When the second of 10 services ended Friday at Fort Snelling National Cemetery, Quentin De Nio rolled up his large white U.S. Army flag and shuffled over to the Memorial Rifle Squad’s bus.
“We’ve got some nice young guys who are 68 from the Vietnam era and they push my ass up the three steps and into the bus,” De Nio said.
With that friendly shove from a hand on his belt, it was off to the next graveside for the Rifle Squad. The group has brought honor to more than 64,000 funerals at Fort Snelling National Cemetery since it started providing final salutes in 1979.
“A lot of guys want to fire a rifle because they were in the Navy or Air Force and never got a chance,” De Nio said. “I said, ‘Just give me a flag.’ ”
De Nio was part of the Richfield Veterans of Foreign War Post 5555 Honor Guard. “But they all died off, so I came over here to Fort Snelling in 2000.”
He’s now the second-oldest among the dozens of buglers, riflemen and flag bearers who make up the Memorial Rifle Squad.
Originally from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, De Nio first came up to Minneapolis in 1939 for a summer job at his father’s insurance company. That’s when he met Virginia Swinburne, who would be his wife for 64 years.
“She was the 1933 valedictorian at Roosevelt High School,” De Nio said. “I realized that’s why she was still single: She was too smart — none of the guys had the guts to date her.”
Virginia’s sister set them up and they spent their first date in her family’s basement in Minneapolis. “I remember they had a black walnut tree out front and we were cracking walnuts in the basement.”
They married in August 1941, “like dumb kids,” two weeks after he was drafted into the Army.
His 1941 infantry papers included the ominous “Destination Unknown.”
De Nio arrived in Hawaii three months after the Pearl Harbor attack. With action on Saipan and Okinawa, he recalls his landing craft “getting peppered” and “the time I was carrying a rifle and a radio and looked up and saw the top of the antenna missing: Someone was aiming at anything shiny.”
After the war, De Nio used the GI Bill to attend Dunwoody Institute and he became a printer, opening his own shop — De Nio Designs — that made invitations, announcements and envelopes. He eventually added Dayton’s as a client.
He and Virginia had four children, 16 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren at last count.
He retired in 2004, selling his shop on Lake Street one year before Virginia died. He still lives in the two-story house in south Minneapolis that he purchased for $15,500 in 1957. He couldn’t afford the $19,000 house next door. There’s a 457-year-old oak tree out front of his place.
“They said it was 400 years old when I moved in,” he said. “And that was 57 years ago.”