It’s hard to put a caption on the life of Herm Sittard. In his nearly 94 years, the longtime resident of West St. Paul was a soldier, the father of eight children, a journalist, a musician, a teacher and a government spokesman.
It’s no wonder it took him 10 years to finish his memoir. Those who’ve read it say it’s unfortunate that he wouldn’t turn it over to an editor before his death. Sittard died May 31 in St. Odilia after a couple of months in hospice care.
“He lived a remarkable life,” said his friend, retired Star Tribune columnist Jim Klobuchar.
Sittard was born to German immigrants on June 17, 1919, in New Ulm. He apparently inherited his love of music from his mother, a classically trained concert pianist who entertained diners at Alverdes German restaurant in St. Paul and played in vaudeville shows at the old Orpheum Theatre. He got his trade from his father, an editor at the German-language daily in St. Paul, Tägliche Volkszeitung, until it closed in 1941. Sittard worked there for a time translating wire articles into German, said his sister, Cornelia Bieza, 96.
Sittard attended the Nazareth Hall Preparatory Seminary in Arden Hills, but quit and joined the Army infantry during World Ward II. As a member of the 129th Regimental Combat Team, he participated in the liberation of the Philippines from Japanese control. He didn’t talk about the war after it ended, Bieza said, but he spent the last decade of his life writing about the campaign from Fiji to Manila.
In a 2011 blog entry, Sittard recalled the deafening roar as 4,400 rounds of heavy artillery lit up the jungles of Bougainville Island in just 25 minutes. “It helped us kill more than 6,000 men of the elite 6th Imperial division of the Japanese army,” he wrote.
Sittard also described the horror of hundreds of kamikaze attacks on a 50-mile-long convoy of more than 850 combat ships heading up the China Sea to invade Luzon: “One pilot crash-dived into the HMAS Westralia with 2,000 men aboard, smashed our rudder and left us dead in the water four hours while Navy Seals repaired our rudder and kamikazes sank ships around us.”
Klobuchar said that after allied forces liberated Manila, Sittard entertained the troops by playing Rachmaninoff on a grand piano in Malacañang Palace. A talented storyteller, he worked as an unofficial war correspondent for the St. Paul Dispatch. After the war, he got his degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota in 1947.
He worked as a columnist and editor at several publications before he became an award-winning reporter, picture editor and editor for the Minneapolis Star, where he worked from 1956 to 1965. He left to become public information director for Hennepin County, the start of a long career in public relations. He also taught journalism for 13 years as an adjunct lecturer at the U.
Sittard never lost interest in music. He served several terms as president of the Twin Cities Church Musicians Association. He was also an organist and choir director for St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Bloomington and St. Luke and St. Ambrose Catholic churches in St. Paul.
“Herm enjoyed having parties,” Bieza said. “He liked to have his choir over at Christmastime. We’d sing through the night.”
His song, “That Christmas Long Ago,” was released in 1994 by a New York publisher.
“He never did retire,” said Peg Reilly, his oldest daughter.
In addition to Reilly and Bieza, survivors include Settard’s wife, Nancy, sons Paul, Michael, Bob and Chris, 12 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. Services have been held privately.