St. Peter Last Man’s Club down to last men

There were 70 members when the St. Peter Last Man’s Club was formed, setting aside a 1973 bottle of bourbon to be opened when there were only two left.

Howard Hermel found the bourbon a little bitter. LeRoy “Jim” Miller chugged it down on Saturday, the St. Peter Herald says. They’re the last two charter members.

“I am honored to be here tonight, surrounded by a room of heroes,” Mayor Chuck Zieman said.

Unsurprisingly, that’s not how the heroes see it.

“I’m just a normal guy,” Hermel said, prior to the ceremony. “I was a gunner in a B-17 bomber.”

But as Christmas ’45 neared, “I just wanted to get home.”

“I was a lucky guy,” Hermel said. “I wanted to be a truck driver. But they made a gunner out of me.”

Miller, confined to a wheelchair throughout the evening, spent the ceremony next to his wife of 66 years, Margaret. She often told her husband to smile, that this honor was a pretty big deal. But like Hermel, Miller thought of the others who sacrificed much more.

“He always said, ‘I’m not a hero. I just lived longer,” Margaret said. “He did his part, like all the rest of them.”

Miller said he entered the U.S. Army in March 1945, only months before the Japanese surrender on Aug. 15 later that year. He spent much of his time through December 1946 in the Philippines. But he was there for some historic moments, as when Gen. Douglas MacArthur officially signed the Japanese Instrument of Surrender on Sept. 2, 1945.

And he evened joked that he entered the Army “cuz I didn’t want to farm.” And for the most part, upon his return to his hometown of St. Peter, he got his wish, marrying Margaret in 1950 and spending 28 years as a U.S. Postal Service mail carrier.

The World War II Last Man’s Club at the American Legion also inspired a Vietnam Last Man’s Club, which has 318 living members.