Soldier: 'If I was to die, it would've been an honor'by Sea Stachura, Minnesota Public Radio
Another Minnesota soldier died this week in Baghdad. Sgt. 1st Class John Tobiason of Hayfield was 42. Little is known about how Tobiason died. It's reported that he stepped out of a tent and shots were fired.
Hayfield, Minn. — John Tobiason grew up in the shadows of the Twin Cities. He graduated from Bloomington Kennedy High School. A few years ago he moved to Hayfield, a town on the edge of the prairie in southeastern Minnesota. He moved there to be closer to his sister's family.
While Hayfield was home, Tobiason wasn't there much. He was on his second tour of duty in Iraq when he died.
People say Tobiason was quiet, hard to get to know. But American Legion Post Commander Dennis Lindquist says once you knew him you couldn't say a bad thing about him. Lindquist says, for example, Tobiason brewed homemade wine, and even the wine went to a good cause.
"We did have a family that had some medical problems. And he brought in some homemade wine and sold shots of wine. And all the money was donated to the family," says Lindquist. Hayfield is the type of town where the city clerk's sister was neighbors with Tobiason, and she can tell you that he loved to play the drums.
Down the street at the restaurant, people remember Tobiason as a big hugger. He also needed some alone time after his last tour in Iraq.
Lindquist says Tobiason's life was dedicated to service. Tobiason started out as a military cook, then joined the Army Reserves. He was deployed to Kuwait during Desert Storm, where he ran supplies -- everything from food to ammunition.
Tobiason collected military memorabilia. The military was his life. Lindquist remembers Tobiason walking into the Legion hall one day, dressed in his camouflage fatigues.
"I says, 'Boy, that's a nice jacket you've got on.' Out the door he went, he come in and gave me a brand new one, one of his. I said, 'John, you can't do that.' 'No, I want you to have it,'" was the response, Lindquist recalls.
Next door to the Legion, at Marv's Bar and Grill, Bruce Tiejen sips coffee and tears up. Tiejen sold Tobiason his house and signed him up at the Legion. He says Tobiason decorated his house in American flags and camouflage. But Tiejen says patriotism didn't blind him to the dangers in Iraq.
"He did let on when he was over there in Iraq, being mortared -- it wasn't no safe place to be," Tiejen says. "He didn't really know who the enemy was. So you kind of had to watch your back 24/7."
Tiejen says he and Tobiason talked a lot about the war, and how similar this one was to Vietnam.
In June, Tobiason wrote a letter to Hayfield's newspaper. He'd recently been promoted, and he was about to extend his tour from October to January. He wrote that he enjoyed every minute of his deployment. Then he wrote this:
"I would never change my mind about why I do this for my job and career. I love my country. And I know that if I was to die for it, it would've been an honor dying for something so precious as freedom is for all of us."
When Tobiason was home on leave in the summer, he carried the flag during the Legion's July 4 parade. And American Legion manager Delmont Martin says he convinced Tobiason to cook in the Legion kitchen.
Martin says he and Tobiason didn't agree about the whether the U.S. should be in Iraq. But both believed in the sacrifices soldiers make for their country, and Martin says people don't seem to notice that anymore.
"I listen to ABC News in the morning. There were 36 people killed over there this month. I never heard it mentioned once," says Martin. "It's like it doesn't exist anymore. It's like if you don't kill ten people it's not newsworthy. I think that sucks."
Tobiason was originally a member of the 847th Adjutant General Battalion, U.S. Army Reserve, based at Fort Snelling. But he was deployed with the 15th Personnel Services Battalion out of Fort Hood, Texas.
His sister, Nancy Mitchell, said her brother was was in his 14th year in the military and had planned to serve 20 years before retiring to a cabin in Minnesota.
John Tobiason is survived by his sister and mother. He is the 66th person with strong ties to Minnesota to die in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Services were planned for next week at St. Bonaventure Catholic Church in Bloomington.
- All Things Considered, 11/30/2007, 5:55 p.m.