Charles Everard Dills

This is for my family, Sauny, Daniel, Marit and most especially for my new grandson, Erik, who will probably not really remember me.
I don't know what I'm going to do with it. So please accept it as copyrighted.


The 40's, before going into the Army Air Force.

      Patty B. went to the Spring Formal with me. I was walking on air. There was one jarring note though. I have never been much of a dancer. My sisters tried to teach me enough to get by. The dance was held in the large auditorium at the high school. It was also used for assemblies and for basketball games. So there was a large sloped area with seats and a very large stage which doubled as the basketball court. About halfway through the evening Patty decided I should dance with the chaperone. I would rather have died. We were sitting out in the auditorium when she told me. Then she stood up and said, "I'll be on the stage. Come and get me after you've danced with her." I was too bad a dancer to ask the English teacher to dance. I didn't know what to do. I knew I wasn't going to ask her so I just sat there in my misery. After quite a time, she gave up and came back. I was relieved. But I have never been a dancer much to the disappointment of my wife who is a good dancer and enjoys it very much. I have become an accomplished watcher!

      In the spring of 1940, I was in the music room when there was some spare time. I had been teaching myself to play the piano. Irene had ten years of piano lessons and Helen had five. Mom didn't like Helen's playing because she would jazz things up. They both played Deep Purple by Louis Alter but I didn't like the way they played it. So I was learning to play it and I would do it in the music room by myself. Mr. Sorlien heard me one day and apparently had a vision for the spring production extravaganza called the All-Talent Show. He envisioned a climax for the evening with a 31 piece swing band, a big chorus and me on center stage playing the piano. There would be the obligatory beautiful girls in formals sitting on the piano of course. He changed things a little but it was essentially as written.
      The night came, the program progressed and finally came the piece de resistance, Deep Purple. I sat down at the piano, we started to play. It started with a piano run up the keyboard. The run was reptitious, each measure was the same as the one before but an octave higher. The orchestra was well trained. It could have started in a disaster. I went one octave too high, one measure to far. But Mr. Sorlien was able to hold the orchestra off for that extra measure and I don't think most people noticed. I got through the rest of it and I don't know how. I can only credit Mr. Sorlien's confidence in me that allowed me to carry it off. I have never believed that I really belonged out there!

      Several of us that were in the boys glee club in high school were allowed to join a "professional" chorus made up of men from Fargo. It was called the Amphion Chorus and was really very good. We had an inspired and inspiring director by the name of Dan Preston. I enjoyed singing in this very fine chorus. They were planning to take a European concert tour in the summer of 1942 but the war scuttled all that. We got a kind of western form of dress and had our picture taken. I'm at the left end of the middle row, with the arrow above my head.

      Most people had no idea what was coming. But Roosevelt did. We had a number of hints I'm sure but we had our head in the sand and didn't notice. One of the signals we ignored was the trains loaded with gondola cars full of scrap iron. We joked about how they were going to Pacific ports for export to Japan. We never dreamed they were going to make war materiel and give it all back to us, the hard way!

North Dakota Agricultural College

      I enrolled in the North Dakota Agricultural College in the Fall of 1940 and had a reservation in the dormitory. But for some reason the Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity decided I should move directly into the fraternity house. A delegation which I believed included Bill Guy, later to become Governor of North Dakota, went to visit my sister, Helen, at the Investor's Syndicate office where she was the Girl Friday or Lord High Everything Else. They asked her if it would be all right for me to move in. She agreed that it would be all right and so I did.

      George Smith was a friend of mine in the fall of 1940 as freshmen at the NDAC. We both joined the SAE fraternity. He had an older brother, Bill, also in the fraternity. Their home was a farm out a few miles north and east of Amenia ND. As the older brother, Bill was going to be the one that was going to run the farm when his dad retired. And so, George enrolled in mechanical engineering. Bill was the one his dad trained in the various farm operations and how to keep the books and all that. George worked on the farm but wasn't privy to all the nuances of making a farm a profitable enterprise.
      Bill was in CPT (Civilian Pilot Training). There were two phases, Primary and Secondary. The primary people were flying Piper J-4's, the so-called Cub Coupe, and the Secondary students were flying Waco UPF-7's. One day Bill and his instructor were coming in for a landing in a Cub Coupe when a slightly faster Waco UPF-7 came in above them, collided with them and they both crashed. Bill and his instructor were killed.

      George changed to agriculture the next quarter. But his father died the next spring and that was it for college for George. He was stuck with an 1840 acre farm of good Lake Agassiz farm land to plant! I suspect he had help from other farm friends but I suspect he felt a little overwhelmed that year. The dual grief was bad enough but I suspect the work kept his mind off of it.
      I also suspect that he needed some company so that he wouldn't feel so alone. I can't imagine any other reason for him to invite me out to the farm that summer. I would be about as useful as teeth to an anteater. But I think my company had some value. I remember painting the pumphouse bright red. And one day the wind started blowing one of the north fields into the air and we raced out to the cat tractor with a 16 or 32 foot drag and crisscrossed the field to knock down the dust. I was a useless rider but I enjoyed the new experience.
      One day he gave me the reins of two horses and a wagon with no instruction. He apparently didn't realize just how little I knew about farms and farm equipment. I slapped the reins and they took off at a good rate. He came roaring up on his horse and stopped the wagon and with a smile asked me to just walk them. And I did.

      He finally found something I could do. I think they had thrashed the wheat and were bringing in the straw to stack. They had a stacker which had a many-fingered hand which they dumped the hay on. Then I would back the truck gently to lift the hand up and over till it dumped the straw on the stack. Then I would go back so they could load it again. This I could do. So my presence there was not totally useless.
      He married one of our classmates, Beth Ann Piers. They are retired now and their sons run the farm.

Spring 1941

      I lived at the fraterity house that first year as a pledge. At the opening of Spring Quarter they were choosing the pledges that were to become actives. I became very nervous because nobody had said anything to me and I began to wonder if I should pack up my things and get out of the house in the early morning. I began to wonder if they hadn't said anything because they weren't able to tell me that I had failed! At almost the last minute, my roommate, George Dike, took me aside and apologized for the fact that they hadn't said anything. They had taken it for granted that I would become an active and had overlooked telling me. It was a great relief at the time.

      They were a great bunch of guys, of every temperament. One of them was rather different than the rest of us. He was quite uninhibited. He was at the Dutch Maid Ice Cream Parlor one day. The waitress went down the line taking orders, Willie Boehrs was at the end. He told her that he didn't have any money and asked if she minded if he ate the water glass. Thinking he was just being funny and told him to go ahead. He picked up the heavy tumbler and took a bite out of it.
      He used to chew up razor blades and act like he had swallowed the pieces. He would "eat" light bulbs! So the rest of us were not surprised when he bit the glass!

      Before the war, while he was till in college and at the fraternity he bought a used car. He painted it up blue with white polkadots. One day a picture of him and a bunch of the other brothers in and on the car was taken.

      We had some kind of a pipe that came down near the wall in the living room. It was pretty sturdy, at least two inches. He would occasionally come running in, over to that pipe, launch himself at the pipe, grabbing it with his hands spread about 3 or 4 feet and hold himself straight out, like a flag!

      He wound up in the Navy in WWII, flying blimps. He hit the newspapers with a typical Willie Boehrs stunt. He was down off the coast of South America looking for a downed crew of probably a B-25. They were in a small clearing. He loaded a number of them on and took off. He cleared the trees easily so he went back and took on one more. He did this one at a time till he had them all and brought them back!

      I was in the band, the marching band, the chorus and the Glee Club. If you want some fun try marching with a bass clarinet over an uneven brick road such as they had in downtown Fargo at the time.
      I believe there was still the rails of a trolley system they once had.

      There was a musical production in preparation called the Bison Brevities. Being in the band, chorus, glee club at the college I was known in the music department. We put on the Bison Brevities of 1941 on 3/4 April. A great young bandleader at the college named Paul Hansen was in charge of the music. This was more complicated than usual because although they had enough money to get the book, they did not have enough money to rent the music. So we had to write our own, most of it by Paul Hansen.

      I just got an e-mail from Lori Gartzke of the North Dakota State University Alumni Association that Don Larew had found the original program of this production. It was called "Too Many Girls" and went on stage on the 3rd and 4th of April 1941!. A copy is being sent to me. Perhaps I will include a copy here when I get it.

      There was a need for the college anthem. I was fooling around with it on the piano and had it about half or two thirds done. I wasn't going to submit it, I was just having fun. One night Paul heard me fooling around with it and asked what it was. I told him but that I was just having fun. He said, "Finish it. We'll use it!" And then he tore up a piece of music which I was supposed to think was the one he already had. So I finished it and they did use it.

      In high school, I was in band and orchestra with a bass clarinet. Unfortunately it wasn't a well known instrument at the time so sometimes there was no part for it. So I kept three parts on my stand, bass clarinet, E flat baritone sax and bassoon. It was in C. So I learned to transpose on sight both of these latter instruments. I just played whichever had the best part.
      Paul had made the master arrangement for the show but needed the parts for the various instruments and I was the only one around that could transpose with any speed. So I was given that job. However, I was due to start hell week. So I wrote parts all afternoon and evening, writing furiously. From about 10 PM on there were two actives standing in back of me, waiting for me to finish. I finally finished the last one and they took me back to the fraternity house at 1025 10th Street North in order for me to participate in the ritual!!! I won't go into detail about what went on. You can probably imagine it. I will say it was not dangerous. I think the principle was to put a group of kids through a common and rather degrading ritual that would bond them together. I suspect it worked rather well.

      I enrolled in Mechanical Engineering because I couldn't see any immediate way of getting to a place like Parks Air College. One of the courses I was to take was a course in mechanical drawing. I had had two years of it in high school. I told the instructor about it and he decided I should draw the last four drawings of the second quarter and if they were satisfactory he would put me on special projects that would teach me new things and give him things he wanted as well. I drew them and they were satisfactory so he put me on a new project.
      He wanted a large display drawing of a machine bolt. As I remember, it was about two feet long and about six inches in diameter and had lines that were about a quarter of an inch thick. When I finished that, he put me on another project that was just the opposite. He took a page out of a textbook that had eight three view drawings with certain missing parts that the student was to supply. I was to use tracing paper, duplicate the drawings and finish them and put in all the dimensions. This meant working with incredibly fine lines and incredibly small figures and letters. I had to go to the architecture department to get pens that were fine enough to put in the dimensions. I had to learn to make lines with my drawing pens that were so fine I could make seven distinct lines in a sixteenth of an inch. The second quarter he taught me to do architectural perspective.
      These drawing experiences and my high school training has stood me in good stead throughout my life. I could say that they have been the most used of any I had in college. If you get to my experiences at Alexandria LA as a pilot and engineering officer there is a good example of how they came in handy!

      I had to take German as a sophomore. No red-blooded American boy was interested in learning German in 1941-2. I did my calculus homework in German class. The teacher quit calling on me because he knew I wasn't paying attention. He was so astounded when I wrote a 69 on the final that he gave me permission to take the second quarter and said that if I passed that he would re-exam me in German I. I thought that was so decent of him that I actually studied, the second quarter and managed a C. I never got the re-exam and I went off to war. When I got back they apparently didn't know how to handle an F in the first quarter and a C in the second and wiped both of them off the record! The further part of this German story will occur after I came back from the war and went back to college, ca 1946-1949.

      I took a course in philosophy from Dr. Minard (?). After the mid-term, I looked at my notes for the first half of the quarter. I had two pages which had some brief notes on a syllogism with an example. That was all. I was very busy at the time so I dropped out, unofficially and probably flunked. He sat at the front of the class and lectured with his hand over his mouth. To me it was a complete waste of time. Perhaps I was being a bit arrogant but I really felt I had better ways to use my time.

Summer 1941
Helen and Rollie Tie the Knot

      Roland Garfield Holsen had been over at our house every night since he met Helen. He was, as the oldsters would say, smitten. He went to Business College and she and Irene would help when he needed help.
      Somewhere along the way he convinced her that he was the man she had been looking for and they decided to get married on 4 July 1941.
      Uncle JC, in LaMoure, agreed to be the "host" for the event. A lot of people descended on the sleepy town of about 800. Space was at a premium. Rollie and I were farmed out to an upstairs bedroom at the Winslow's, next door. Rollie was so wound up that not only could he not sleep, he would not let me sleep either. He had a deck of cards, and he made me play gin until about 3 AM, when I just collapsed into sleep and he had to quit.
      The wedding went nicely. Irene and Cousin Mary stood up with Helen and I was in the line somewhere. It was an outdoor wedding with an archway to walk through and twirled white crepe paper streamers outlining everything. It was very nice. After the wedding, they were given the usual small "hurrah!", a ride around town in the back of a manure spreader. The Jorve's were our next door neighbors when we lived in LaMoure and they had a farm implement business. So Bothun Jorve arranged for a tractor and a brand new, unused fortunately, manure spreader with two chairs. And then he drove them around town to everybody's cheers! It's a good natured celebration called a charivari (we used to pronounce it shivaree.) that people nowadays don't have the opportunity to enjoy. Helen got a small tear in her gown getting into the spreader but that is considered good luck. And they stayed together till she died 36 years and two children later.

      Perhaps it is OK to tell that two friends went with them on the honeymoon because Rollie and Helen had no car. They went over to Duluth and when they returned, as they were coming into town, Rollie reached into his pocket and pulled out 7 cents. It was all the money they had. He rolled down the window and threw the 7 cents out of the window.
      They had a bit of a tough time that first year but they smiled a lot. Helen told me that they scrounged coke bottles to return for the deposit so they could go to a movie.
      Their daughter, Linda Gayle, was born the next June. He wound up going overseas till about June of 1945. Every time Linda would see a man in uniform, bus drivers, postmen etc., she would say, loudly, "Mommy, is that my Daddy?" A bit on the embarrassing side but everybody understood. Helen finally made her a little jacket with lettering embroidered on the back that said, "My Daddy is in England!"
      Their son, David John Holsen, was born in 1947. Helen was rather on the small side and he was a large baby. She told me she was trying to hold out for my birthday, 20 April, but she just couldn't make it and they took him on 11 April.
      He grew very athletically inclined but he had a problem that made this life quite impossible. He had a heart problem, a hole between the ventricles that kind of shortcircuited the usual circulation. If he got an infection it would race around his body right now and could be life threatening. So every time he got hurt, and that was often, he would have to get a penicillin shot. When he had dental work, he would get a shot the day before, the day of the work and the day after. And all of the work had to be done in one day! To help with the pain he would get a dollar every time he got a shot! He was sent home from elementary school one day because he was playing rough, as usual, on the playground, cracked his head and wasn't making sense. Another shot, of course. That was rather routine for him.
      Later, when he was fifteen and we were at Deep Springs College, we got a phone call that he was to undergo surgery the next day at the hospital at the University of Minnesota which was involved in heart research in those early days.
      It turned out they were quite lucky to do it at that time. He had an aneurysm which could have ruptured at any time and probably would have been fatal.
      It was an unnerving experience for him I'm sure because most of his fellow patients were in a very bad way, blue most of the time. And most of them did not make it. Things were so primitive at that time that only the very badly off were in the program. He was fantastically healthy by comparison. And I'm pleased to say that he is hale and hearty and still with us and is approaching the big six oh! (2007)
      Meanwhile, back to the forties.

Fall 1941
Flying, At Last!


      I've been reading a book by James Salter about "Burning the Days". One of the reviewers touts it as the finest flying writing they've ever seen. It does not seem so to me. It is wildly overwritten to conjure images. It is loaded with adjectival glissandos, with tattered tatting glued to the bare story to create an illusion of great writing. I'm sorry but I can't appreciate this kind of consciously artful tale-spinning.
      What I've been writing here started as a bare bones factual recounting of my military experiences in WWII for my children and any grandchildren which may appear at some future time. I wanted it to be as factual as possible so I left my Lexicon of Purple Adjectives on the bureau and have stuck to rather simple prose intended to inform rather than amuse. It has come to my attention that there are relatives of some of my "cohorts" that have found some consolation and value in what I have written. And that is what it is for. If this does not please you, pick up another book that is more to your liking.

1941       Learning to Fly    

In the Beginning

Hector Airport, Fargo ND
      I had been hooked on flying almost all my life. Lindbergh went to Paris when I was five. When he was to visit Fargo, we planned to make the trip in our 1926 Buick. They sent my sister, Helen, down to the drugstore to pick up a large box of candy to keep us kids quiet for the four hour journey of around 110 miles. She opened it and ate so much on the way back from the store that she got sick and we couldn't go. They said I wouldn't speak to her for three weeks!

      As an orphan at 14, I did not have the wherewithall to take flying lessons. But President Roosevelt had a pretty good idea what was coming. But the "European War" was extremely unpopular and the air was full of "Hell No, We Won't Go!". But he knew something had to be done.
      People nowadays have no clue about the depth of unpreparedness that existed. Draftees were drilling with wooden guns. The Air Corps was considered to be an observation arm of the artillery. Our ROTC instructors touted this, apparently not reading the newspapers about the Stukas in Holland.
      So Roosevelt set up a college program to teach students to fly and get college credit for the ground school. It was called CPT for Civilian Pilot Training. I was not eligible my freshman year but got accepted as a sophomore.

      This was heaven for me. I started my training in the Fall of 1941 and soloed a J-4 Cub Coupe on 18 November 1941. I took off to the north and I can still see the shadow of the airplane receding to my right as I left the ground. It was afternoon and I was singing a popular tune of the time, "I Don't Want to Set the World on Fire" at the top of my lungs!

      I landed and taxied back to my instructor. He opened the door and said, "I don't believe it. Go around again!" And I did.
      Do I need to remind you that three weeks later, Pearl Harbor was bombed. Immediately the unpopular war in Europe became a popular world war. But suddenly everybody realized how unprepared we were. There was a tremendous universal fear that we might not be able to win because we started so late to get ready.
      There was a lot of nationalism at the time, some of it we lived to regret, such as the internment of loyal Japanese citizens and confiscation of their property and valuables. While this seems shameful now, at the time it seemed the thing to do. After all they might spy for Japan!!
      There was a lot of anti-German feeling in WWI and, when WWII started, the two Keutchenreuter boys that had lived across the street from me in LaMoure immediately went down and officially changed their names to Robert and Richard Kay!
      It was also considered necessary to establish the loyalty of anybody who was piloting an airplane. So on 8 December, we were told to establish our citizenship by 8 January or we would have to quit flying.

      Alas, I was an orphan and Dr. Ribble in LaMoure failed to register my birth, I had no birth certificate. My uncle J.C. was trying to find some objective printed proof as they would not take the his word or that of my sisters. He found a baptismal certificate but I was three months old. I was told that I could have been born in Germany and baptized in the US when I was three months old.
      Finally he found an item in the LaMoure Chronicle, our country weekly, that said that a "child was born to the D. E. Dills last Thursday. As the first male Dills of his generation, it is assumed the youngster will be cordially welcomed." Uncle J.C. made an affidavit that I was that youngster.
      But unfortunately that information didn't become available until about the 15th of January 1942. So the flying school was desperately trying to get me through and I was scheduled for my final check flight at 3PM on 8 January, the last day! Unbelievably, a dense fog rolled in, my flight was scrubbed and I was grounded!
      After my belated birth certificate came through, they gave me a couple hours to practice and then I passed the check ride! I got my Private Pilot's License, # 160066 and now I was a PILOT!

      There was a Secondary program where we flew Waco UPF-7's.

      It was a more powerful biplane with added "spoilers" to the front of the wing to make it land faster and act like a heavier plane than it really was. I was accepted into the program and started flying with Johnny Nelson as the instructor. He was very, very good and put the plane through a number of maneuvers I never saw again, such as an outside spin!
(This picture is by courtesy of Alton Marsh, AOPA Pilot.)

      As I was getting into acrobatics, I was practicing snap rolls and loops. I remember looking at the clock and noting that it said 2:18 PM. I then did a couple snap rolls and a couple loops. When I got back on the ground, there was a telephone call for me. So I called and found out that my sister Helen had just given birth to her first child, a daughter, Linda Gayle Holsen. So I immediately went to the hospital to see them. The hospital birth record was on the stand by her bed. I noticed that the birth occurred at 2:18 PM. I guess she was doing a few snap rolls and loops even as I was!
      I was progressing normally, doing well I believe when, halfway through, my instructor, Johnny Nelson, was called into the Navy as an instructor for their cadets.
      One of the cub instructors (-- Marks?--) was then assigned as a Waco instructor. Let's say he was a good Cub instructor but wasn't quite competent enough to teach acrobatics in the Waco. Unfortunately, that's where I was in the program. I could do snap rolls and loops and was coming into the acrobatic part of the training. He took me up, tried seven slow rolls and didn't finish any of them. He "dished out" on his best ones, never turned the stick over to me, landed and then sent me up to try.
      I went up, leveled off at about 1500 feet (too low!) and tried a slow roll. When I got over on my back I did the natural thing a new pilot does, and pulled back on the stick. This causes what I might call the second half of a loop but is really called a "Split S". I wound up probably 500 feet off the ground with the whey scared out of me. I went back and landed and quit the program. I was sure I was going to the Air Corps and I didn't want to have to unlearn bad habits! There will be more about this later.
      I was scheduled to register for the draft at the end of June so I signed up for Aviation Cadets in June.

Spring 1942

      The show "Sweethearts" by Victor Herbert was put on 28/9 April, 1942. I was cast as Aristide Caniche, one of a trio of comics. We enjoyed doing the show in spite of the small mildly painful dance we had to do in wooden shoes!

      My request via Lori Gartzke to Don Larew, Artistic Director of the Little Country Theatre at the North Dakota State got me the information about this production.

      I don't remember the exact date but I saw a rather peculiar action about this time. There was a large pile of gravel next to the Engineering Building. There were two men with shovels, one on top shoveling gravel down and one below shoveling gravel up. This looked like a make work project of the WPA but to be charitable, it was possible they were trying to move the pile over a little.

      I waited in the fraternity house all summer to be called up. I remember finding some old English books and was surprised to find out they had some very good stories. I had not been much of a reader. Once in high school I lost four books from the public library and I didn't have the money to pay for them so I was denied any library privileges from then on.
      I read Thomas Hardy's The Return of the Native . Then I bought the Modern Library edition of War and Peace . I read half of it in two weeks and it took four months in the service to finish it! Helen's husband Rollie was scheduled to go down to Fort Snelling in St. Paul to be inducted about the first of September. A party was planned for him with friends at 818 (?) 11th Street South in Moorhead where they lived at the time.
      I had had a good course in Chemistry in high school from P. T. Nerhus. I had no trouble with the first two quarters, my Freshman year. It will probably come as no surprise that I ran a little teaching session in the basement dining room of the fraternity house. I also had students from other fraternty and sorority houses.

      But Spring quarter was a disaster. I had a good high school education and so I coasted through the first two quarters. I expected to continue the easy ride. There was the fraternity initiation and the Bison Brevities and I did not get down to business. I had a bad case of Big Man on the Campus. Ugh, I got several D's that quarter, a rude awakening!

      The House Manager (House mouse) Chris Walth was also living there that summer. Apparently he thought the roof needed a new set of shingles. I don't remember whether they were wood or asphalt. It was a rather steep four sided roof with three three-sided dormers on a two story house. The hardest part was doing the front of the dormers where our support was a plank hanging out past the eave, probably twenty feet down to the ground.

      I remember going to a football game with several girls, Molly McDonald, Polly Carter and I think, Lorraine Lynch, all great people! I was usually playing in the band so I don't understand this entry. It's clouded in the mists of the past.

      I think I just figured this out. It is a temporal diplacement. I'm now sure this was a postwar memory, not a pre-war one.

      I probably should admit that this was the first time I ever got drunk. Cubre Libres, tasted good, but the after-glow was terrible. When I went to bed in the attic, I had an upper bunk. I got my arms up there and one leg and I couldn't go any further. I think I started hollering and someone finally came and pushed me in! The next morning, Oooooh!

      On 29 August, the date of the party, I got a letter at 11 AM telling me to report to the Classification Center in Nashville Tennessee on 2 September. I had to leave that night on the midnight train on the Northern Pacific Line. I paid all my bills and said good bye to people, separated my possessions into "save" and "throw" piles, took the "Saves" to my sister Helen.
      The party was expanded to include me. I took my bags to the station around 11 PM, got my ticket which was a series of concatenated tickets that took me to all the intermediate stations and ultimately to Nashville! I don't remember anyone seeing me off. It was a little frightening, and lonesome but I was off on an "adventure!"
      This is later and a little extra memory has made me believe that there was a couple others with me. They may have been Bruce Borman, Ken Carey and a fraternity brother named Nickles (?).

      I arrived in Nashville, left the train, got on a truck and was taken out to the Classification Center with a number of others. We entered the gate to a chorus from previous arrivals chanting, "You'll be so-o-r-r-y!"
      They were veterans. They'd been there for three days, maybe as much as a week!

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