On October 21, 1944, a young marine from Barnesville, Minnesota, stood on the shore of Leyte Island in the Philippines, witnessing the return of General Douglas MacArthur to the island. Two years earlier, 90,000 Filipino troops and civilians had been abandoned and trapped without food or supplies when the Japanese took possession of the Philippines. Jerry Specht, future member of Zion, was the young marine from Barnesville, standing on the shore.
A few months later, the Friederichsen family, missionaries to the Philippines. were being released from a prisoner of war camp in Manila. The family included two sons, Bobbie, age 8, and Doug, 11. Interment camp was the only life Bobbie remembered. When MacArthur entered the prison camp in February of 1945, Bobbie and Doug were within a few feet, watching him. They were released from the camp and a new life began for little Bobbie Friederichsen.
Marine Jerry Specht and little Bobbie Friederichsen were part of the same war, and the same liberation, in the same country. Little did they know that years later, their lives would cross half way around the world at Zion Lutheran Church in Buffalo, Minnesota.
Jerry Specht was born in Barnesville, Minnesota, and like most young Americans, had the choice of being drafted or enlisting in the service. Jerry chose to enlist in the US Marines. From 1942 until 1946 he was stationed in the South Pacific.
Jerry was discharged from the Marines in 1946. Jerry was part of the first generation who were able to go to college with the help of the new GI Bill. He attended North Dakota State University, married Bea Holt, also a Barnesville native, and graduated with a wife, a son, and a degree. Jerry was connected with agriculture and public service throughout his working life, teaching agriculture in Hitterdal, Minnesota, as a county agent with the University of Minnesota Extension Service in Wright County for 15 years, and as customer service director for Wright Hennepin Electric for 18 years.
Jerry and Bea became members of Zion in 1952. Jerry has served on the Board of Deacons (as the church council was called at that time) and Foundation Board, served as head usher, taught Sunday school, and served as a trained Stephen Minister. Jerry remembers when adult Sunday school was taught in the narthex, and portable dividers separated children’s classes in the basement of the building in town (now occupied by the Assembly of God congregation). Before pew cushions, young children were given the job of dusting the pews. Jerry also taught about 5,000 students in the “55 Alive” driver training program over 23 years.
Bea Specht was always busy volunteering behind the scenes and was known for her skill in all sorts of Norwegian needlework, and also for her prowess at golf. They have three children, all confirmed at Zion. Daughter LeAnn is married to Harley Pommier (Harley is currently serving on the church council), daughter Sharon lives in Golden Valley, and son Jeff is retired and living in Mesa, Arizona.
Bea passed away earlier this year, and Jerry says that one of the blessings of Zion membership has been the support members have given him at the time of her death.
The Reverend Paul Friederichsen and his wife Kay had been serving as missionaries in the Philippines when the war broke out. Bob Friederichsen was five years old when the war began. The family spent six months in hiding before being interred in the city of Illilio, and later Santo Tomas Internment camp in Manila.
Bob’s mother, Kay, kept a diary, a courageous story of God, faith, and prayer, from the first night when they fled through the jungle with little Bobbie on his father’s shoulders, Doug holding his mother’s hand, with only the possessions they could carry.
This was the beginning of a dreadful three years in war camps with fleas, bedbugs, and a starvation diet. One camp averaged ten deaths per day. Bob came down with tuberculosis, and was desperately sick for more than a year.
The war began to go badly for the Japanese. The prison guards had planned to douse the camp with gasoline, mow down any prisoners who tried to escape, and then take their own lives on February 4, 1945. Instead, God saw to it that American tanks broke through the fence of the compound on the evening of February 3. The internees were saved.
A military doctor, on examining young Bob, saw the scars of tuberculosis and wondered how he had survived it in such a place, on a starvation diet. Bob’s mother would say that it was an answer to prayer.
After the war, the family returned to the States and the boys began their schooling. Bob attended schools in Florida and Wheaton, Illinois, Oakland High School and San Francisco State in California, and Bethel College in St. Paul. He became an artist for Sacred Design and the Evangelical Free Church Press. He taught art at Penn State for five years, and then moved back to the Twin Cities and taught at Augsburg College for 25 years.
Bob is married to Cleo (Munson) who grew up in Howard Lake, and they have three children and three grandchildren. Bob and Cleo became members of Zion in 1975. Bob has contributed to the architecture of Zion as the designer of the large wooden panels on the west wall of the Sanctuary, as well as the star suspended over the altar. Bob is recovering from cancer and firmly believes that “God is in charge” whether it be in a prison camp or in Buffalo.
Thanks to Howard Burgdorf for help with this story.