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Annual service held at memorial marine built as a tribute to friends killed in Vietnam

Marine Corps League Honor Guard members, from left, Dave Free, Howard Maninga and Fred Whiteside salute as flags are properly burned at the end of a memorial service held Saturday at Maninga’s home near Ponsford. This year is the 10th anniversary since Maninga began hosting the service, which he started doing to memorialize friends he served with in Vietnam who were killed in action. (Kevin Cederstrom/Enterprise)1 / 7
Virgil “Santa” Johnson of Park Rapids takes down an American flag during the 10th annual Vietnam memorial service held Saturday at the home of Howard and Trudy Maninga near Ponsford. (Kevin Cederstrom/Enterprise)2 / 7
Veterans salute as the POW flag is raised during the flag changing ceremony during the 10th annual service held Saturday at the home of Howard and Trudy Maninga near Ponsford. (Kevin Cederstrom/Enterprise)3 / 7
Roger Boyce , a U.S. Army veteran who served in the Vietnam War in 1971-72, looks on during Saturday’s memorial service. (Kevin Cederstrom/Enterprise)4 / 7
Howard Maninga started building the memorial at his home 10 years ago to honor friends killed in the Vietnam War. (Kevin Cederstrom/Enterprise)5 / 7
The Marine Corps League Honor Guard conducts a gun salute from the hilltop memorial service site. (Kevin Cederstrom/Enterprise)6 / 7
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Howard Maninga came home from the Vietnam War, like so many young veterans, continuing to fight beyond the jungle battlefields he left behind.  Maninga served in 1967-68 with the 1st Battalion 1st Marines 1st Marine Division and spent 10 months in Vietnam where he lost friends in combat.  He made it home but struggled to cope with seeing friends killed in action and suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). For decades Maninga said he was “kind of mixed up” as he put it, much like so many veterans returning from Vietnam.  

“I didn’t want to see anybody. I didn’t want to talk about nothing,” he said. “I never put a uniform or a cap on. I was kind of ashamed, guilty that I didn’t get killed.”  After years of trying to find peace within himself, Maninga said those same friends he saw killed in battle brought him the idea to build a Vietnam memorial on a hill at his Ponsford area home.  “They just came in my thoughts at nighttime and told me what to do here,” he said of seeing his buddies during many sleepless nights. “And I did what they told me.”  

Saturday was the 10th annual memorial service held at Maninga’s home, with wife Trudy, the Marine Corps League Honor Guard and other area veterans participating to honor all veterans. Flags flying at the memorial are changed out each year by members of all five branches of the military, the old ones properly burned during the ceremony.   Maninga struggled with survivor’s guilt, ashamed he made it home while so many did not. These were guys he knew well, guys he fought alongside in battle.  Building the memorial and hosting the annual service has been good for Maninga, along with other veterans who take part in the service.  

“It helps to see the other veterans coming, I think it helps them,” Maninga said. “I did it for myself and my buddies but I figured if it’s helping me then it’s probably helping them too.”  Maninga spent three months in the hospital for his PTSD early on.  “They taught me there is no cure. You hear everybody saying forget, forget. You cannot forget. What they teach you is how to cope and live with it,” Maninga said.  He works every day on coping with PTSD and to do that he has to stay busy, building, doing something all the time.  

“I do things, I do everything,” he said looking down from the memorial site across the prairie. “Seems like I can do it, but it’s because they (his friends) didn’t get a chance to do it, so I’m doing it for them. They never had a chance to do anything so that keeps me going.  

Roger Boyce of Wolf Lake got involved with Maninga’s memorial about four years ago and was one of the speakers last year.  “It really was a privilege and it gets more meaningful every year,” he said.  Boyce credits Maninga and the memorial for helping a lot of veterans like himself.  “I can really identify with his efforts here because you know after Vietnam everybody came back and just kind of blended in,” Boyce said.  Boyce lost his best friend in Vietnam, killed in an ambush the night before they were to come home.  “I carry a lot of survivor’s guilt,” he said.  

Boyce wrote in his speech last year: “Some of us here today might look out at the gun ports of Howard’s bunker and see a peaceful prairie. But for some of us here today, we see a rice paddy bordered by bamboo and rubber trees. We taste the gunpowder. We hear the choppers coming in. So this is a special place. A place to make peace with the past.  

Gary Holk of Park Rapids served in Vietnam in 1969-70.  His squad walked into four different ambushes while they were in Vietnam. The last ambush, Holk was hit by shrapnel from an antipersonnel mine and it knocked him unconscious.  

“It killed a guy right next to me and totally disabled the guy in front of me. I was lucky enough to come home,” Holk said. The guy that was behind me was one of my best buddies over there and that really hit me hard.”  

Saturday’s service was the first year Holk attended and was impressed with Maninga and the other veterans are doing.  Now with 10 years working on the memorial Maninga plans to continue the annual service at the end of August as long as he can. It helps him and he knows it’s helping other veterans as well.