Making connections: Local veterans come together for coffee and conversation
WILLMAR -- On the day that would have been Kyle Miller's 32nd birthday, his mom, Kathy Miller, brought a fresh, homemade apple cake to the Willmar Community Center and shared it with nearly 50 military veterans.
WILLMAR - On the day that would have been Kyle Miller's 32nd birthday, his mom, Kathy Miller, brought a fresh, homemade apple cake to the Willmar Community Center and shared it with nearly 50 military veterans.
Kyle, who grew up in Bird Island and graduated from Willmar Senior High School, was killed 12 years ago while serving in Iraq.
On Monday - during the first of what will now be a twice-a-month free coffee and conversation time with veterans and active military, Kathy Miller was touched by the stories - and the emotions - of veterans who gathered there.
One of the most poignant conversations she had was with an elderly veteran who tearfully told her he had never before met a Gold Star mother.
"He said, 'I don't know what to say. I've never met a mom of a fellow fallen soldier when I served,'" said Miller. "And he was 94 years old. He couldn't find the words. ... Their hearts are breaking."
Finding words, finding time and finding connections with fellow veterans and active military members was the reason for launching the informal coffee time, said Ron Mackedanz, a Vietnam War veteran from Willmar.
Mackedanz said he saw a need for veterans to "sit down and have a little time to BS a little bit with other veterans" in a way that wasn't being met before.
"A lot of these guys aren't the guys that go down to the Legion or (Veterans of Foreign Wars). They're not from that crowd - not that there's anything wrong with that," Mackedanz said. "But they're just guys who need a connection and maybe we can provide that connection here."
Mackedanz said he was very pleased with the turnout and hopes the attendance of veterans and their spouses grows as regular coffee times continue twice a month at the Community Center.
"These are veterans from Vietnam, Korea, some World War II vets," Mackedanz said. "I haven't seen too much of the younger guys, but most of the younger guys are still working for a living and it's hard for them to get away."
Mike O'Brien, a Vietnam War veteran from Spicer, said he came to support other veterans.
"We have a big, huge tight bond between Vietnam vets and we always will. Everytime I get an opportunity to be with them, I'll try to be with them," he said.
As he observed the tables of veterans, Mackedanz said he heard people laughing and talking.
"I've been hearing guys just talk about family and what they're doing these days, and just life in general," he said. "When I walk through the group, I don't hear any war stories. Not that there aren't hundreds of them out there."
For Miller, being with the veterans on her son's birthday was an important part of healing herself by helping others.
"There's nothing I can do now to help my son, but I can help somebody else," she said. "I may be in pain, but I don't have to live in agony. I can give to others in the community. It's good to help others."
Miller said she was glad to see this new opportunity for veterans to get together.
"It's just a great group of people and the more they get together, the more they can socialize," she said.
The free coffee and conversation events for veterans and their spouses will be from 9:30 to 11 a.m. on the first and third Monday of each month at the Willmar Community Center, 624 Highway 71 North. The next event will be Nov. 5.