Duluth family's six sons all served in military during WWII
Lorraine DeRoche was all alone. There wasn’t a sibling to talk to after the funeral for her brother Henry Tessier last month.
“It’s strange to be the last one,” she said recently from her Duluth home.
DeRoche is the only person alive from the 14-member Tessier family that lived in the West End for much of the 1900s.
“Lorraine’s a little bit lost,” said Hope Tessier. She was a childhood friend of DeRoche and ended up marrying her brother Art. “You never think, with 12 kids, that they won’t always be there.”
DeRoche said she will miss Henry’s humor. He was the “court jester” among her six brothers and five sisters.
During World War II, the Tessier story was one of survival. With Veterans Day coming Tuesday, DeRoche is sure to recall those days.
All six Tessier boys served in the military, leaving a wake of worry back home in Duluth for their parents and younger sisters. They all made it back alive, though some only for a short time due to war-induced maladies. All of them were changed, but the four who lived into old age were the best of friends, Hope Tessier and DeRoche said.
DeRoche was entering her teen years when her brothers were off at war.
“It was very hard,” she said of being a six-star family. “But it was even harder on them.”
She meant her parents, Esdros and Victoria. Her mother had a bad heart and her father had always been close with his boys, working side by side with them in the family painting business.
“You’re scared to open the door,” DeRoche said, because someone might be bearing bad news.
“I can’t imagine the emotion those poor parents went through,” Hope Tessier said.
The family joke was that the Tessier parents came to Duluth to seek their “fame and fortune” in the early 1900s in a city that then boasted so many millionaires among its citizens. The Tessiers moved from Canada to the West End.
Another family memory is how proud Esdros was to become an American. He would stand at attention every time he heard the “The Star-Spangled Banner,” DeRoche said with a titter. Even if it was being played on television before a ballgame.
That patriotism rubbed off, of course, with the Tessier boys all going overseas to fight. One had been born in Canada during a family trip and had to fight for his right to represent the United States in the war.
Home and abroad
Esdros lost his paint store business during the Depression and ended up working as a bartender at the Young Old Timers Club at 21st Avenue and Superior Street.
That is where Esdros drew support during the war, either with donations going to the fighting men or just someone to share the same worry.
Hope and Lorraine said they did their part in the war effort. Any news on the fronts came from the news reels before movies, like those at the Star Theater, which sat next to the club building.
There were letter-writing campaigns, rationing, war stamp buying and supporting soldiers at home guarding the port, Hope Tessier said.
“We did our part,” she said.
Louis was the oldest brother in the service. Shortly after the war, he started showing genetic heart trouble. He died, but study on what might have saved him — a typical artery procedure today — helped several family members down the line, DeRoche said.
Ludger was next, serving a tough tour in the Army with fierce fighting in Italy. He later was a guard in Minnesota at a prison camp full of Germans. Ludger was known as a skilled carpenter who worked at his own speed.
“They were different,” DeRoche said of her brothers after the war. Before they had been quiet and not very outgoing, she said. They killed war pains by drinking, Hope Tessier said.
“I can understand why,” she said. “To block the memories.”
“They had a hard time adapting back to regular life,” DeRoche said.
Albert contracted malaria in the Pacific theater and never recovered, dying shortly after returning home. DeRoche remembers her frail, pale brother sitting with a blanket wrapped around him.
Art probably had the most harrowing war experiences of all the brothers. He landed in France on D-Day, fought at St. Lo and eventually was captured by the Germans, spending nine months in a prison camp.
DeRoche said the family was told he was killed, then missing and then a POW.
Hope Tessier said Art would slowly begin to talk about his war experience after they were married in 1950.
“He showed up one day,” she said of Art’s return from the war. He was sent to an Army camp in the South to assimilate before going home. He was fed a lot of peaches, she recalled him telling her. He didn’t like peaches for the longest time after that.
He feared calling home, not knowing what had happened with his brothers. Ludger was back in Minnesota, members of his division told Art when the prisoner camp was liberated. The fate of the others was unknown.
“He said it was very scary,” Hope said. “The hardest thing was making that call to home and afraid of what he would hear.”
“I would just sit and listen,” she said of her husband’s talks about the war. “He would have dreams, then it started. It was like he was trying to fight his way out of something.”
Those talks helped ease her worry, she said.
“I think Art adjusted pretty well,” she said. “He made a life for himself. It was the past.”
Henry and Ed caught the tail end of the war and didn’t see much action, DeRoche said. Henry was the only one to move out of the area. He worked for 27 years at a creamery in Hastings, Minn., southeast of St. Paul.
DeRoche remembers those war days vividly.
“I was always worried,” she said. “If not about my brothers, then about my parents.”
When they all returned home, Hope Tessier remembers the commotion.
“It was a houseful,” she said. “Six boys and three girls. There was a lot of cooking.”
“They made a lot of noise,” Hope said. “They were a lot of fun. They got along beautifully.”