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St. Olaf honors 100-year-old WWII veteran

At a special Veterans Day chapel service, St. Olaf honored 100-year-old World War II Marine pilot Carlyle Lageson, a retired Colonel who left St. Olaf in his senior year to contribute to the war effort.

This Veterans Day, St. Olaf College held a chapel service honoring alumni who have served in the United States military.

Among the attendees was 100-year-old World War II Marine pilot Carlyle Lageson, a retired colonel who left St. Olaf in his senior year to contribute to the war effort.

From St. Olaf senior to WWII Marine pilot, Lageson sacrificed his education for the future of America and the world.

At 100 years old, Lageson still drives a car, owns a smartphone, and is the loving foundation of a lineage of St. Olaf alumni. Born and raised in Albert Lea, Minnesota, Lageson began his first year at St. Olaf as a member of the Class of 1939. “I have fond memories of St. Olaf and the people I met there,” says Lageson, who is called “Collie” by friends and family. He studied economics and was a member of the hockey and track teams.

Like many St. Olaf students, Lageson was involved in music programs. He was part of a music ensemble conducted by F. Melius Christiansen that performed for the play The Master Builder.

Carlyle Lageson served as a Marine pilot during World War II.

A life-changing decision
In the growing heat of war, Lageson decided to leave St. Olaf during his senior year to contribute to the war effort. “I was determined to help our country defend itself, and I wanted to do it as a pilot,” Lageson says. He also had a low draft number and wanted to decide his fate in the military.

After completing flight school, Lageson was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps as a pilot. He was stationed at Green Cove Springs, a naval auxiliary training base in Jacksonville, Florida.

“Jacksonville was an important stop for me,” Lageson says. “That’s where I married Geraldine Christensen, my fiancé from back home in Minnesota. We were married at the naval air station chapel and were the first couple to be married there.”

Lageson was assigned to the U.S.S. Wharton, where he was stationed at Espiritu Santo, an island in the South Pacific. Assigned to Squadron MSBD236, Lageson was an assistant training officer for pilots. “These people became very dear to me, and I made some of my best friends there,” he says. “We made three six-week combat missions. After each six week period, we could go back to our base for rest and relaxation.”

After completing all three six-week iterations, Lageson had flown 43 combat missions. He was stationed in Pensacola, Florida, as an instructor. Assigned to the multi-engine facility, he completed the required courses and then was assigned to lead Alpha Flight, consisting of 40 instructor pilots. He was later named Chief Flight Instructor and given command of 90 instructor pilots.

Lageson spent his last few years of active duty in Pensacola. “That’s where I was when the war ended in Europe and the Pacific,” he says. Lageson was home in Minnesota for good by Christmas of 1945. “I was glad the war was over and I was with my family. I was happy to finally meet my one-year-old daughter,” Lageson says.

Carlyle Lageson during the Veterans Day service in Boe Memorial Chapel.

A life after service
Lageson retired from active duty as a Captain in December 1945 but stayed in the reserve. He reported to Minneapolis for one weekend a month and spent two weeks in active duty once a year until he retired as a Colonel in 1964.

After retiring from active duty, Lageson went into business with his father-in-law in North Dakota, which involved packaging potatoes from the Red River Valley, from 1945 to 1975.

“My wife and I became snowbirds, traveling from Minnesota out West via motorhome,” Lageson shares. “We enjoyed this lifestyle until my wife sadly passed away in October of 1983.”

Lageson remarried in October of 1984 to Jeanne Foxvog Olson, a 1950 graduate of St. Olaf. They are still happily married today.

Lageson says he doesn’t regret his decision to leave St. Olaf in light of the state of the world. “I felt I had made a worthy contribution to the defense of our country at a time when it was desperately needed,” Lageson says. “The better part of these years gave me confidence in my ability to meet obstacles and overcome them. I don’t regret this time at all. It was a significant part of my life and I will never forget it.”

Although he left St. Olaf before he graduated, Lageson is still loyal to the Hill. He has four children, two stepchildren, and nine grandchildren; his daughter, Gail, graduated from St. Olaf College in 1965 and married Bob Barsness ’66. Their three children also graduated from St. Olaf, continuing the lineage that Lageson started.

Watch the St. Olaf Veterans Day chapel service, which featured United States Navy Chaplain Rebekah Timm paying special tribute to Carlyle Lageson all who have served, below.