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Vietnam memorial important to area veterans

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Howard Maninga began building a Vietnam memorial as a way of doing something for his friends killed in the war, and to help cope with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

On Saturday, he hosted the annual Vietnam memorial service at his home near Ponsford. The service draws veterans from around the region, and across the country, to pay tribute to all who have served this country.

In 1967-68, Maninga served in a Marine battalion spending 10 months in Vietnam where he lost friends in combat. Eleven years ago he started working on the memorial and adds to it every year, including a sizeable collection of Vietnam era military memorabilia on display in his museum.

Maninga has spent decades dealing with survivor's guilt, and it was those friends he lost in Vietnam who led him to building the memorial. They came to him in his thoughts during many sleepless nights, he said. Maninga continues building and with the help of his wife, Trudy, and other area veterans, he holds the memorial service each year.

Maninga says it's a way for him to do things his friends killed in combat will never have the chance to do. The Marine Corps League Honor Guard conducts a tribute to a fallen soldier, rifle salute, and flag disposal ceremony.

The 11th annual service was held Saturday overlooking the prairie near Ponsford. It continues to hold special meaning for Howard.

"People that come here, they have feelings," Maninga said. "You don't see much of that anymore."

Other veterans appreciate Maninga and what the service means to those in attendance.

"This is an awesome thing," said Lefty Anderson of Park Rapids. "This is very important to Vietnam veterans and all veterans. It's just a great thing."

The two men spent a few minutes visiting about the service and unexpected symbolism involved Saturday. Four or five eagles circled above during the program, something many noticed beneath the cloudy skies. Maninga saw the eagles' presence overhead as veterans still missing in Vietnam watching over everybody.

"I gotta keep doing this because of the dead and the missing," Maninga said. "Because they're not able to do anything."

Larry Koski of Menahga was killed in action during the Vietnam War in 1969. His brothers, Harold and Robert Koski, raised a flag on Saturday in his honor during the annual veterans memorial service. Harold lives in Menahga and Robert was visiting Saturday from Elk River. They took part in the service to honor their lost brother and all veterans.

Larry Koski completed his tour in Vietnam in 1968 and extended his service another 30 days. He had two days remaining on the extension and was set to go home when the base he was on at Cu Chi in South Vietnam was overrun. Koski was 22 when he was killed. The date was Feb. 26, 1969.

For his brothers, Harold and Robert, what Howard Maninga does in holding the annual veterans service is important, not only in remembering their brother but all United States veterans. The Koski brothers were asked to raise the POW/MIA flag at Maninga's service.

"It's an honor," Robert said. "We can never forget these guys."

Robert sees people losing respect for the military so services like this one are important.

Harold agrees. He served in Vietnam and did not see combat, but did experience what many Vietnam veterans did when they returned home. They were often looked down on because of their service at that time.

Harold said their family has 65 years of military service to this country.

On Saturday, Harold said he thought a lot about his brother Larry and what all the other Vietnam veterans went through in combat.

Robert was serving in Thailand and Larry was in Vietnam when the two last spoke.

"I got a hold of him two weeks before he got killed," Robert said. "He was looking forward to getting back home, and I said 'I'll see you in Menahga.'"