Norman Simonson grew up poor in the woods of northern Wisconsin, survived the bloody beaches of the Pacific in World War II, then built a modest but happy life in the Twin Cities.
Simonson, who went by the name Cy, was born in 1922 to a father who worked odd jobs and a half-Ojibwe mother who rented a succession of homes in Hayward, Wis. The family used a horse and buggy and was poor, said Simonson's son, Tim Simonson, who lives in Vadnais Heights.
"He never had to live that life again," his son said.
Simonson died June 29 of natural causes. He suffered from dementia and severe arthritis. He was 89.
As it did for many others, the tumult of the 1930s and 1940s launched Simonson toward a better life. During the Depression, he got a job with the Civilian Conservation Corps planting trees and working in parks, where he learned how to operate heavy machinery.
When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Simonson was working construction in Alaska. He traveled home, then enlisted with the Marines in Minneapolis.
Thanks to his experience with heavy equipment, he was assigned to drive a floating amphibious tractor, the vehicle used to transport soldiers from ships to the beach. He fought at Cape Gloucester in the South Pacific, then farther north at Peleliu, and finally at Okinawa.
"It's one of those flukes," his son said. "He was in all these places, but he walked out without a scratch."
Simonson returned from the war and got to work. He ran bulldozers and scrapers in Milwaukee, Washington state, and at the Garrison Dam in North Dakota.
In 1952, he and his wife, Nyda, settled in the Twin Cities. Simonson took a job operating cranes for Rocket Crane, where he stayed until he injured his shoulder when he was in his 60s. He was a serious man who knew he'd been fortunate, and worried that his luck might run out, his son said.
"He worked damn hard, but that isn't enough sometimes," Tim Simonson said. "He got lots of lucky breaks. He walked out of the war all right."
Simonson rarely took time off from his job, his children said. He was a proud Marine veteran, a member of Operating Engineers Local 49 and a member of the Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Ojibwe. He was also generous.
"He kind of liked lost souls," said Cindy Anderson, his daughter, who lives in Breezy Point, Minn. "We had many people living in our house over the years who needed a place to stay."
In retirement, Simonson and his wife traveled. They ventured to California, Washington, Montana, the Dakotas, and the Southeast. Simonson loved snowmobiling, boating, fishing and taking road trips by car.
In addition to his wife, son and daughter, he is survived by a brother, Donald, and two grandchildren.
Services have been held.
Adam Belz • 612-673-4405