGTON, Minn. (AP) — Every Wednesday at the 8th Air Force Historical Society lunch for veterans, the seats are filled with women and men like 94-year-old James Rasmussen of East Bethel.
Rasmussen was 20 years old when he joined the 349th Squadron of the 100th Bomb Group at the end of 1944 near the end of WWII. He’s tall, energetic, and willing to talk about his service.
“I was in World War II as a navigator on a B-17 flying out of England,” he told Minnesota Public Radio .
As a navigator, Rasmussen’s job was to guide the bomber, also known as a Flying Fortress, to its targets.
He led the plane and its crew through bad weather, anti-aircraft fire and attacks by German fighter planes.
The 100th Air Group saw so much action in the air over Europe it earned the nickname, “The Bloody Hundredth.”
After joining the unit in England, Rasmussen learned quickly that the reputation was well-earned.
“On Christmas Day (1944), the group went out … and they had 12 losses that day,” he said. “It definitely was a reminder to us … kind of a wake-up deal about what kind of war we were getting into.”
The war had become a bloody and desperate one for Germany in the final months of the war. German fighter pilots would do anything to stop the allied bombers.
On March 7, 1945, just two months before Germany surrendered, Rasmussen came face to face with a German fighter pilot and survived without firing a shot.
“The German pilot came right alongside of our airplane, and I think he was trying to ram us because he stalled out right there, and I could look right at him,” Rasmussen said. “I was close enough to see him, and it looked like he was looking right back at me.”
“I had the machine gun pointed right at him and then when I pulled the trigger, the gun was on safe,” he said. Navigators, he explained, weren’t trained in gunnery as much as actual gunners were.
By the time he took the safety off his .50-caliber machine gun, he said, the German plane was long gone.
“Normally you would see airplanes flying around, and you never realize that there were people in those airplanes,” he said.
Others in his unit weren’t so lucky: Rasmussen recalls his unit lost four planes and their crews that day, all of them rammed by German fighters.
Because he survived Rasmussen would go on to fly relief missions to hungry people in the Netherlands, then occupied by Germany and stricken by famine. He guided the bomber on air drops that delivered food instead of bombs.
Not long ago he was reminded of those missions of mercy
He was at his daughter’s apartment building in Savage. Rasmussen and his daughter stepped into an elevator and a man noticed Rasmussen’s shirt with the emblem of the 100th Bomb Group on it. The man had been living in the Netherlands when Rasmussen and the other members of his unit dropped him bread and other food.
“He said, ‘Oh, I remember that, because we had white bread after that,'” Rasmussen smiled, quoting the stranger.
Rasmussen turns 95 in just a couple of months. He stays active by attending the 8th Air Force Historical Society’s weekly gatherings and he sometimes speaks at local schools about his experiences.
While the military made him a navigator, he wanted to become a pilot. Twenty years ago, when he tried to get a private pilot’s license, his wife stepped in and he didn’t complete the training.
“When I was about to get my license, my wife said she’ll never fly with me,” he said, laughing. “And of course, when you’re up flying all by yourself, it’s not a whole lot of fun.”
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Information from: Minnesota Public Radio News, http://www.mprnews.org

Retiring St. Paul officer’s last patrol had special partner

By MARA H. GOTTFRIED, Pioneer Press
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — After patrolling St. Paul’s streets for 32 years, officer Jon Sherwood had a special request for his last day on the job. He asked officer Matt Jones to join him in his squad car.
They weren’t usually police partners, but their lives have been intertwined.
Jones’ father, officer Tim Jones, was a mentor and friend to Sherwood. They were K-9 officers working together on Aug. 26, 1994, as they searched for the man who fatally shot their fellow officer, Ron Ryan Jr. The shooter also killed Jones and his dog, Laser.
The murders were Sherwood’s darkest day on the job, but he said they also made him want to work hard to honor the sacrifices of Ryan and Jones.
One of the best days at work, though, was seeing Matt Jones reach his goal of becoming a St. Paul officer in 2013. Sherwood has known Jones since he was a toddler; the boy was 8 when his father was killed.
Matt Jones said Sherwood has been a mentor to him his entire life.
“He’s always looked out for me and everyone looks up to him,” Jones told the Pioneer Press . “I think if I could be half the cop that Jon is, I’d be doing all right.”
The East Side is the place Sherwood calls home — he grew up in the Battle Creek neighborhood, graduated from Harding High School, patrolled in the area for years and still lives on the East Side. When he retired last month, he was St. Paul’s second most senior patrol officer.
“It takes on something special to grow up as a St. Paul kid and be an officer here,” Sherwood said. “I think for the most part … my experience is that St. Paul likes their police department and their street cops.”
Sherwood’s family also is part of the St. Paul Police Department’s history. His great-great-grandfather, Daniel O’Connell, was the first St. Paul police officer killed in the line of duty. He was shot and killed in 1882.
Sherwood joined the St. Paul department more than 100 years later, in 1986. He started his career as a Hennepin County sheriff’s deputy for two years. He spent all his time in St. Paul as a patrol officer, with 20 of them as a K-9 officer.
Sherwood thought once about taking the test to become a sergeant, but it conflicted with an event he was chaperoning for his only child, Emily, and he opted to spend time with her instead. Sherwood said he never regretted the decision and loved being a patrol officer because every day brought something new.
Sherwood received national accolades as a K-9 handler and was also honored in St. Paul, including being named the police department’s Officer of the Year in 2017.
As Sherwood looks back at what’s changed since he became an officer, it’s not only technology.
When Sherwood started, he hardly recalls being called to people having a mental crisis. Now, officers respond to such calls daily.
The number of guns that officers find people carrying illegally or transporting in cars is also night-and-day from years past, Sherwood said.
One constant through the years, though, has been the feeling of the police department as a family.
At Sherwood’s final roll call, the room was full of officers — at least three times the number who would normally be there.
They came in when they weren’t scheduled to work and from other patrol districts because they wanted to honor Sherwood on his last day. Sherwood’s daughter, now a 27-year-old nurse, and her husband also surprised him by showing up.
“There’s not too many jobs that people work for 34 years anymore,” Jones said as he sat next to Sherwood in a squad car later. “He seems to love it the same way today as he did the first day that he started.”
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Information from: St. Paul Pioneer Press, http://www.twincities.com

Minnesota sees rise in electronic pull-tab gambling sales

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Annual sales of electronic pull-tabs in Minnesota rose 80 percent during the last fiscal year, generating $360 million, according to a new report by the Minnesota Gambling Control Board.
The rise in pull-tab sales comes after a lackluster debut six years ago, Minnesota Public Radio reported. Early game versions failed partly because there weren’t many machines and because players grew bored since the games didn’t change much. Interest grew after the original manufacturer folded and Pilot Games took over.
“I know we started rough in those early years, but now, when you look at the chart, it’s really climbing — and it’s still in less than 40 percent of all the charitable gaming sites in Minnesota,” Tom Barrett, executive director of gambling board, which oversees charitable, but not tribal, gaming in Minnesota.
Paper pull-tab sales accounted for about 75 percent of the charitable gambling industry this year, down from about 82 percent of the market last year. But sales were still up 6.8 percent year over year, Barrett said.
“So, I don’t know if it’s a case of the players try the electronics, go to the paper, go to the electronics, back and forth. We expected to see somewhat of a drop in paper sales, and that’s not happening,” he said.
Funds from electronic pull-tabs were pledged to pay for the U.S. Bank Stadium. The increase in sales means the state may be able to pay off the mortgage early and save money that would’ve gone to interest payments.
“I think it’s 2022 or 2023 is the first year we could start paying (the construction bonds) off early,” said Myron Frans, commissioner at the Minnesota Department of Management and Budget. “We hope we’re careful about how we use those funds going forward.”
The board’s report found that charitable gambling overall topped $2 billion in sales for the first time, with $1.6 billion paid out in prizes.
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Information from: Minnesota Public Radio News, http://www.mprnews.org

Police: Duo dumped deer carcasses on Minnesota Somalis’ cars

By STEVE KARNOWSKI, Associated Press
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Somali and Muslim leaders expressed deep concern Saturday after a white man and his teenage son dumped bloody deer carcasses on the hoods of two cars owned by Somali-American men in the central Minnesota city of St. Cloud, and they don’t believe the explanation the suspects gave to police.
The victims discovered the carcasses after leaving the YMCA on Wednesday night. In a news release Friday, assistant police chief Jeff Oxton said investigators used surveillance video to track down the pair who dumped the carcasses — a 62-year-old local and his 14-year-old son. The video showed the teenager put the skinned carcasses on the cars while the father, “knowing what was happening,” sat in their pickup truck, said Oxton.
“In a taped statement the suspects indicated that they needed to get rid of the carcasses and dumped them at that location in that manner,” Oxton said. “It is not believed that the suspects knew either of the victims.”
Oxton said there was nothing visible on or in the victims’ vehicles that would have identified the race of the owners. He didn’t identify the father and son or say whether they had hunted the deer themselves or where they had obtained the carcasses.
Oxton said police would forward the case to the city attorney for possible charges. In Minnesota, city attorneys generally prosecute misdemeanors or gross misdemeanors, but not felonies.
One of the victims and two community leaders scoffed at the suspects’ claims that they merely needed to get rid of the carcasses, pointing out that they had plenty of options for disposing of them properly or could have just dumped them in the woods.
“Putting it on the hood is a statement,” said Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “I don’t care what kind of statement they were trying to make and whether it was about Muslims or not. But it’s making a statement.”
Haji Yussuf, a local Somali community organizer, said he spoke with one of the victims, Ali Abdullahi, shortly after the incident.
“He was very hurt by it, but also scared,” Yussuf said, adding that Abdullahi compared it to displays of swastikas and cross-burnings. He said local Somalis are concerned because it follows last month’s synagogue massacre in Pittsburgh and other recent mass shootings, and that if the perpetrators are hunters, they probably have guns.
“Do we just let it go, or do we take it seriously before it goes to the next step?” Yussuf asked.
Abdullahi didn’t immediately return a phone call Saturday from The Associated Press. But he told Minnesota Public Radio that he was shocked to find the carcass on the hood of his car. “My jaw dropped. I stood there transfixed, not moving,” he said. He said he believes he and the other victim were intentionally targeted because they are Somali-American and that it was intended to send the message that, “You’re not welcome. We don’t like you.”
Abdullahi also said he was afraid to return to the YMCA to work out the next night.
“I was thinking that someone was just there to get me, especially that this was a deer hunter, and they have a rifle,” he said. “And all the shootings that I have been seeing and watching — I’m terrified. I’m just thinking that somebody is just watching me and trying to kill me.”
Oxton did not immediately return a call Saturday, and a dispatcher said nobody would be available to provide further information before Monday.
Minnesota has the nation’s largest Somali population at an estimated 57,000. As many as 10,000 of them settled in and around St. Cloud, a city of about 65,000 people about 65 miles (104 kilometers) northwest of Minneapolis, and they have complained of mistreatment over the years. Relations were especially tense two years ago after a young Somali man who may have been radicalized stabbed and wounded 10 people at a local shopping mall before an off-duty police officer shot and killed him.
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Follow Steve Karnowski on Twitter: https://twitter.com/skarnowski

Police, others clear St. Paul homeless camp

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Police have cleared a homeless camp in St. Paul, ordering its inhabitants to leave the encampment where about two dozen people have lived since last spring.
Officers, social workers and volunteers helped pack up tents and other possessions Thursday near the Cathedral of St. Paul above Interstate 35-E. The Minnesota Department of Transportation posted no trespassing signs. The camp’s population about doubled over the summer, but began declining when city officials began conducting weekly cleanings.
A temporary winter shelter at a former detox center which opens each night at 10 p.m. and closes at 9 a.m. was offered to the campers as an option. Many weren’t sure where they would go. One couple said they would head to a much larger encampment in Minneapolis.

Minnesota teacher suspended after 5-year-old wanders away

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A St. Paul kindergarten teacher will face a five-day unpaid suspension after one of her 5-year-old students was found wandering nearly a mile from the elementary school.
Como Elementary teacher Angela Birchland told investigators that the boy may have walked out of school on May 7 while students were preparing to go home, The Pioneer Press reported .
Birchland has been working for the school district since 1998 and has never been disciplined before. She declined to comment to the newspaper.
Birchland told investigators that she usually relies on her educational assistant to watch students in the hallway near the end of the school day.
The school’s discipline letter said Birchland initially disregarded a teaching assistant’s request to contact the school office after she noticed the boy was missing.
“Your failure to follow basic standards and protocols of students’ attendance and provide active supervision … put the student at risk of serious harm,” reads the letter, signed by Assistant Superintendent Andrew Collins.
A local resident found the child wandering alone and called police. The resident waited with the boy for about 30 minutes before the school district called the police about a missing student, police records show. The child was then taken back to the school.
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Information from: St. Paul Pioneer Press, http://www.twincities.com

MNsure new coverage enrollments lag due to Medicare crunch

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Sign-ups on Minnesota’s state-run health insurance exchange are lagging behind last year’s pace, and state officials think the unusually busy open enrollment period for Medicare health plans is to blame.
MNsure this week reported just under 2,400 new enrollees through the first two weeks of November. That’s roughly half the 4,700 new sign-ups during the comparable period last year.
About 40 percent of all people who buy coverage through the exchange do so with help from insurance agents. But MNsure CEO Nate Clark told the Star Tribune that those brokers have been tied up helping more than 300,000 Minnesotans who are currently covered by Medicare Cost plans and must find replacement coverage for next year. He said he expects those brokers to turn their attention to MNsure clients toward the end of this month.
“We really believe that a lot of our enrollment is being delayed,” Clark said. “A lot of our enrollment activity is driven by brokers, and our brokers are really busy working with those Cost plan subscribers and migrating them into new Medicare options.”
Adding in automatic coverage renewals for the coming year, more than 97,000 people have enrolled in private health plans through MNsure since open enrollment stared Nov. 1, Clark said. That’s about 7 percent ahead of the comparable figure last year of more than 91,000 people.
MNsure expects around 10,700 people will newly enroll in coverage for 2019 while a similar number will drop coverage over the course of the year.
More than 300,000 Minnesota seniors in Medicare Cost plans must choose new coverage for 2019 due to a change in federal law that is eliminating the popular type of coverage across 66 counties.
The deadline for enrolling via MNsure for coverage that begins Jan. 1 is Dec. 15, or Jan. 13 for people coverage starting Feb. 1.
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Information from: Star Tribune, http://www.startribune.com

Governor’s residence Christmas tree harvested from forest

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota foresters have cut down the official state Christmas tree in the Nemadji State Forest.
Department of Natural Resources forester Jean Mouelle selected this year’s tree for the governor’s residence in St. Paul. Mouelle says the tree is more than 60 years old and is “an impressive example of a balsam fir.”
Each year, DNR staff choose the governor’s Christmas tree from one of Minnesota’s 59 state forests. The tree is always harvested on the Friday before Thanksgiving. But, the search for the perfect tree begins months beforehand. It will be lit in St. Paul on Nov. 26.
The DNR says a-half million Christmas trees are harvested from private farms in Minnesota each holiday season, contributing about $30 million to the state’s economy.

Minnesota governor in Mayo, suffers post-surgery lung damage

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota’s governor says he suffered lung damage while recovering from back surgery, keeping him at the Mayo Clinic for more than a month.
Gov. Mark Dayton underwent two spinal fusion surgeries last month to improve his leg strength and had been expected to be released from the hospital within days. His office gave no formal update on his status until this week, when a Dayton spokeswoman confirmed he remained at the hospital for what was described as “physical therapy.”
The 71-year-old governor said in a statement emailed Thursday that post-surgical complications had damaged his lungs, providing no other details. Dayton said he had stayed at the Mayo Clinic to treat his lungs on his doctor’s recommendation. He said he expected to be released “in the next few days.”
Dayton said he’s been in constant contact with commissioners and staff.
The Democratic governor hasn’t been seen publicly since before his first surgery, performed on Oct. 12. His office did not immediately respond to questions seeking more detail on his health.
Dayton’s two terms in office have been marked by recurring health problems. He had already undergone three similar back surgeries and a separate procedure to repair a torn hip muscle.
Last year, Dayton revealed he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer one day after collapsing during his State of the State address. Dayton had surgery and is now in remission.
Dayton didn’t seek a third term . He’ll leave office Jan. 8.

Jennie-O recalling ground turkey in salmonella outbreak

NEW YORK (AP) — Jennie-O Turkey recalled ground turkey in a salmonella outbreak, and regulators say additional products from other companies could be named as their investigation continues.
The recall was the first — not counting pet food — tied to a widespread and ongoing outbreak that has resulted in one death and 164 reported illnesses in 35 states.
Jennie-O’s parent company, Austin, Minnesota-based Hormel Foods Corp., noted the recall was connected to one illness.
The products being recalled include 1-pound packages of raw, ground Jennie-O turkey and were sold nationwide. The more than 91,000 pounds of turkey had use-by dates of early October and shouldn’t be in stores anymore, but could still be in freezers. Regulators say it should be thrown away.
Hormel said in a statement that government agencies have found the strain in the outbreak in 29 manufacturing plants from 19 companies.
U.S. Department of Agriculture officials have not named those plants or companies. The agency says it has to be able to tie a specific product to illnesses before it can prompt a recall. It notes salmonella is not considered an adulterant in raw poultry unless products can be clearly linked to illnesses.
With Thanksgiving approaching, the agency is reminding people that they should always properly handle and cook their turkeys to kill any possible salmonella. Salmonella in food is estimated to be responsible for 1 million illnesses a year, with symptoms including vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramps.
Pet food with raw turkey was linked to the outbreak previously. A Minnesota company earlier this year recalled pet food with the same strain of salmonella.