Ride reaches out to Vietnam veterans

by Nathan Warner

Contributing writer

Vietnam veterans gathered in Otsego on Thursday to receive a “welcome home” and “thank you” for their service to their country that many never got.

For many veterans of the Vietnam war, this was the first time any such official appreciation has been given for their service. The event was one of many stops in Minnesota as part the Ride for Healing – a project to visit local communities and call out Vietnam Veterans for a distinction long withheld.

“Sadly, many Vietnam veterans have not joined the VFW because of how they were treated when they returned from service,” Minnesota VFW Advocate General, Duane Hermanson said, who presided over the ceremony in Otsego, “and we hope that this long overdue appreciation for what they did for their country will help heal that pain.”

The Ride for Healing is part of current Minnesota VFW Commander Lee Ulferts’ two-fold project this year. The other piece is to help raise funds for an below-ground education center in Washington, D.C., that will house all the items left at the Vietnam War Memorial.

“It will store everything from purple hearts to beer cans,” Hermanson said, adding that the center is paid for entirely by donations from the public because the government wouldn’t fund it. “But we’re well over halfway to the $85 million cost for the project already,” he said, “which is an amazing outpouring of support.”

Hermanson drove up to the Veterans Memorial Sports Complex in Otsego from Spring Lake Park.

“From here, we’ll drive to Princeton,” Hermanson said, “and then swing over to St. Cloud before heading up to Camp Ripley, where we’ll meet the other groups driving in the Ride for Healing.”

Hermanson led one of four companies launched from St. Paul as they swept up through the state, meeting with vets to honor their service.

After a brief introductory message by Hermanson, Vietnam veterans Richard Havrilla, Richard LaVine, Jerry Takle, Marshal Thomazin, Bill Southworth, Eddie Peterson and Steve Hollmer crowded to the front of the small VFW meeting room to be officially honored by the VFW.

Each veteran received a commemorative coin and a bandana scarf with a print of the Three Servicemen statue that read: “Honor-Respect-Remember. I Proudly Served – Ride For Healing 2013.”

Hermanson noted that no younger vets showed up for the event.

“They really need the support of those who have come through the fire before them,” he said. “They need to know they’re not alone.”