Celebrating 150 Years - Moorhead Students Aid the WW2 Effort

by Brian Cole

At the beginning of the 1940-41 school year, Moorhead Superintendent S.G. Reinertsen addressed the students in the Moorhead school patrol, saying: “While you are wearing these badges and belts of the school patrol and being trained in saving lives, youth of other countries are wearing uniforms and being trained in destroying lives.” Reinertsen was referring to the youth in Nazi Germany. 

“The present national emergency requires you to take stock of natural abilities and talents to determine how best to maintain the heritage of liberty, freedom of worship and education,” said school board member Edgar E. Sharp during his May 1941 MHS commencement address. “Your education has not just happened, it is the result of much planning, hard work and sacrifice.“ 

During the course of World War II, many Moorhead students and staff served our country. These are their stories.

Harris C. Christianson, MHS class of 1936, was Moorhead’s first casualty of the war when his ship was torpedoed in February 1942. Harris was credited with being the first to sing our school song, “Onward Moorhead," in February 1936. 

Betty Anderson, MHS class of 1942, enlisted in the U.S. Navy W.A.V.E.S. (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) program in October 1942. She reported for basic training at Hunter College in New York City. She was one of several MHS female graduates who helped with the war effort. The Moorhead Daily News reported that females from the area were taking trains to Seattle to assemble planes for the Boeing Company. 

Moorhead Schools elementary students held scrap drives, going door to door to collect items such as metal, rubber, fabric and hemp. The MHS student newspaper, The Spud, reported that students were excused from school for this effort. Boy Scouts drove the items from the collection points to a used car lot where the items would then be transferred to the War Department.

Art Diercks, who was the principal of Moorhead High School from 1928-1942, resigned his principal role to join the U.S. Navy. The student newspaper used the headline: "Spuds lose Diercks to Navy." The article thanked Diercks for helping "to create a school spirit that never lets the team down, whether winning or losing. So hats off to Arthur P. Diercks who is now giving his wonderful fighting spirit to Uncle Sam and the United States Navy." 

MHS woodworking students made model scale airplanes. These models were used to train civilian aircraft spotters and also for electric eye target practice by the Army. At thirty-five feet, the scale models were exactly the same size to the naked eye as the original is at one-half mile. Wayne Winjum taught this woodworking course while also serving as the supervisor of the national defense machinist training course at a small warehouse in north Moorhead.

Future Moorhead staff members played a vital role during the war. Most notably, long-time teacher and coach Lloyd Sunde took part in the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944. Shocky Strand was one of the first to make landfall in the battle of Iwo Jima on February 19, 1945.

After the war ended, a plaque was dedicated that listed the names of the twenty-four MHS students who lost their lives while serving in World War II. The plaque was originally installed at the Townsite MHS and most recently in the commons of the MHS that opened in the fall of 1967. The plaque was carefully removed prior to the opening of the new MHS and is now in safe storage. There are plans to display the plaque once Phase 2 construction is completed.

Information for this article was taken from the following institutions and publications, the Minnesota Historical Society, the Moorhead Daily News, the Spud Newspaper and the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. Thanks to the families of Lloyd Sunde and Shocky Strand who shared several stories and photographs.