Veteran recalls memories

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 2, 2002

It's an old-fashioned love story that only the post-World War II generation can truly appreciate.

The plot is simple: an American GI helps a refugee family and a life-long friendship is created.

Amidst the rubble of one war and just before another was about to start, random acts of kindness by the American forged a friendship that would be bent but not broken.

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Wayne Nemitz of Austin has the details.

"The other day (early November this year) the door bell rang and it was a lady from Germany," he said. "Hannelore was her name. She was looking for Les Nemitz."

So begins the strange and touching account of a post-World War II friendship.

According to Wayne Nemitz, he told the woman at his door, Les Nemitz was his uncle. "He grew up next door to me on Padden Avenue near the fairgrounds," Wayne said.

Les Nemitz is five years older than his nephew, Wayne, and the youngest brother of Wayne's father. The ex-Marine now lives in Vancouver, Wash.

The stranger was surprised. "We were just in Vancouver!" she exclaimed and her tale of trying to reunite the ex-GI with her family unraveled.

According to the woman, her mother told her to go to Austin, Minn. and look for Les Nemitz.

When the woman got to SPAMTown USA, she saw the Nemitz's Book Store sign, but the business was closed. She went next door to Bonnie's Hallmark, where owner Bonnie Mogen was at work. Mrs. Mogen referred her to Wayne Nemitz and more of the story unfolded when the visitor from Germany recounted how Les Nemitz was instrumental in helping her immigrate to America from war-torn Germany as a child.

"He was stationed there in 1949," said Wayne. "He brought them food and cigarettes. They could trade the cigarettes for more food."

The woman said her mother, Lydia Korner, will soon celebrate her 80th birthday and wanted to meet Les Nemitz, who helped the refugees from World War II and fly him to Germany to help her celebrate.

Les Nemitz, the Marine, had a motorcycle and he got to know Fritz, a brother of Hannelore and also a cyclist, in Germany. The pair became friends and the German invited the American home to meet his family.

The American GI was stationed in Germany for three years, His sisters sent dresses to him to give to the German family recovering from the war and bracing for the division of Germany to come during the Cold War.

Lydia Korner's daughter, Hannelore, who came to Austin to find the man who had befriended her family, was only a little girl of five when Les Nemitz was in her family's home.

Today, the little girl is a middle-aged woman, who is married to Al Tymachak. The couple lives in Hollister, Calif.

With Austin's Wayne Nemitz's help, she has located the American soldier who helped her mother and her family survive as refugees after World War II.

Lee Bonorden can be contacted at 434-2232 or by e-mail at