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In memoriam


LeRoy Benjamin Lehmbecker

LeRoy Benjamin Lehmbecker was born March 22, 1921, the first of two children, both boys, born to Frank and Elizabeth (n. Jackels) Lehmbecker of Hopkins, Minnesota, a suburb of Minneapolis. LeRoy’s paternal grandfather, Gus Lehmbecker, had immigrated from Germany and settled, aptly enough, in the town of Cologne, Minnesota, about thirty miles southwest of Minneapolis. Frank, born in 1898, grew up there. Elizabeth grew up nearby in Prior Lake. By the time LeRoy arrived, his parents had settled in Hopkins. Though he grew to be almost 6 feet tall, LeRoy was known in the neighborhood as Pee Wee (maybe because he was shorter than his brother, Eugene, who was two years younger). In 1938, the  family moved into a new home his parents had built at a cost of $7,600 at 213 11th Avenue North in Hopkins. LeRoy enjoyed tinkering with radios and learned how to repair broken ones. He had a paper route and received a “Certificate of Merit” signed by Minneapolis Tribune Newspapers President and Publisher G.B. Bickelhaupt for delivering papers during the Armistice Day Blizzard of 1940.


The Lehmbeckers: Eugene, left, Elizabeth, Frank and LeRoy, circa 1938-40.


LeRoy attended kindergarten, apparently at Hopkins Elementary School in 1926-27. Later he and Eugene both attended St. Joseph’s Catholic School and then Hopkins High School, but it’s unclear exactly what years LeRoy was at the high school and whether he graduated. He appears, or is listed as appearing, with Eugene in the 1939-40 freshman class photo in the 1940 Hopkins High School yearbook, the Echoes. He was 18 when that school year started, so if he was in fact in that freshman class, he was a rather elderly freshman. (The listing of his name in that photo may be in error. The image of the young man named as him is too small and his face too obscured by shadow to confirm that it is in fact LeRoy.)


Page 19 of the 1940 Hopkins High School Echoes showing the freshman class, 1939-40. According to the roster, LeRoy Lehmbecker is in the back row, far right; his brother, Eugene, same row, fourth from right.


Newspaper photo showing LeRoy Lehmbecker, front row, second from left, apparently at a magic show in the basement of St. Joseph's Catholic School in Hopkins, circa 1935.



LeRoy Lehmbecker's ID card from the Despatch Oven Company. Apparently he failed to surrender it upon termination of his employment — his family still had it about 65 years later.

By one account (that of the local newsaper article that announced his death in 1944), LeRoy attended Hopkins High School until 1941. Eugene appears in the next year’s sophomore class photo, but there’s no sign of LeRoy in that or any subsequent edition of the Echoes. By August 1941 he had completed a course of study in aircraft sheet metal work at the Minnesota Aircraft School in Minneapolis; the chief instructor of the school wrote a letter of recommendation attesting to his proficiency in riveting and assembly. On April 15, 1942, LeRoy was issued an employee’s ID card by the Despatch Oven Company of Minneapolis. He did not work there long — there was a war on, after all. He enlisted in Minneapolis in August 1942, trained in San Diego and arrived October 7 at Naval Air Station 128 at Pearl Harbor. On November 5 he was promoted to Seaman 2nd class. He was at Midway when the USS Macaw sank there the night of February 12-13, 1944. A searchlight having been set up on the beach and focused on the stricken ship, anyone observing from ashore that night could see the ship was going down and how enormous the waves were that were sinking her. The height of those waves did not deter Lehmbecker and at least two other sailors, Seaman 2/c Howard Eugene Daugherty of Caryville, Tennessee, and Seaman 1/c Ernest David Samed of Fayetteville, Ohio, from taking out a pair of rearming boats, harbor craft designed for carrying supplies to and from ships at anchor, in a bid to rescue the men aboard, or formerly aboard, the doomed ship. There may well have been a fourth member of their party, whose name and rating I don’t know; either four of them went out, two men per boat, or two went in one boat and one in the other.


According to the commander of the Naval Operating Base at Midway (as quoted in the above-referenced newspaper article), Lehmbecker and his companion did manage to pick up two Macaw sailors, who apparently then transferred from Lehmbecker’s boat to another and then to safety. Lehmbecker and his companion may then have attempted to rescue Radioman 1/c Stanley Libera of Fulton, New York. Libera, washed overboard like most of the other 21 men who fled the pilot house of the Macaw about 0230 that morning, spent much of the rest of it amid the waves, swallowing water and consigning himself to God on the assumption he was going to die. Salvation came for him at last in the form of a hand reaching toward him. He  subsequently remembered nothing between the appearance of that hand and waking up in the N.O.B. infirmary with pneumonia in one lung. Someone told him later that one of the rearming boats had spotted him and was trying to get to him when it overturned. Both rearming boats suffered that fate. Lehmbecker, Samed and Daugherty drowned. Their bodies were never recovered.


The telegram from the Navy Department informing Lehmbecker's parents that he was missing in action.


February 13 was a Sunday. That Wednesday the Navy Department sent Lehmbecker’s parents a telegram notifying them that their son was missing in action. A subsequent letter confirmed his death in a rescue operation in the Pacific. Despite that news, his mother may have held out hope for his return; “My grandma always felt he’d be coming around the corner,” her grandson, Gene Lehmbecker, said in 2006. LeRoy’s death left them bitter, he added. “If something was made in Japan, they just had a fit. It couldn’t be in the house.”


Frank Lehmbecker died in 1966; Elizabeth, in 1969.



Shirley Hutchinson

In addition to his family, LeRoy Lehmbecker left behind a girlfriend, Shirley Hutchinson, a fellow Hopkins High alum (class of 1942) whose parents owned a feed and supply store in town. Their romance had been of brief duration — 64 years later she thought they had met after high school and had had only one date, on which they went to a movie, she couldn’t recall which — but they seem to have made an impression on each other: At Eugene’s funeral in 1993, Shirley approached Eugene’s son and told him that she had almost been his aunt. LeRoy sent her just one letter after he enlisted, she said, and in it he informed her that he had a ring for her. She said she thought she would have accepted it if he had lived to present it.


LeRoy’s nephew, Gene, followed his father into the trucking business. He and his family still live in Hopkins.


Frank and Elizabeth Lehmbecker, circa 1920.








LeRoy, on right, and unidentified friend, circa 1930.


LeRoy Lehmbecker, age 8, 1929


LeRoy, front row, far left, and kindergarten classmates, circa 1926-27.

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