Veterans honored at local Vietnam memorial
A steady, light rain fell during the annual Vietnam Memorial Flag Raising and Commemoration atop Bunker Hill near Ponsford on Saturday.
Howard and Trudy Maninga host the event each year as a way of paying tribute to those who served and those who died during the Vietnam War. This year marks a particular milestone for Howard. It was 50 years ago when he was sent to Vietnam as an 18-year-old soldier from Wolf Lake.
This memorial Howard has been working on since 2005 helps him honor his friends who were killed in Vietnam. And it was those friends who later came to Howard in his dreams which led to what he's built on top of a hill at the home he shares with Trudy overlooking the Ponsford prairie.
The grey skies and rain seemed to set a fitting scene for the ceremonies atop Bunker Hill.
"Now some of you will feel like what we felt like... we were wet and we were rotting away," Howard said in his opening remarks to the veterans, families and other visitors to Saturday's commemoration. "These kids, it's good for them to come to something and see the veterans. A lot of them are crippled up, and a lot of us are nuts. But we can't help it, that's the way it is. Without a family supporting you, we wouldn't make it, and there's a lot of them (veterans) that haven't made it. So, support your veteran."
Veterans representing the five branches of the military — Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard — changed out the flags along with the U.S. flag and POW/MIA flag during the flag raising ceremony. The old flags were burned and properly disposed of by members of the Park Rapids Marine Corps League.
Trudy spoke about the POW/MIA flag. Wanda Mattson and Verna Mattson took down the flag. Verna is the sister of Larry Koski who was killed in Vietnam in 1969.
"Not all families of the military are complete," Trudy said. "Missing POWs never return, killed in action never return, or brought home to their family to be buried. And missing in action, what a terrible thing it must be."
Raising the POW/MIA was family members of Vincent Shepersky who was also killed in South Vietnam in 1969. Vincent graduated from Park Rapids High School with the Class of 1966 before being drafted into the military in 1968.
The Marine Corps League performed the rifle salute during the flag raising.
"You as military members, veterans and just good old Americans will defend us to the end," Trudy described during the service. "This hill has been a symbol all the years we've lived up here of what it's like to live with a Vietnam vet. You have your own little idiosyncrasies, and many people feel that you have been very different as far as veterans go. When in reality you are like all veterans but you have overcome some great odds."
Trudy went on to describe how Vietnam veterans didn't come home to the cheering crowds and welcome home parties.
"Never should we be forgiven for not welcoming home our veterans. But because of you veterans, today veterans are coming home to celebrations."
Trudy told of sitting in a gymnasium as her brother returned from the war in Iraq and the celebration that welcomed him as she sat next to Howard who did not get that welcome home from Vietnam. She said listening to the cheering for her brother and other veterans is an experience she will never forget.
"I do believe he (Howard) as he stood there cheering is one of the reasons the rest of us were there cheering," Trudy said.
The annual memorial at the Maninga place brings veterans and families from across the region and state.
Jerry Kostreba has a cabin on Long Lost Lake and this was the second year he's attended the service. He's a neighbor to Ardell Johnson of the Marine Corps League and attended Saturday's to show his support.
Kostreba served in the U.S. Army 1965-67 including 13 months in Korea.
"I come out here and pay honor to the veterans. I think they're doing a tremendous job here," Kostreba said of Howard and Trudy Maninga and others participating in Saturday's service. "They're really dedicated to the veterans."
To close out the program Trudy read the names of Howard's friends he lost during the Vietnam War.
"Life changes but one thing remains the same, and that's if you are a veteran you must hold a special place in the hearts of all the other Americans," Trudy said. "We must honor them. We must keep them close to us. They are the reason we are here, and what we are today."