MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — On this Memorial Day, as we honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice, WCCO celebrates a group of Carver County veterans.
They took a trip to Washington, D.C., to experience the war memorials built in their honor.
One-hundred-sixty-six Vietnam and Korean veterans made the trip.
It was organized by the Waconia Lions, who wanted them to get the homecoming they never had when they returned from battle.
It’s not easy living with the memories of war.
But for this group, the Washington trip was a chance to honor their buddies who didn’t make it home and a kind of therapy for what still haunts them.
They boarded the plane like they did 50 years ago, with uncertainty and fear.
Once on-board, they slowly became a unit, each having his own reason for making the pilgrimage.
Silence swept over the bus as the group made its way through Arlington National Cemetery.
The somber mood continued through the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns and the presentation of colors.
The journey took the veterans back to a time when service to country was everything, a time when losing a buddy in combat was like losing a part of yourself.
It never felt as real as when they arrived at the Vietnam War Memorial.
Duane Jensen found his younger brother on the great black wall.
“He was going over as I was coming back, so we really never had time together,” he said.
Time has never fully healed the wounds of war.
Before the wall of names, the group of veterans worked together to find the buddies they’ve carried in their hearts and minds all these years.
“There was no closure, there was no ceremony,” said Steve Arnst of Cologne. “It’s just one day they were here and the next day they weren’t.”
For some, those moments before the memorial were surreal.
“He should be standing next to me here today, not be gone,” one veteran said.
For others, closure came with an act: Tracing a beloved soldier’s name from black granite to white paper.
For Arnst, the names represent how close he himself came to death.
He says he will never forget as he watched a recon plane from Da Nang, damaged with engines out, try to land.
“It hit an air force barracks and the 23 in the front were all killed,” he said.
The search for closure was interrupted by presentations of gratitude.
High School students on a field trip made sure to acknowledge the sacrifice of the war heroes — a gesture that helped prepare the veterans for what was to come.
The trip back to Minnesota found men who were changed.
They started as individuals on personal missions, but returned as a band of brothers, truly connected.
While the stories of the trip began to form on the plane, the bus ride home would birth tales of a parade, enough to make grown men cry.
“It’s something we never got years ago, and it’s just great, can’t even put it into words,” one of the veterans said.
Hundreds lined the main drag in Waconia to give the veterans the heroes’ welcome they deserved years ago.
They got off the bus and walked into the arms of their loved ones, proud of their service and even more proud of the journey they just completed.
Published at Tue, 29 May 2018 04:21:55 +0000