A Time to Remember: American Legion Auxiliary Met

Serr, Bonnie. "A Time to Remember: American Legion Auxiliary Met." Northwest Blade, 1 December 2011, 13.

Les Heilman

I consider myself very fortunate to have had the opportunity to visit with Les Heilman regarding military and business memories. In December 1942, while attending South Dakota State College at Brookings, he went to Minneapolis and joined the Marines. He was allowed to finish his degree and graduate, providing he could do so by the end of the Summer School 1943, which he did. He graduated on Friday, received his orders to report to Boot camp in Parris Island, SC, on Saturday and had to leave Brookings by train on Monday. After boot camp, he went to Officers Candidate School and Reserve Officers School in Quantico, VA, then to Edgewood Arsenal in Maryland for Chemical Warfare school. From there, he went to Camp LeJeune, NC, to become the Chemical Warfare Officer in the newly formed 29 Marine Regiment. He then went to Guadalcanal in the South Pacific where the 29 Regiment joined the 6th Marine division which Les was a member, made an amphibious landing on Easter Sunday, April, 1, 1945, on the Island of Okinawa. This was the last planned invasion prior to the scheduled invasion of Japan itself. As a 2nd Lieutenant, Les took over a rifle platoon a little over halfway through the campaign after the original platoon leader was killed, and his replacement was also killed a short time later.

Les considered himself very fortunate to have finished the campaign without being a casualty. One rather bizarre event happened toward the end of the campaign. Lt Thompson and Les were each ordered on a routine patrol. Each of them took one squad of approximately 12 men. They were both pretty much in the same area when Thompson’s runner contacted Les to join him at once. When he got there, they were surrounded by about 350 Japanese, fully armed. They made no attempt to shoot at the Marines. Many asked for cigarettes, so they gave them the few that they had. Many of the Japanese began to commit suicide. Out of the 350 or so Japanese, about 200 committed suicide. It was not a pretty sight. He spent a total of 100 days on Okinawa with almost all nights in a fox hole, many times filled with mud and water. His only meals were usually boxes of rations consisting of mostly cheese and spam. Prior to landing on Okinawa, Les witnessed a Kamikaze attack. One plane splashed down a very short distance form his ship. The 82-day battles for Okinawa took 110, 000 Japanese, 11,000 surrendered and 125,000 civilians were killed. The overall American casualties reached almost 50,000. After Okinawa, the Marines went to Guam for additional training. On Aug 6, 1945, the US dropped the first atomic bomb. When the Japanese did not surrender, the second atomic bomb was dropped on Aug. 9. Les was transferred to the 4th Marine Regiment who was ordered to head for Japan. They were the first American service men to land in Japan. It was an easy occupation. He returned to the United States in May 1946 and was discharged at the Great Lakes Naval Training station as a 1st Lieutenant. He later received his Captain rating in the US Marine Corp Reserve. On a lighter note, when Les went back to Regimental Headquarters, he was asked by one of the Marines "What in the world are you doing here-you’re supposed to be dead. We’ve been holding up your mail." What happened was mistaken identity. The officer that was killed was mistaken for Lt. Les.

Les and Elsie Schick were united in marriage on Monday, July 19, 1948. Please make note of the day-it was Monday. They could not get married on Sunday because there was a baseball game. They honeymooned at the Black Hills but needed to hurry back so Les could play at the next game. Les played for the Cardinals for approximately 10 years and was a member of the State Champs in 1955. He played the center field position. At a game in Mobridge, he was on first base. The batter was signaled a lay down bunt which prompted Les to head for second. The bunt was missed and he broke his ankle sliding back to first base. Pat Morrison was playing first base. He recalls that home plate was where center field is now. Players were responsible for maintaining the fields. The team members would work all day, grab a quick supper and be on the field practicing every night. Much of the Cardinals success can be attributed to their faithful nightly practice.

Les worked at Eureka Rexall for one year and also at Woodward Pharmacy in Aberdeen for one year. It was always Les’s dream to own a second pharmacy in Eureka. Emanuel Heilman, Les’s dad, bought the Lyric Theatre on Main Street from Walt Wenzel in 1949. The former Nora’s Nook was his dad’s photo studio. The old theater building was remodeled by Harold, Les’s brother, and Les. They also made their own fixtures. Les and his brother, Harold, opened Heilman Drug and Studio in 1949. Harold was the photographer, Elsie the bookkeeper and sales person and Les as the pharmacist. Harold Heilman died in 1966 and the store was changed to Heilman Drug. The store was completely destroyed by fire in 1972. Les rebuilt and reopened the store several months later. He sold Heilman Drug in 1989 to Jack Weber, forty years after he started the business. Les witnessed monumental changes in the pharmacy profession. At the beginning of his career, many prescriptions were compounded. These drugs needed to be ground and placed in gel capsules. All ointments were dispensed in the same manner. Every label needed to be typed and applied to the bottle or jar. Every prescription needed to be hand recorded and filed. Heilman Drug was open 7 days a week. It was not unusual to be open until midnight on Saturday night. He was on 24/7 call. He was on call for holidays and week-ends. It was not at all unusual to be called out of bed in the middle of the night. He would have to go to the pharmacy and fill doctor’s orders. Many golf games were interrupted during this time. Heilman Drug started with Hallmark greeting cards, a photo finishing dept., Fenton Glassware, Frankoma pottery, a soda fountain, DuBarry Cosmetics and a large Veterinary Department. He was associated with Walgreen’s for a number of years until all of its franchise stores were discontinued. Sale times were an opportunity to purchase one item for regular price and get the second for one cent. Les had taken a course in college for window display. This was quite evident in the unique displays as seen in the large window in the store. In the early years, he used mostly crepe paper and streamers for decorations. He also had unusual ceiling displays.
Les’s family shared his love of the sciences. His sister, Priscilla Zenk, was also a pharmacist. His sons, James and Warren, both earned PhD’s in agronomy and meteorology respectively. Elsie and Les have been blessed with five granddaughters.

Elsie and Les have many fond memories of living on 11th Street. The blocks were full of children that played on the street. All the neighbors were close friends and enjoyed many good memories at the country club. Les was also known as a man with a great sense of humor and innocent pranks. Les enjoyed golf and raising beautiful roses. They are enjoying their retirement years.

Story courtesy of the Northwest Blade, Eureka, SD.
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