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Melvin Hougen was awarded the Bronze Star for valor and distinguished service in the Army during World War II.

But he didn't talk about it.

"He remained humble," said daughter Marcy Engstrom. "He wasn't a braggart."

Hougen, of Edina, died on July 16. He was 101.

"He was pretty typical of that generation," said Engstrom, of Amery, Wis. "He didn't talk much about those experiences."

After joining the Army, Hougen was shipped to the South Pacific aboard the USS President Coolidge. The ship, a luxury liner that had been converted into a troop carrier, left San Francisco on Oct. 6, 1942.

On Oct. 26, as the ship, with 5,340 on board, entered the harbor of its final destination — Espiritu Santo, the largest island in the South Pacific archipelago nation of Vanuatu — it struck two mines. The ship was evacuated, but there were two casualties as it sank.

"My father was one of the last off the ship," said Engstrom. "He said, 'I had to make sure all of my men got off the ship.' "

When Hougen returned to the United States, he went to officers' training school in Georgia, Engstrom said.

He became a lieutenant and was deployed to the European theater with the 90th Infantry Division. The division landed at Utah Beach in France two days after D-Day and fought in battles in Normandy and northern France before fighting in the Battle of the Bulge.

He earned the Bronze Star for his service in France.

"He worked with the French underground on reconnaissance," Engstrom said. "They gathered the information so that a key bridge could be blown up before the Germans crossed it."

Hougen was born to Anna and Louis Hougen on Aug. 8, 1918, in Fertile, Minn. Louis had immigrated to America from Norway and Anna from Sweden. When Hougen was a child, the family moved to nearby Crookston, Minn.

At the age of 18, Hougen followed his father into the lumber business, becoming the manager of a lumberyard in Edmond, N.D.

After World War II, he returned to Minnesota and earned a degree in forestry management from the University of Minnesota.

He worked for Champion International, a papermaker based in Sartell, Minn., for 37 years. After retiring from Champion, he went to work as a manufacturer's representative in the wood products industry. After seven years, he retired at the age of 73.

"He loved trees and the wood products industry," said Engstrom.

In retirement, he pursued his love of golf, and he and his wife, Alta, made deliveries for the Meals on Wheels program. They continued doing so until they were in their 90s.

"He never thought he was old," said Engstrom. "He just kept going. He loved golf and he loved his family.

"Everybody thinks their parents are special," she said. "But he truly was. Everybody who met him respected him so much. His two caregivers said they had never met anyone so honorable. He was just a kind, kind man."

In addition to his daughter Marcy, Hougen is survived by another daughter, Merideth Hale of Rio Verde, Ariz.; two sons, Myles Hougen of Sandpoint, Idaho, and Murray Hougen of San Diego; a sister, Elsie Cameron of Edina; eight grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

Alta Hougen died in March 2019 at the age of 100. The couple was married 72 years.

A private service will be held later this month.

Joel Rippel • 612-673-4719