When Hildegard (Schicka) Kompelien tells about her childhood memories growing up in Berlin, Germany, many of her stories are somber.
"We lived in an apartment building, but we spent a lot of the time in the basement because of the war," she said. "You would hear the bombing going off all the time. After the war was over, you couldn't even see any streets because there was so much (rubble) in them."
Several years after World War II ended, Don Kompelien of Minneota spent time in Germany in 1950 as a Military Police Officer. It was while he was there that he met Hildegard.
"He was actually seeing my girlfriend, but she couldn't speak English very well at all," said Hildegard. "And I had taken English classes in school, so Don and I started dating. We went to a lot of movies together."
Before Don went stateside, he asked Hildegard to marry him and she accepted.
"In order for me to be able to come to the United States, I had to have a sponsor," she said. "Don's parents agreed to be my sponsor."
Having never been to the United States and then only 21 years old, Hildegard boarded a ship that set sail for America. Don, his mother, brother and sister-in-law were on hand as Hildegard arrived in New York.
"We went to Niagara Falls after they picked me up. Most people go to Niagara Falls after they are married. We went before we were married," Hildegard laughed.
That was Sept. 9, 1953. And on Oct. 24 of that year, Don and Hildegard were married at Hope Lutheran Church in Minneota.
The Kompeliens lived on a farm outside of Minneota for 56 years until Don's death in 2009.
"It was a big adjustment coming from a big city to a farm," Hildegard acknowledged. "But I liked the farm life. I helped with chores and everything. And I liked the freedom here."
Hildegard pointed out an important moment in her life while she was living in Minneota.
"In 1962, my mother-in-law asked me to go with her to a special church meeting to listen to a speaker," she said. "And it was because of that speech that I gave my life to the Lord and became a Christian."
Hildegard stayed on the farm for the next few years, but would live during the winter months in Lynchburg, Virginia with her son Wayne, and his wife, Rhonda.
"I was having some health problems, so Wayne and Rhonda told me to live with them full time," she said, turning her head and giving her daughter-in-law an endearing smile as if to show her appreciation. "She's been living with us for the past six years now," said Rhonda. The Kompelien farm in Minneota was sold three years ago.
Hildegard made the 1,300-mile trek over 23 hours back to Minneota this past week with her son and daughter-in-law. Wayne, a 1977 Minneota graduate, returns to play in the Wynston Boe Golf Tournament each year. In the past 37 years, he has only missed playing in the tournament twice, including last year when Hildegard fell and broke her leg.
The Kompeliens stayed with Don Richards at his home in Minneota this past week. Richards was a good friend of Don Kompelien when their farmsites were close by.
"It's nice to come back home," said Hildegard, now 88 years old. "We go back out and look at the old farmplace. We had a lot of fond memories there. I would think to myself 'We did this here and we did that there'. I could see all through the years."
Because she was an only child, it was hard for Hildegard and her parents when she left Germany.
"So in 1957 we sent for my folks to come to the United States," Hildegard said with a wide smile. "They lived in Sioux City (Iowa) until my father retired and then they came and lived next to us."
Hildegard's parents are buried next to Don and his parents in the Hope Lutheran Cemetery.
Back to Berlin
Hildegard and Don made a trip back to Berlin in the 1980s and were pleased to be able to see it without the sights and sounds of war all around.
But the trip also triggered Hildegard's memory of living there as a young girl.
"Life under dictatorship is a life of survival," she said, when asked what it was like living there in the war years of 1939 to 1945. "But it was almost tougher after the war. Everything was damaged. If you needed wood for a fire to cook with or to keep warm, you could just go out in the street and find it everywhere."
Hildegard recalls hearing air raid sirens going off all the time when she was a young girl.
"That was just normal life. We just tried to stay alive," she said. "When we lived in the inner city, my parents were afraid something might happen to me. So they sent me to live with my grandmother who lived on the outskirts."
The apartment building they lived in suffered damage during the war, but her parents weren't hurt.
"There are certain events that I will remember forever," Hildegard said. "The German Army was in the inner city for the last battle and we were in the basement. For about one hour, there was total silence.
"The first thing we heard after the silence were the church bells ringing. That meant the Russian Army was coming. We heard the first tank coming and from then on it was a wild ride."
Hildegard and her parents and grandparents went and hid inside haystacks on the outside of town for three days.
"My precious old grandma, Oma, would walk into town and cook some food and bring it back for us," Hildegard remembers. "They left her alone because she was old and she spoke Russian."
Hildegard's father was drafted when he was 40 years old and was in charge of chauffeuring officers, He was captured by the English and then turned over the French where he spent a few years in a prison camp in France.
"My mother was a letter carrier and I lived with her in Berlin while we waited for my father to return," Hildegard said. "We first heard he was alive when we received a post card from the Red Cross."
Hildegard's father was eventually released from prison and reunited with his wife and daughter. And it wasn't long after that Don came to Germany and took her away from the war-ravaged city.