Two songs got him through the war

  • Article by: WARREN WOLFE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 24, 2012 - 9:00 AM

John Evjen's favorite songs were the two played over and over while in captivity.

As a World War II prisoner in Germany, John Evjen and 140 or so other Americans spent months listening over and over to the only two records they had.

So family and friends will smile Friday, as Evjen used to, when they hear the voices of Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Jordan at his funeral. Evjen, 96, of Crystal, died Sunday.

"You'd think Dad would have gotten tired of those songs, but he still loved them," said his daughter, Beverly Enfield -- "Ella Fitzgerald and the Ink Spots singing, 'Into Every Life a Little Rain Must Fall,' and Louis Jordan on 'GI Jive.'"

Born June 14, 1915, in Minneapolis of Norwegian immigrants, Evjen (pronounced Evian) worked one summer as a teenager on a Civilian Conservation Corps project on the Gunflint Trail in northern Minnesota. Later he moved to California and took numerous Depression-era jobs, including picking peaches.

He enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1940 and was discharged in 1941. But after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that December, he reenlisted.

By 1944, Evjen was stationed in Belfast, Northern Ireland, preparing for the D-Day invasion of France. He landed on Utah Beach on July 3, nearly a month after the invasion began, and his infantry unit fought its way to Luxembourg.

On Nov. 1, he and eight other soldiers sleeping in a barn were captured by German soldiers and marched three days to a prisoner of war camp.

"Dad lost weight, but he was never treated badly," his daughter remembered. "What he talked most about, though, was those records. They had one old record player and two records, and they played those songs over and over. He liked a lot of music from that era, but especially those two songs."

When President Franklin Roosevelt died on April 12, 1945, German guards lent prisoners a bugle to play taps for him. They were freed a month later.

Evjen seldom talked of his battle experience, Enfield said.

" "Dad felt guilty because the men in his unit who weren't captured fought in the Battle of the Bulge, and many died," she said. "Dad also got a concussion once when a young officer was blown up in front of him. He wondered why he survived."

After the war, Enjen returned to Minneapolis, and at a dance met Norwegian immigrant Lydia Guttormson, who was there with a date.

"Mom let that guy take her home, then went back to the dance to see Dad," Enfield said. They were married in 1950 and had five children. Over the years, he drove a taxi, sold aluminum awnings and worked in real estate.

His wife had a stroke about 15 years ago and Enjen took care of her until her death in 2008. A son, Bruce, also preceded him in death.

Evjen is survived by daughters Enfield, of Wyoming, Minn., and Carol Evjen of Texas, and sons John of Eden Prairie and Richard of Oregon. The funeral will be Friday at 11 a.m. at the Gearty-Delmore Robbinsdale Chapel, with visitation one hour before the service. Burial will be at Fort Snelling National Cemetery.

Warren Wolfe • 612-673-7253

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