First Lieutenant E. Eugene Helgeson

If you visited the Anderson Barn Museum this year or read any of the previous blog posts, you probably know about some of Ephraim’s Civil War veterans.  Today, in honor of Veterans Day, I’ll be writing about a Vietnam veteran with Ephraim connections.

It’s hard to miss the tall white pole at Ephraim’s Anderson Dock.  This memorial commemorates E. Eugene Helgeson, Jr., who served in the United States Air Force and was killed in action on March 6, 1968, during the Battle of Khe Sanh.  The pole was erected later that year by Amos M. Rasmussen.

E. Eugene Helgeson (photo from Tom Reece)

Eugene was born May 14, 1942, and served with the 311th Air Commando Squadron, 315th Air Commando Wing, 7th Air Force.  He was awarded a number of medals for his service, including the Silver Star Medal for Bravery, the Distinguished Flying Cross, and the Purple Heart.  Eugene was killed in a plane crash at the age of 25 and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.  His name appears on panel 43E, line 020 of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C.

We’ve had questions from curious visitors about why Ephraim has a memorial to First Lieutenant Helgeson, who was born in Cincinnati, Ohio.  The answer to that question comes from the name Helgeson, which has a long history in Ephraim through Matilda (Tilla) and Elias Helgeson, Eugene’s paternal grandparents and proprietors of the Edgewater Lodge.  While Tilla and Elias weren’t the first owners of the Edgewater, the Helgeson family operated the hotel from 1906 to 1961.

The Edgewater Lodge

Though Eugene didn’t grow up in Ephraim, he had strong family ties to the community.  Five of his aunts and uncles, Lillian, Grace, Pearl, Elsie, and Guy, helped their parents run the Edgewater and continued its operation after the deaths of Elias in 1923 and Tilla in 1954.  While Eugene’s father, Ellis, moved away from Ephraim, he maintained connections to Ephraim throughout his life and is buried alongside his wife Ruth, his parents, and most of his siblings at the Ephraim Moravian Cemetery.

The next time you visit Anderson Dock, be sure to stop and see the plaque for First Lieutenant E. Eugene Helgeson on the memorial pole.

-Guest Blogger Emily Irwin

3 thoughts on “First Lieutenant E. Eugene Helgeson”

  1. Thanks for the article. My name is Steven Colburn, son of Margaret Glenn who is his first cousin. I’ll be sharing this article with my family. Thanks again!

  2. I have just read your historical notes on the memorial to Eugene Helgeson located at Anderson’s Dock in Ephraim. His familial connection to Ephraim is worthy of mention, as well as his meritorious military service.

    My recollections of Gene are of a more personal nature. As a teenager, I spent two or three weeks most summers between 1947 and 1959 in Ephraim with my family. We stayed down the road from the Edgewater Inn at Mary Larson’s cottages, across the street from Sohn’s grocery. I met Gene in 1955 or 1956 in Ephraim, where he was spending part of his summer. He was an exceptional young man, bright, athletic, well-grounded and very well-mannered. I had the good fortune of spending time with him during our stay in Ephraim over the course of the next two or three summers. We enjoyed outdoor activities, boating around Eagle Harbor and camping on Horseshoe Island and at Nicollet Bay in Peninsula State park. We swan and snorkeled around Anderson’s Dock, retrieving lost fishing tackle and pop bottles that yielded a deposit quickly translated into candy. He or another friend had a spear gun, and on one occasion we managed to spear a reasonable sized bass, which turned out to be good eating.

    After the last summer that I saw him and after he had returned to Cincinnati, we started a chess by mail game that soon petered out. A week plus per move made it just too slow a game. I went off to college in 1960, as I suppose Gene did, and I lost track of him until I heard of his untimely death. My memories of him are still quite clear. I remember him as a prince of a young man, a worthy friend, with a promising future. I mourn the loss of that potential and of my friend. At my request, my wife retrieved a rubbing of his name from the Vietnam Memorial Wall. It helps keep his memory alive, although it is a poor substitute for Gene’s friendly and engaging presence.

    Thank you for the article.

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