Theodore's World: After Nearly 40 Years, a Salute Honoring Minnesota's Vietnam Veterans

« Respect for The American Flag Vs. Democrats/Terrorists NON Repect | Main | U.S. Army's 234th Birthday Today! HOOAH!! »

June 14, 2009

After Nearly 40 Years, a Salute Honoring Minnesota's Vietnam Veterans

Nine-year-old Kaleb Bartlett searched for the name of a soldier killed in Vietnam on a replica of the National Vietnam Memorial Wall which was on display at the Minnesota Honors Vietnam Era Veterans event on the Minnesota State Capitol grounds.

Vietnam veteran Arthur Turner, Minneapolis, talked about his experiences, which included losing a close friend, Lamar Charles Young, in 1967, while attending the Minnesota Honors Vietnam Era Veterans event on the Minnesota State Capitol grounds. Turner and his wife, Mary Ann, tried to find Young�s name on the replica of the National Vietnam Memorial Wall but were unable to locate it.

"On behalf of a grateful state, welcome and thank you. We appreciate each and every Vietnam-era veteran here today," said Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty. "For many of you we know that it may have seemed that America's appreciation and recognition might not come. Yet today, I hope you know your sacrifice is valued, your courage is admired and your patriotism is celebrated," continued Pawlenty.

A celebration honoring Minnesota's Vietnam vets was marked both by who was there -- and who wasn't.

Star Tribune

If someone threw you a party about 40 years too late, would you still go?

On Saturday, at least 1,500 of Minnesota's Vietnam-era veterans did. The vets, along with friends and family that brought the total crowd to an estimated 5,000, came to an event in their honor held on the State Capitol grounds in St. Paul. There were cheese curds and hot dogs, plane flyovers and a color parade, live entertainment and VIP speakers, laughing children and nodding grannies. A lot like any summer weekend festival, until you got to the "Traveling Wall," a three-fifths scale replica of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C., listing the names of the dead, including more than 1,000 Minnesotans.

One middle-aged man with a long ponytail sat nearly touching the wall, cross-legged, motionless, for several minutes before wordlessly rising and walking away. Another, in casual business attire, bent down to find a name, then stood up and swiped at his eyes. It was the most sobering feature of an event planned to give long-overdue honors to the nation's most underappreciated veterans.

The weather seemed to salute as well, giving the vets one of those flawless June days that make the rest of the Minnesota year bearable. Men wore their hearts on their sleeves, their chests, their backs, heads and lapels. T-shirts reading "Vets Helping Vets" and "All gave some ... some gave all" now stretched across bellies grown larger and softer since the six-pack abs of basic training.

'Hanoi Jane'

Thick shocks of dark hair had gone white and wispy. But the camaraderie was still there, as in this overheard exchange about actress Jane Fonda, daughter of Henry Fonda, who enraged some by doing radio broadcasts from Hanoi, North Vietnam, during the war. :

Guy One: "Hanoi Jane. Remember her?" Guy Two: "Oh, yeah." Guy One: "I never paid to see any of her movies. Liked her old man, though." Guy Two: "Oh, yeah, me too."

At the memorial wall, Arthur Schneider of Coon Rapids knelt down and carefully took a rubbing on the name George P. Collins, his wife's brother, who grew up in Wyoming, Minn., and was killed early in the war in 1962.

"All the family was told was that he died honorably," said Schneider, a Vietnam vet himself. "In 2000, my wife put a notice on an online site asking for anyone who had served with him. Four years later, she got an e-mail. The guy said that he served with George, and that he was tending to his wounded platoon commander when he was shot. We're really glad to know that."
Schneider's parents were both World War II veterans, and he thinks they deserve the label "The Greatest Generation." Still, he said, it's tough for any soldier who served in Vietnam not to wish he'd experienced a similar hero's welcome.
"I don't want to sound like a victim, because I didn't have it as bad as a lot of them," he said. "But that's the hole that remains in our hearts, the way people acted when we came back."

Even growing up on an Indian reservation, an insular community known for circling around its own, didn't guarantee immunity from that backlash, said Rod High Elk, who led a group from White Earth in the color parade.

'It took about 20 years'

"Most of us just tried to sneak back into the life we had before," he said. "We didn't get any fanfare, and we didn't go around publicizing we were in the war. It took about 20 years to come out of our shells."
High Elk's friend Merlin Rondo recalled how he spent his first day back: "I flew into Fargo and spent the day hitchhiking around by myself looking for a cheap car to buy. Nope, no greeting party."

The St. Paul event had a reunion tent where members of different armed-forces branches could post notes with contact information.

Big round patch

But all it took for Jim Kostek of Brainerd to reconnect with an old comrade was spotting the big round patch on Art Turner's back.

Kostek and Turner, who originally hails from southern Georgia and now lives in Minneapolis, were both just 19 when they served in the same motor-transportation and service unit in 1966. They reminisced about the "Danang 500," a race whose winner "got a glass of real milk and a kiss from the Red Cross lady," Kostek said.
Turner recalled "burning the -- well, we'll call it the pooper," he said. This involved 55-gallon oil drums cut in half to be used as toilets, then dropped in a pit with some diesel fuel and burned up.
"I threw a grenade in one time," said Turner. "They might still be looking for me on that."
The two men sounded like a couple of old school buddies relating favorite pranks. That was easier than talking about the "nasty stuff, seeing dying every day," said Turner, who walks with a limp and a cane, courtesy of a knee shot in three places.

Two women friends of Kostek's and Turner's wife stood to the side, letting the guys catch up.

"When [the vets] came back, a lot of them went through at least one wife," said Kostek's friend Elaine Schultz, also of Brainerd. "I went with a guy once, if there were Vietnamese kids on TV, he'd look away."
"I don't think it would have worked out with me and Art if we married before he went to war," said Mary Ann Turner. "They went through too much, changed too much."

After the color parade and flyovers by Vietnam-era planes, speakers emphasized taking pride in service. Gov. Tim Pawlenty called the hostile reception Vietnam vets received "shameful" and said that "never again" would such disrespect be shown returning American soldiers.

"Welcome home, brothers and sisters," said WCCO anchor and military veteran Don Shelby. Pawlenty echoed that sentiment, and the crowd's roar of approval seemed to indicate that for these soldiers, late is better than never.

Wild Thing's comment.........

I am so glad they finally did this for our Vietnam Veterans. I do have to say it sure as hell took them long enough. Sorry but I had to say that. I am not ungrateful but it needed to be said.

Thank you Minn. and it sounds like it was done first class for our American Heroes. I am glad many of them got to meet each other and share and talk and njust being with their brothers.

Thenk you to Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty too. I read where he is not going to run again, to bad he is a good Republican.

WELCOME HOME to ALL OUR VIETNAM Veterans! And Thnk you!

Posted by Wild Thing at June 14, 2009 05:50 AM


Glad that Minnesota finally got a Vietnam Memorial. I think just about all the states have one now.

Posted by: TomR at June 14, 2009 08:53 AM

Finally those brethren are recognized, still it poses more questions than answers.

Your quote covers only one WT:
"I am so glad they finally did this for our Vietnam Veterans. I do have to say it sure as hell took them long enough. Sorry but I had to say that. I am not ungrateful but it needed to be said.".

Yes it needed to be said , thank you Chrissie.

Questions like where are the circles on the crosses on the names on the panels, signifying repatriation?
Where are my MIA/POW brothers from the last 3 major wars?
Where is the conscience of the people who commit our finest youth to do the dirty business for them then denigrate them for the effort?
What darker national conscience, prevents the recognition, of what sacrifices and accomplishments were accomplished by those families who served in that 'war'?

I could go on for ever but I will ask one last question, Why?

Time will tell of their sincerity as echoed in the words of Eric Bogel's refrain, about the Aussies at Gallipoli, all wars are the same.

Posted by: Jack at June 14, 2009 12:30 PM

Tom,that is great news, I was not sure.

Posted by: Wild Thing at June 14, 2009 11:38 PM

Jack, those questions you said should be
asked I agree with you. Thank you for the
link perfect reply.

Posted by: Wild Thing at June 14, 2009 11:41 PM