Herald JournalHerald Journal, Feb. 21, 2005

Les Baumann went on secret bombing missions, flew with the royal air force

By Heidi Stutelberg

Assembling tricycles at eight years of age was how Les Baumann of Lester Prairie got into the hardware business.

It was his first job while working for his grandfather and great-grandfather, owners of Weise and Kuhlmann Hardware in downtown Lester Prairie.

In fact, besides his military experience, Baumann has never worked anywhere else. 

At the age of 81, he still works part-time at the store, now owned by Eric and Judy Angvall.

Baumann remembers the original store being where the Dodge House or Sarah Heuer’s dental office now are located.

In 1913, along with other Minnesota hardware businessmen, Weise and Kuhlmann started the Our Own Hardware Company.

The duo had four buildings moved onto the corner of Juniper and Central and also built the current hardware store building. 

The cafe building was added on to the west end of the hardware, years later.

Besides being a hardware store, the upper level was also the biggest furniture store west of Minneapolis.  The men would deliver furniture up to a 50-mile radius.

Baumann recalls their store being one of the first stores to sell televisions in the area.  Back in 1946-1947, a nine-inch-screen television set cost $1,000.

Baumann graduated from Lester Prairie High School in 1942.  He met his wife, Dorothy, who was from St. Paul, at a youth conference in Faribault. 

He then attended Gustavus Adolphus as a freshman, but later decided to enlist in the Army Air Corps after World War II had started.

Dorothy wrote to Les every day while he served three years as a navigator for a B-24 airplane.

Baumann was with the special operations of the Army Air Corps.

“Guys would be in the woods with flashlights,” said Baumann, describing how he and his crew would fly in a black B-24 at 400-500 feet and drop supplies to resistance forces groups.

Large containers would be filled with medical supplies, ammunition and even bicycle tires, whatever their needs would be.

On one of their 30 missions – and because nobody else wanted to do it – Baumann’s crew delivered gas on a bombed out landing strip in Belgium. 

They also flew with the English Royal Air Force, in a B-24 delivering supplies and conducting bombing missions.

Their missions were very secretive, with the crew not knowing until that day what their mission would be. 

Sometimes, other soldiers would ask why their planes were black, but they could not tell them.

“Four of us are left,” Baumann, said, adding that his crew is very close, like brothers.  They still have reunions and get together every couple of years.

Upon returning to Lester Prairie, Les married Dorothy six months later. 

They raised two sons, David and Gary, and have three grandchildren and one great-grandchild, all by David and his wife Kathy.

Baumann has been an American Legion member for 58 years, noting that his father was a charter member of the Lester Prairie American Legion.

He and his wife have nice memories of numerous trips to tropical places like the Bahamas, with other Our Own Hardware business people.

The hardware store was inherited by Baumann, his wife and Baumann’s sister, Carol, with her husband, Bruce Birkholz. 

Birkholz’s son, Don, then operated the store until selling it to the Angvalls in 1993, where you can still find Baumann today.

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