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Vic Hellberg gives presentation at Mowry Irvine Mansion

T-R PHOTO BY ROBERT MAHARRY Local businessman and Navy veteran Hjalmar Victor “Vic” Hellberg III of Marshalltown gave a presentation titled “Three Generations of Military Service” at the Mowry Irvine Mansion on Tuesday night.

Marshalltown residents most likely know Hjalmar Victor Hellberg III, or Vic, and his wife Gayle for their longstanding local jewelry business on Main Street, but that operation isn’t the only multigenerational aspect of the Hellberg family. Vic and his late father and grandfather all served their country in the military — H.V. Hellberg Sr. in the Army during WWI, Hjally Hellberg Jr. in the Army Air Corps (a predecessor to the Air Force) during WWII and Vic in the Navy during the Vietnam era.

On Tuesday night, Hellberg gave a presentation at the Mowry Irvine Mansion, located at 510 W. Main St. detailing three generations of military service, which also included his great uncles Gustav Bratteig and Selmer Sandvan during WWI. The Hellberg family’s American story started in 1886 when Vic’s great grandfather William Hellberg and his wife Ellen immigrated to St. Paul, Minn. with their 10-month-old child.

In 1898, Hellberg Jewelers was born in Marshalltown, and the business celebrated its 125-year anniversary last year. But the company was not the focus of Vic’s presentation — instead, it was the tradition of military service in his family. As previously mentioned, Bratteig joined the Army during WWI and spent three weeks in a European foxhole.

H.V. Hellberg Sr. went into the Army at around the same time, as did Sandvan, who later became a high school economics teacher upon returning home. H.V. Sr. was part of the largest group — 246 men — taken from Marshall County during that war on July 24, 1918.

Hjally Hellberg Jr. had an illustrious career in the Army Air Corps during WWII and flew 24 bombing missions over Germany in the final days of the European Theater. It was customary for pilots to fly 25 missions total, but the Germans surrendered before he could complete his last one. Vic joked that because Hershey’s almond bars were the only food available on the flights between England and Germany, his father couldn’t eat them for 25 years afterwards.

Hjally Jr. also had a piece of flak pulled out of the back of his head that now belongs to Vic’s brother, and Vic shared the story of famed German fighter pilot Franz Stigler, who was involved in a Dec. 20, 1943 incident where he held fire on a damaged American B-17 bomber rather than shooting it down. A half century later, he met the American pilot, Charlie Brown, and they became friends before Stigler passed away in 2008.

Finally, Vic Hellberg, a draftee, came to his own service in the Navy from 1967 to 1971 after graduating from MHS in 1964. An aspiring chef at the time who had briefly moved to Minnesota to pursue that career before being drafted, he recalled a humorous instance in which he baked and decorated a cake for the captain of another ship. Vic served on the second USS Seattle (AOE 3), which served as the “gas station and grocery store” for other ships heading out on missions.

He never ended up in Vietnam but saw parts of the world far beyond central Iowa, like the Panama Canal, Guantanamo Bay, San Juan, Puerto Rico and the Mediterranean Sea. After his discharge, Vic got the honor of serving on the Draft Board from 1974 until it was permanently disbanded in 1976. He also served in the Navy alongside Marland Townsend, the man who is credited as the first commander of the fighter pilot program later known as “Top Gun” — which, as movie fans are well aware, now has Marshalltown connections of its own.

Hellberg detailed several reunions of the crew both in Bremerton, Wash., where the USS Seattle was stationed, and in Kansas City, Norfolk, Va., New Orleans, San Diego, Pensacola, Fla., Branson, Mo., San Francisco, Jacksonville and Washington, D.C. The group even managed to raise $1,000 for the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Marshalltown.

The crowd of about 15 community members in attendance enjoyed his presentation and the atmosphere of the historic mansion-turned-museum.

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Contact Robert Maharry at 641-753-6611 ext. 255 or rmaharry@timesrepublican.com.

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