A sailor’s letters home: One Northland man’s mission to honor his father’s legacy

Published: May. 31, 2022 at 3:55 AM CDT
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DULUTH, MN. (CBS 3 Duluth) - On Memorial Day, we honor the veterans that paid the ultimate price while serving our country.

For one Duluth man, he’s honoring his father’s legacy with a project dating back to the Pacific Theater of World War II.

Joe Westerberg has always been a history buff, especially when it comes to World War II.

A passion instilled in him at an early age by his father, Allen, a signalman in the U.S Navy during the war.

“Growing up, it was always ‘Oh, my grandpa fought in WWII,’ and I would raise my hand and say my ‘my dad did’ ‘you’re kidding!’ No, he was in the Pacific Theater on the LSM 392,” said Westerberg.

At the time of the war, Allen was around 19 years old. He hailed from the small town of Dassel, Minnesota, about 60-miles west of Minneapolis.

While in the service, he loved exploring and catching insects overseas to send home for his collection.

He also sent letters to his family, sharing details and stories of his two and a half years of service.

The Westerberg family saved almost 1,000 of Allen’s letters from war, now serving as a first-hand account of history.

“Some can be ten pages long, some are a couple of pages, some are censored, some aren’t,” said Westerberg. “It’s fascinating to see him go to Bootcamp and then all the adventures he took.”

Joe found out about his father’s letters about 20 years ago. Since then, it’s been his mission to transcribe and eventually publish them for his family and for future generations to see how life was during World War II.

“You look up history, and it’s those first-hand accounts. That’s where you learn more,” said Westerberg. “My dad wasn’t actively involved in any major battles, but to me, he’s still a hero.”

For most of Joe’s life, this had been a project he shared alongside his father, but Allen never got the chance to see the book complete. Allen passed away in 2019.

“He instilled this love of history for me. I wish he were still around. I would have a ton of questions,” said Westerberg.

And in 2020, when COVID’s quarantine hit, it was the perfect time to get it done.

“There were days I was just flying through letters, and I’d yell to my wife, ‘oh my god! Dad’s doing this!” It was just kinda a fascinating process, but there was nothing to do during COVID, so I just kept plugging away,” said Westerberg.

Joe said that even though they were stuck at home, they were living vicariously through his dad’s adventures. After 21 years and countless hours, the book is now ready for publication.

Joe hoping it brings others as close to his father as he now feels.

“It’s just a project that I’ve loved. I’m just glad that it’s nearing the end, but it’s a way to honor my dad,” said Westerberg.

Joe said he is working on fundraising the money to publish the book.

Once it is published, he will have several copies printed for his family and local schools to receive a copy.

He will then send the original letters to the WWII museum in Louisiana.

If you would like to help support the project, click here.

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