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St. Paul event to honor Vietnam vets to have large local turnout

"There hasn't been much recognition of Vietnam vets since the war ended. It'll be an opportunity to reminisce," Milt Tollefson, a Vietnam vet stationed in the Mekong Delta in 1969, said of the St. Paul event. Tribune photo by Carolyn Lange

On Saturday, Milt Tollefson will be putting the "closed" sign on the door of his Sunburg business, Tollefson Oil Company.

He's taking the day off to ride a bus to St. Paul to attend an event at the State Capitol that will honor the state's veterans who served during the Vietnam era.

"There hasn't been much recognition of Vietnam vets since the war ended," said Tollefson, who was stationed in the Mekong Delta in 1969.

Tollefson said he's looking forward to the daylong event, which will include a flyover with Vietnam-era aircraft and the Vietnam traveling memorial wall. "It'll be an opportunity to reminisce," he said.

The Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs and the Minnesota veterans community is sponsoring the day of honor as an event to "celebrate, remember and honor all veterans who served during the Vietnam era."

According to the state department's Web site, "It is time to proudly celebrate these individuals and come together as a community in support and gratitude for their service and sacrifice" and to give veterans and their families "a chance to reconnect with other service members and learn about the latest in veterans benefits."

To help Kandiyohi County Vietnam veterans get to the events, the Veterans of Foreign Wars posts and American Legions in the area pooled their resources to charter a bus that will leave from Willmar to take veterans and family members to the event, said Trisha Appeldorn, Kandiyohi County Veterans Services Officer.

"We just want to make sure that if there's someone who doesn't know about this yet, that they can get there," said Appeldorn. "It's just a day to honor Vietnam veterans."

As of Tuesday, there were still about 20 seats left on the bus, which seats 47.

The idea to offer free transportation to the event came from Brian Gislason, who's involved with the Willmar VFW and was in the Air Force stationed in Berlin from 1969-73.

"Back when the Vietnam veterans came home, they didn't get a very good homecoming," said Gislason.

Saturday's event will give the veterans "the homecoming they deserve," he said.

The day will include a program, entertainment, the Crystal Military Museum, artists, a vintage car show, parade of colors and a resource tent.

"It should be a fun day for anybody," said Gislason, emphasizing that the event is open to everyone, and not just Vietnam veterans. "The camaraderie will be worth a lot."

There will be parts of the program, like reading of the names of 1,080 Minnesotans killed and the 43 Minnesotans missing in action in Vietnam, and viewing the traveling memorial wall, that could evoke difficult memories.

Tollefson said he's been trying to spread the word around Sunburg to get Vietnam veterans he knows to sign up for the free bus and to take in the event, but he knows there are still painful memories for some veterans that may make them reluctant to go Saturday.

"Some can't really bring themselves to go to something like that," he said.

David Gafkjen, of Sunburg, served in the 25th infantry in Vietnam from 1966-67. While he may have some reservations, he plans to go. "I've never been to one. I just thought I'd try it," he said.

Tollefson said he's never been to a Vietnam memorial event before, but this is one event that he is not going to miss.

Appeldorn said whether or not veterans can attend the Saturday event, they can register at www.mnhonorsvietnamvets.org to receive a commemorative pin.

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The free bus to the Vietnam veterans recognition event Saturday in St. Paul will leave at 8 a.m. Saturday from the Kandiyohi County Health and Human Services Building in Willmar. The ride includes beverages and snacks that are being provided by area businesses.

The bus will leave the Capitol at 6 p.m. and stop at the Howard Lake American Legion for a meal. The cost of that meal is not covered.

To sign up, call the Kandiyohi County Veterans Service Office at 320-231-6226.

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