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Carl Platou: Foxhole lessons

  • Updated: January 3, 2013 - 6:24 AM

He always returned to the foxhole.

That's where Carl Platou learned that survival depends on relationships. It was true in war and would prove true in business as well.

In December 1944, he was in the Army's 11th Airborne Division, besieged for 31 days by the Japanese on the Philippine island of Leyte. The final five days behind enemy lines were brutal. No food. No latrines. "A stinking mess," he recalled.

Then, on Christmas Eve, U.S. soldiers unleashed a five-minute hail of artillery, freeing his unit. Just 10 of 100 men survived the battle.

Platou returned home with a knife scar from wrist to elbow, a reminder of the moment he had to kill a Japanese banzai warrior who charged his foxhole in the dead of night.

"When I went in the paratroops ... they taught you to be the strongest and the best and the brightest and the keenest and the sharpest and the toughest in the world," he said in a 2007 interview for the Minnesota Historical Society. "When I got out of the service, I still had that."

He blew up the model for how hospitals were run, building Fairview Hospital into a sprawling health care system. He brought in titans of business and politics to lead the board, urged doctors to build specialty clinics and got backing from community leaders to expand into the suburbs.

Shortly before he died, the University of Minnesota dedicated a plaza to him at a new biosciences complex he helped build. Platou insisted his Army company's colors be marched in with the Stars and Stripes.

"He felt very indebted to his friends in combat," said former Gov. Arne Carlson, a friend. "They were all interdependent. More than anyone I've ever known, he understood interdependence."

JACKIE CROSBY

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  • Carl Platou with his squad while in New Guinea in 1943. Platou is on the far right in the first row.

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