Phil Panasuk sat in the bar of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Club on Veterans Day and enjoyed a nice drink. He deserved it.
Panasuk, 91, of Minot, was one of many World War II veterans who gathered at the VFW in Minot on Thursday evening for the annual meeting and banquet of the Last Man's Club, a club for veterans of World War II.
Panasuk, originally from Bainville, Mont., went into the service in June 1942 and was supposed to return home for Christmas, but instead, he was shipped off to India.
James C. Falcon/MDN •
Phil Panasuk, of Minot, was one of the World War II veterans who gathered Thursday for the annual banquet of the Last Man’s Club. At 91 years old, Panasuk might be the oldest living member of the Minot branch.
"They didn't tell you where you're going," he said. En route to India, they stopped in Perth, Australia, for two days. Here, Panasuk said, he recalled seeing the luxury ships Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary near the beach, but they "couldn't go in, the tide was out."
He arrived in Bombay now Mumbai and was stationed in Ledo, Assam, in northeastern India.
"Our company was 427th Quartermaster," Panasuk said. "We handed out food and clothing."
Panasuk served for 31 months, all in India. After leaving India, he stopped in Ceylon. Two days out of Ceylon now Sri Lanka the war ended.
In his post-war life, in the summer of 1946, Panasuk worked for the Bureau of Reclamation, surveying a line from Fort Peck, Mont., to the Garrison Dam. That winter he went to an electrical school in Chicago. He then worked in Fargo for a year before he came to Minot "on April 7, 1949." For 15 years he "worked making signs" before working as an electrician up until his retirement in 1984.
Panasuk said he belonged to the American Legion also "but they closed for a while they lost the club. I spend more time at the VFW."
At 91 years old, Panasuk may be the oldest member of the Last Man's Club. Don Wunderlich, of Voltaire, who serves as secretary-treasurer, explained that, to his knowledge, Panasuk is the oldest. He was definitely the oldest member who was present at the banquet, he said. There are some who may be older than Panasuk but are in rest homes, don't care to travel or have mobility issues.
Wunderlich, who is 84, said he is one of the youngest but "there might be one guy here that is one year less."
Wunderlich served in the U.S. Navy from 1944 to 1946.
"I was an enlistee that's a volunteer," he said. "I went in at 17 with my parents' consent. That was in 1944. Fifteen, 16 months later, the war ended. When I was discharged, I was 19. I was a teenager the entire time I was in."
He served in the U.S. Third Fleet, led by Fleet Admiral William Halsey Jr. There, Wunderlich was involved in anti-submarine warfare in the western Pacific Ocean. "I was a sonar man, submarine detection," he said. "We spent most of the time at Okinawa."
According to Wunderlich, the Last Man's Club was formed in 1979.
"We accepted members for so many months and then it was closed," Wunderlich said, adding that there were "around 300 and some" charter members who signed up. Registration was closed in November 1980. Membership was limited to those who served in any branch of the military during World War II, Wunderlich said.
There are now 81 members left.
"The organization will disband when membership falls to the last five men," an article from a 1979 issue of the The Minot Daily News reads. The last five men will then share in spirits an article from 1990 elaborates, describing it as "Seagram's Premium Whiskey, bottled in 1976." This is currently in Wunderlich's possession.
Wunderlich said that, to his knowledge, the Minot branch is the only branch still in existence in North Dakota.
On Thursday afternoon, the members congregated for a business meeting. The meeting's, which usually don't last long, are held so members can plan activities for the following year, Wunderlich said.
"As everyone ages, there is less activity, less business to conduct consequently," he said.