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Honoring those that didn't come home

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Every year since 2005, Howard Maninga and his wife Trudy host a Vietnam Memorial Flag Raising and Commemoration at their home near Ponsford. This year, is a special year as it commemorates 50 years since Howard entered Vietnam in 1967.

Howard, originally from the Wolf Lake area, enlisted in the United States Marine Corp (USMC) in 1966 at 18 years old. He went to boot camp at Camp Pendleton in California and was then moved to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina before he was sent to Vietnam in 1967.

"Boot camp is hard, they completely break you down to nothing and then they build you the way they want you," he said.

Howard served in the 1st Battalion 1st Marines, which fell under the command of the 1st Marine Division in I Corps Tactical Zone, which is the northernmost region of South Vietnam. In total, he was in Vietnam for 10½ months.

"We were on the move quite a bit, doing different operations," he said, adding that the Marines are taught to take an order. "You do it, you don't question it or you won't survive."

He was in the South Vietnamese city of Huế during the Battle of Huế, which was one of the bloodiest and longest battles of the Vietnam War.

"That was a big battle, a lot of people got killed there," Howard said. "When you're young, I hate to say it, but you got a thrill out of it, the fighting. After a while you didn't have much feeling."

Howard can't recall many memories from his time in Vietnam, mostly because he has chosen to repress them.

"I didn't want to talk to people, I felt guilty," Howard said when he first got back, the American public made them feel unwelcome. "There aren't many that like Vietnam veterans and it's too late to thank us now."

Howard was sent home early due to the fact that his father had cancer.

"I regret coming back because a lot of my buddies got killed after I came back and I wasn't there," he said.

Howard and Trudy were married in 1969.

The two of them traveled once to Washington D.C. to see the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which he personally found no comfort in seeing; he couldn't even bring himself to look at the names on the wall.

Howard started building his war memorial in 2005 at their Ponsford home, each year adding more features, and explains he was inspired to build it in honor of the American soldiers who never made it home and whose lives were lost in Vietnam.

"I didn't know what I was doing. I'd just wake up in the morning and it was as though at night they would tell me what to do," he said, adding that it felt more real than a dream.

Even though Howard tries to block them, he is still haunted by his memories from Vietnam and he adds that he's not the only one that suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

"I've learned that it's not my fault that I am the way I am," he said, adding that he was told he can't change it and that his brain was permanently affected from being exposed to the Agent Orange chemicals at such a young age. "You just take it day by day."

He explains that the guys he went to Vietnam with, came back different. He said they all looked at the world differently having been there and survived, coming home to an unwelcoming society. For Howard, the flag raising at his house each year is therapeutic.

"It seems like it helps when other veterans come here. It's more for them than anything and it's hard to explain," he said. "Especially for the ones who take the flags down and put them up, it's like closure. It helps them, I think; it helped me. So if it helps even one it's worth it."

For his annual tradition of raising the flags Howard asked some veterans in the area to participate. The event got bigger and bigger each year and Howard says more and more people began coming. Every year he asks new people to do the raising of the flags.

"It becomes a crowd, they keep coming," he said. "I'd like to have a lot of kids come, then they could see the veterans."

According to Howard, they now have close to 200 people show up each year.

The program begins at 1 p.m. on Saturday at the Maninga home located at 33517 Bunker Hill Road in Ponsford.

Everyone is welcome to the event, Howard's war museum will be available for guests to tour and lunch will be served after the program.

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