At MSP, there’s always a warm welcome waiting for troops and veterans in transit Jennifer Brooks, Star Tribune May 26, 2019

During the Vietnam War, when airports could feel like hostile territory to troops traveling in uniform, a young sailor from Minneapolis dreamed of a warmer welcome in his hometown.

Thousands of service members were passing through the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport and Naval Petty Officer Ralph “Scott” Purdum thought they deserved better than space on the floor to bed down with their duffel bags between flights. His mother, Maggi, agreed and set to work with airport authorities to make something better happen.

“Mom,” he wrote home. “Don’t give up on the room; it’s so needed.”

Scott Purdum never got his welcome home. His plane crashed on a runway in Da Nang on March 16, 1970.

He was 21 years old.

Maggi Purdum channeled grief into action and in November 1970, the new Servicemen’s Center at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport opened its doors.

Those doors have stayed open every hour of every day ever since.

Powered by donations and tireless volunteers, the Minnesota Armed Forces Service Centeris there to make every layover a cozy one for active-duty service members, their families and military retirees.

“I think it’s really nice,” said Ryan Wiehr, a 19-year-old Army recruit from Mankato who stepped off a bus at the airport last week to find a volunteer from the service center waiting to guide him through the ticketing area and up to the center to wait for his flight to basic training.

At his feet was a small backpack that held everything he’d be bringing with him to Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri.

If there was anything he needed in the meantime, he’d probably find it in the service center. The 1,900-square-foot space is stocked with almost anything a weary traveler might need: food and drink, free Wi-Fi, comfy leather seats in front of an enormous flat-screen TV, phone chargers, bathrooms, bunk beds, books, games, loaner phones and iPads, a crib and toys for the kids, toiletries, spare underwear. Even paper clips, so newly returned troops can pop their SIM cards back in their phones to call home.

The walls are covered with military patches and challenge coins left by guests. A map of the world bristles with pins pointing to all the places their visitors have been: Iraq, Afghanistan, Antarctica, the tiny dot of Diego Garcia in the middle of the Indian Ocean. When there are so many pins the map starts to shred, they get a new map and start over.

Amy and Kevin Wiehr waited with their son, grateful for the refreshments the volunteers offered and even more grateful for the passes they got to get through security and walk him to the gate.

“Everyone’s been so nice,” said Amy Wiehr, proud and just a bit teary as the family prepared to leave. The next time Ryan flew, his parents might not be there for him, but an airport military service center — maybe run by the USO, maybe a private effort like Minneapolis’ — would be.

“It’s reassuring as a parent,” she said. “To know that they’re not alone.”

As the family headed out the door, volunteers lined up to offer thanks and a hug.

Many of the center’s volunteers are veterans, or come from military families. When charter flights full of troops touch down at the airport, volunteers are there to greet them. When heartbroken families come to the airport to meet a flag-draped coffin, the volunteers come with them. They were there earlier this month when Navy Seaman First Class George Naegle came home at last, finally identified and almost 80 years after he was killed at Pearl Harbor.

There are volunteers in their 90s and volunteers who take the midnight-to-4 a.m. shifts that allow the center to stay open around the clock. There are volunteers who work through blizzards and who stick around when flight delays stretch for days.

There are volunteers like Jeanne Morford, a retired Minneapolis schoolteacher who took the Monday 4 to 8 p.m. shift the first week the center opened, and still works the shift 49 years later.

“We’re kind of a home away from home,” said Morford, whose husband was in the service during Vietnam. “We’re an oasis for people to come and just relax.”

She’s clocked more than 10,000 volunteer hours. In those years, she’s seen jubilant homecomings and tearful farewells and canceled flights that made new fathers miss their baby’s delivery. She’s seen women so eager to scrub off the deployment dust, they washed their hair in the toilet.

Next year, just before its 50th anniversary, the center will move out of its home above the Terminal 1 ticket counters to a new space inside the security perimeter at the end of the C concourse, near the gates.

The new quarters will be twice the size of the current space, and volunteers are making giddy plans for all that extra room — a children’s playroom, more bunks, a secure space for luggage.

“The larger space will make it easier to serve those who serve,” said center Executive Director Debra Cain.

Memorial Day kicks off the summer travel season at MSP. Most of those travelers will never know that they’re walking by Scott and Maggi Purdum’s dream come true.

“We’re Minnesota’s best-kept secret,” Cain said.

For more information about the Armed Forces Service Center, visit

Remains of Minnesota soldier who died in Korean War prison camp coming home
By Helmut Schmidt
Forum News Service
GARY, Minn. — After more than six decades, Sgt. Arnold Andring is finally coming home.

The Gary man, who fought in the Korean War and died as a prisoner of war, will be laid to rest with full military honors in April next to his mother and father in St. Michael’s Cemetery in Mahnomen.

Andring’s remains — found amid 208 boxes holding the commingled remains of more than 400 soldiers — were turned over by the North Koreans between 1991 and 1994.

His remains, stored at the Central Identification Laboratory-Hawaii, were recently identified by experts using DNA testing.

For Andring’s family, the news kindled a mix of long-buried sadness and relief.

“It’s the end. It’s a closure. We’ve been waiting for this for a long time,” said Lucille Gish, one of Andring’s five surviving siblings.

“I firmly believe it was a miracle. God was looking out for us. We’re lucky,” the 82-year-old Mahnomen woman said. “There are many boys who haven’t been found out there yet.”

“I just mostly blubbered” on the phone, Len Andring of Moorhead said of his initial talk on Jan. 22 with military officials.

Len Andring said the family always wondered if it was possible to find his brother’s remains, but no one gave up hope.

“The Army has been great in keeping in touch,” the 86-year-old said. “To go this far to honor their promise of bringing everyone hom…” he said, his voice trailing off.


Arnold Andring was born Oct.

20, 1926, to Raymond and Gertrude Andring on the family farm between Gary and Mahnomen.
As Len pages through the faded black and white pictures in a worn, taped-up photo album that chronicles Arnold’s life, he pauses to describe them.

There’s a photo of Arnold with his mother, shortly after he was born, Arnold on a pony that their father bought for the kids and Arnold at age 18 in Army basic training.

“He wanted to be a farmer. That’s all he wanted to do. He didn’t like school,” Len said.

Arnold wouldn’t go to school unless Len was with him. So Len started first grade early at the age of 5. And they walked over plowed fields to get there.

“He didn’t make good friends very fast, but he wasn’t a loner,” Len said. “He never was in trouble.”

Rick Gish began delving into the life of his uncle Arnold in July 2011. Gish did the bulk of the background work that covers his uncle’s return to the Army, the battle in which he was captured, and how he died.

Arnold was drafted into the Army in 1945, Rick Gish said.

He was sent to Germany in 1946 to be part of the occupation and extended his service to three years. He was promoted to corporal. And he married a German woman, Hannah Anneliese “Ann” Schroeder in August 1948.

In November 1948, he was discharged from active service, then signed up for three years of Army Reserve duty.


The Korean War began on June 25, 1950, when North Korean troops poured across the 38th parallel into South Korea.

Arnold was called back to active duty in the Army in September 1950. He left for duty the day his parents celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary, Rick Gish said.

He entered Korea on Nov. 27, 1950 and joined L Company of the 9th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division in early December, Gish said.

Arnold wrote many letters home, of which the family saved five. He wrote often of being hungry and of yearning for cookies, candy bars and cigarettes.

The winter of 1950-51 was brutal and cold in Korea. Arnold’s letters tell of frostbite on some of his toes, one of which turned blue. But he wrote that commanders said the troops couldn’t go on sick call simply for frostbite — unless gangrene had set in.

Arnold worried he had pneumonia, and described hard coughing fits that took his breath away, Gish said.

Arnold and L Company were directed to move up and support the 2nd Division’s Recon Company to protect a main supply route during the battle for Wonju, Chipyong-ni and Chaum-ni in South Korea on Feb. 13-14, 1951.

L Company was west of Chaum-ni and was surrounded on three sides, then overrun by soldiers from the 116th Division of the 39th Chinese Army on the morning of Feb. 14.

That day, L Company had 55 men killed, 34 taken prisoner (11 of whom survived to the end of the war) and seven missing in action. Second Recon had 31 killed, 11 taken prisoner (three of whom survived the war) and two missing in action, according to military records.

Arnold and others taken prisoner were marched to the Suan “Bean” camp between late March and early April 1951, Gish learned. Conditions at the camp were terrible, and the prisoners were treated cruelly. There was no warm clothing or bedding. The food was horrendous, with most men losing 50 to 100 pounds. Dysentery, pneumonia, beriberi and other diseases were common, with no medical care.

POWs died at a rate of five to 10 men a day. It was there where Arnold died sometime in April 1951. His death was reported by Patrick Quinn, who served in L Company, 38th Regiment of the 2nd Infantry Division, Gish said.


Gish chokes up when he talks of the grief and deep depression that dogged his mother after she learned her eldest son died.

He said his parents set up a table in the corner or their house with pictures and memorabilia of Arnold. It was a small shrine to his memory.

“Mom … she never got over it, until the day she died,” Gish said.

In December 1953, after the Army confirmed a Chinese report that Arnold died in the prison camp, his family held a funeral mass at St. Michael’s Catholic Church in Mahnomen, Gish said.

Arnold, who was a corporal when captured, was promoted to sergeant after his death was confirmed.

Arnold’s wife left Minnesota and later remarried. She died in 2012, Rick Gish said.

Richard Andring, who was eight years younger than Arnold, is 80 now and retired. He lives across the road from the old family farm.

“He was always busy. Every time I wanted to play, he had to do something else,” Richard said of his older brother, his voice tinged with sadness.

Arnold’s return home will “definitely” bring a sense of closure to the family, Richard said.

Two of Arnold’s other siblings, Claire Cook of White Bear Lake and Beverly Amsden of St. Paul, also survive.

Arnold is eligible for full military honors at his burial, said retired Maj. Chris Van Hofwegen, who is Minnesota’s military funeral honors coordinator.

Van Hofwegen said Arnold’s remains will be flown to Fargo’s Hector International Airport.

The plane will be met by a National Guard team from Moorhead that will present honors to the remains and escort them to a waiting hearse.

If the family wishes, members of the team will provide sentry duty at the visitation for Arnold. One sentry would be stationed on either side of the casket or urn, Van Hofwegen said.

At the funeral, which is planned for 10:30 a.m. on April 25 at St. Michael’s Church in Mahnomen, the team will provide pallbearers if the family wishes. At the gravesite, there will be a rifle party, a bugler, and the military team will fold the U.S. flag and present it to a family member, Van Hofwegen said.

“The service that they (the deceased serviceman or woman) provided, needs to be honored. These guys sacrificed their lives for those back home,” Van Hofwegen said..

Of the 7,855 U.S. servicemen killed in the Korean War whose bodies have not been recovered, 5,300 were lost in North Korea, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency reports.

More than 5 million soldiers and civilians died before the Korean War ended in July 1953 with the signing of an armistice.

AFSC Volunteers Meet-n-Greet “America’s Battalion,” USMC

meet-ngreet3The AFSC received a call from Iraq to assist Marines en route to their next assigned

The Marines greatly appreciated all the efforts put forth by the AFSC, MAC, USCBP, TSA, Guest Supply and Pearson’s Candy. There were sighs of relief for the treats in the MN Twins bags, as well as, the Girl Scout Cookies, hot dogs, cup cakes and toiletries. Not to mention, the opportunity to shave and smoke! The best meet-ngreet4compliment we received was from a young Marine who said … “this is a very humbling experience to see that so many Americans care.”meet-ngreet2

A special thanks goes to the following people that joined us to meet-n-greet the flight; MAC personnel, TSA personnel, Airport Police, Jeanne Morford, Patti Carr, Dean meet-ngreet5& Marilyn Greethurst, Georgeann Ozbolt, Ted Hoeben, Jeanette Roedler, George Lewis, Bob Nelson, John Schleck, Karen Johnson, Len Zabilla, Tom Dooley, Steve Moore, Susan Rasmussen, and Char As well as, the volunteers that kindly offered to stuff bags; Barb Dell, George Patton, Virgil Eckstrom, Fred Crawford, Karen Hodge, Dorothea Johns, Jerry Connolly, Merlin Shank, Annie Olson, and Janis Eastman.

Service Center Volunteers Make the Best of a Disappointing Fourth of July

msp_afsc_4thAfter 48 hours of travel, seventeen Minnesota National Guardsmen on leave from Iraq arrived at MSP at 11:20 p.m. on July fourth. In the spirit of Independence Day, four “dedicated” AFSC volunteers joined the director to make sure the guardsmen were greeted with applause and patriotic gift bags filled with Minnesota treats. Unfortunately, seven guardsmen (from Duluth, St. Cloud, Bemidji, Watertown, Bismarck, Fargo and Helena) missed their connecting flight. But even in their disappointing situation, they were grateful to the AFSC for a place to shower and sleep.

Several local television news outlets eagerly awaited the guard’s arrival. However, bad weather in Dallas delayed their and many other flights, which was well past the 10 p.m. news deadline. A special thanks goes out to Teri & Elizabeth Wold, Dean & Marilyn Greethurst, American Airlines, the TSA and the Airport Police for the assistance in making sure 17 National Guardsmen received a warm Minnesota welcome home.


A Father’s Day Act of Kindness

Father’s Day was made extra special for some soldiers arriving home via MSP. Thanks to the tireless efforts of a helpful friend with American Airlines, Debra Cain of the Armed Forces Service Center was informed that there were 18 soldiers coming home on leave from Iraq on Father’s Day. After making a few calls for volunteers, the volunteer group (Janis Eastman, Teri Wold and Debra) managed to arrive at the gate in advance of their arrival.

As the soldiers exited the plane, the passengers at the surrounding gates began to applaud. Service Center volunteers pulled four soldiers aside, knowing they had connecting NWA flights at 9:30pm. “When we approached the NWA ticket area, the agent directed us to go to the first class counter,” Debra explained. “As we waited we noticed there was a gentleman standing at the first class counter. When the agent called for the next passenger, off we went.”

“Just as I was began to tell the ticket agent that we were trying to get these soldiers on an earlier flight, the gentleman interrupted and asked, ‘First class?’ I said no, they’re flying coach. He replied, ‘I will pay to fly them first class!'”

Out of the four soldiers, the generous gentleman paid for three to fly home (to North Dakota and South Dakota) first class. He would have paid for all four, but the fourth soldier was connecting to an Airlink flight and first class was not available.

Not only were all four soldiers able to depart MSP by 6:00p.m., (well ahead of their original 9:30 p.m. departure) they all arrived home with a big smiles on their faces, and a memorable experience at MSP Airport (thanks to the AFSC)!

Brigadier General Charles Barr letter

Brigadier General Charles Barr wrote a letter to the Armed Forces Service Center on May 5th, in gratitude for the warm hospitality he received while on a layover.
Dear All,

I want to take this opportunity to express my sincere appreciation for the recent outstanding hospitality and kindness shown to me. During a layover en route home from Kuwait and Iraq on R&R leave, I stopped in at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport Armed Forces Service Center. What a nice facility and gracious hosts there to greet me when I entered the door. In particular I extend my personal thanks to Otto Murray and Karen Hodge working in the lounge area. Also thanks to Debra Cain who was greeting and directing service personnel in the main lobby of the airport. Again thanks for everything. We love you all and thank you for your service, too.

Sincerely, BG Charles J. Barr

Girl Scouts Join Service Center in Welcoming Troops to MSP

girlscoutsOn Monday, twenty-nine volunteers with the Armed Forces Service Center (AFSC) welcomed 293 army reservists from North Carolina to the AFSC. The Girl Scout Council of Greater Minneapolis (Troops 1408, 2612 and 2614) also assisted by handing out boxes of cookies to arriving soldiers. After staging AFSC throughout the day, the soldiers boarded buses to Ft. McCoy The 108th Division will deploy to Iraq, after a brief stay in Wisconsin.

In addition to assisting the above group, the AFSC volunteers welcomed two combat wounded soldiers, escorted by TSA. We also greeted four soldiers coming home from Iraq for two weeks R&R, ten soldiers en route to Ft. Snelling for soldier readiness processing (SRP) and four young recruits bound for basic training.

A special thanks to Sprint, for sending enough cellular phones to accommodate the group. The soldiers greatly appreciated the opportunity to call home. A heartfelt “thank you” goes out to everyone that assisted in extending a ‘Minnesota Nice’ welcome and send off; the AFSC volunteers, Airport Director’s Office, MAC Landside office, Airport Police, Keys Cafe and the Girl Scouts Council of America.