PERHAM, Minn. -- Robert (Bob) Riestenberg, age 97, is one of many Perham natives who served in World War II.

As a private in the United States Army for two years during the war, he had what he calls the fun Army job: He played clarinet in an Army band.

Right after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, Riestenberg was called to Front Snelling to report for service but was sent back due to a hernia. As the war got worse he was called up again, only this time, “the draft board said we need food more than we need bullets,” Riestenberg said.

Qualifying to stay home, Riestenberg was once again left in the states to work on his family farm in Perham, “to help the troops!” he said.

“Then the bomb fell,” Riestenberg said, referring to the bombing of Tokyo in 1945. “And shortly after that, I was called back again.”

Robert Riestenberg, age 97 of Perham, lives at Briarwood. He played clarinet in the Army band during World War II. (RosaLin Alcoser)
Robert Riestenberg, age 97 of Perham, lives at Briarwood. He played clarinet in the Army band during World War II. (RosaLin Alcoser)RosaLin Alcoser

Riestenberg thinks that he was stationed at Fort McChord in Washington; on this day at his apartment at Briarwood in Perham, he pulled out his phone and googled it to jog his memory.

His daughter, Joyce Riestenberg, said that he would have been 21 years old when he finally was drafted into the U.S. Army.

After being at McChord for a few months watching others come in and ship out, “one day I saw a lieutenant standing there by himself,” Riestenberg said. ”And I asked him, ‘how come I’m here yet? While all the people who have been going through have been shipping out and I’m still here?’”

The lieutenant took down his name and, by noon that day, he was called in to report.

“By 4 o’clock I was on the Jeep going to the ship,” Riestenberg said. ”To go ship out to Japan.”

During the three-week boat ride to Japan, Riestenberg became part of a band on the ship, which split up when they reached Toyko. Once in Japan, he was placed in a military band playing the clarinet, one of the instruments that he played in a band previous to joining the Army. Before joining the Army band he had played his clarinet and saxophone in local bands back in Perham.

After what happened in Japan, Joyce said, the military bands were sent to spread goodwill. Riestenberg was part of the goodwill tour.

Bod Riestenberg in his army uniform holding his clarinet in 1945 (submitted photo).
Bod Riestenberg in his army uniform holding his clarinet in 1945 (submitted photo).

“Our band would go around to all the different camps -- there were a lot of camps in Japan,” Riestenberg said. ”We went from camp to camp playing concerts.”

Going around boosting the troops’ morale by playing military marching music was the fun army job of WWII.

Riestenberg recalled one camp where the fires in the tents had to be put out after 10 p.m. due to tent fires.

“It got so cold in there I got out my duffel bag, to put some more covers on," Riesenberg said. "Clothes on, everything I had in the duffel bag! Then I threw the duffel bag on top of that, and it was still freezing!”

The next morning another man told Riestenberg that he he did it wrong: The cold was coming up from the ground, so he should have put his clothes under him.

After his two years of service, Riestenberg returned to Perham, married his wife Rita, farmed and worked in irrigation.

Riestenberg also played in local bands after coming back, playing his clarinet and saxophone in bandstands and at local events. Joyce could remember her father playing in the Fred Liske Band "every Friday and Saturday night," she said, until he was 75 years old.

After he stopped performing he continued to play for his own pleasure and still has his instruments to this day.