By Andrew Tellijohn
To Richfield Mayor Debbie Goettel, the opportunity to help veterans fly to the nation’s capital to see the memorials built in honor of their service is a personal thing.
Goettel’s father was a decorated Korean War veteran, who did not live long enough to see the memorial celebrating his service. But Honor Flight, a national nonprofit organization, is helping World War II and other veterans all over the country fly to Washington, D.C., to tour war memorials and other monuments at no cost to the veterans.
While there is no formal tie between the City of Richfield (population 36,000) and Honor Flight Twin Cities, the city supports the efforts of the nonprofit. It’s just one way the city— which last year dedicated a new memorial for all veterans— honors those who have served in the military.
And like Richfield, cities across Minnesota are proud of their veterans. In honor of their great service, cities build monuments, hang pictures, fly flags, provide special services, and more. There’s no doubt city staff and officials have a special place in their hearts for our veterans.
Honor Flight Twin Cities, sponsored by Minnesota Vietnam Veterans Charity, provides a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many veterans. Richfield city officials get involved by writing letters to Honor Flight participants. The veterans receive these and other letters at “roll call” at the beginning of each Honor Flight trip—just like the roll call when they served during the war.
The city promotes the Honor Flight program at events and helps reach out to local veterans to make sure they are aware of the program. “Richfield as a city is really trying to promote this and see as many World War II vets go as possible,” Goettel says.
Long day of sightseeing
For each Honor Flight trip, the soldiers and escorts arrive in D.C., and are transported to their first monument by 8:30 a.m. They visit all the city’s memorials throughout the day, with meals in between, and are honored by Boy Scouts, musicians playing “Taps,” and others who thank them for their service at every stop. They return home the same evening.
The highlight of the trip is the sprawling World War II Memorial, Goettel says. “For many, this is the only time they see [the memorials].”
Goettel served as an escort in 2012 for two Richfield men. She’d like to do so again. In the meantime, she’s going to continue promoting the program to help see as many locals get to Washington as possible.
“It was wonderfully impactful to hear their stories about how their lives went,” she says, adding that some were uplifting while others had clearly struggled when they returned from the war. The memorial “can be a place to put some things to rest,” she says.
Duluth’s honor flight involvement
Honor Flight is a 9-year-old organization with hubs nationwide. In addition to the Twin Cities hub, Minnesota also has a hub in Duluth, called Honor Flight Northland, which sends vets from northern Minnesota and Wisconsin on the same trip. That group has taken six trips and is planning for its seventh, says board member Karin Swor.
Duluth (population 86,000) is an active veterans community, Swor says, and local citizens and news stations have been helpful about getting publicity out for the event. Like Goettel, Swor also does this work for her dad.
“I do it in his memory,” she says. “I never did get him to Washington.”
Daniel Fanning, communications and policy director in the office of Duluth Mayor Don Ness, says he and other city officials “have been supportive of the effort, both as city staff and fellow veterans.” But he gives credit for the program’s success to Swor and the rest of the Honor Flight volunteers.
“It’s quite a process, and they’ve done an outstanding job,” he says.
In Montevideo (population 5,300), honoring veterans means taking care of their daily needs. The city teamed up with the Montevideo Area Chamber of Commerce and the local Veterans Service Office to create its Veterans Friendly Community (VFC) program.
Through the program, veterans receive services, discounts, and other assistance to ensure all their basic necessities are met. The vision statement of the program is: “We envision a community where our veterans can live in affordable housing, have good jobs and raise families, have access to health care [and] senior services, and can live out their lives in peace.”
The VFC program encourages businesses to offer discounts and services to make life easier for the 30,000 area veterans. The businesses that do this are designated a “Veterans Friendly Place,” earning mention in the VFC newsletter and the right to use official program signs.
The importance of the military to the area is frequently visible, says City Manager Steve Jones. Montevideo is headquarters for the Minnesota National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 15th Field Artillery, which was active in Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition, the Veterans Service Office is located in Montevideo, and the city partnered with Chippewa County to build a VA clinic in 2002. Next it has plans to build a veterans home. “It’s very important to us,” says Jones.
“People are always looking for things that we can do to support our veterans.”
Cleveland attracts Moving Wall
The City of Cleveland (population 717) will honor local veterans this summer by bringing to town a half-size replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
The Moving Wall is a traveling replica that has visited every state. Cleveland is expecting 20,000 visitors during the showing July 24-28. “It’s a big deal for the whole county,” says Cleveland Mayor Richard Walter.
Walter sent in a request to host the Moving Wall about three years ago, which earned the city a place on the waiting list. He received notice in February that Cleveland had been selected.
The city and the local Vietnam Veterans Last Man’s Club are sponsoring the event, but a memorial committee has been seeking grants and has gotten donations of time and money to cover expenses from several area businesses, schools, and civic groups, Walter says.
It’s a moving remembrance for Walter and other area veterans, many of whom lost several friends during the war. “It’s an emotional thing,” he says. “It’s a healing process.”
Many initiatives in Montgomery
In Montgomery (population 3,000), the city has been supportive of several initiatives brought forth by the local American Legion and Vietnam veteran John Grimm.
While visiting his hometown of Wautoma, Wisconsin, a few years ago, Grimm toured a veterans memorial building. The foyer was lined with framed pictures of veterans. He returned to Montgomery, where he has lived since 1992, with a plan to create a similar memorial. Now there are more than 200 pictures of local veterans displayed in about two dozen buildings around town.
The city also agreed when Grimm proposed an avenue of flags, which has since been named Veterans Memorial Way. In addition, the city has a massive 70-foot flagpole that flies a 20-by-30-foot flag at Frandsen Bank & Trust, along with Veterans Memorial Park, a joint effort of the American Legion, the VFW, the Boy Scouts, and other community members. The memorial in the park features 315 engraved pavers that honor living and deceased veterans.
Grimm says the city has been great to work with throughout these projects. “They’ve been very cooperative,” he says. “It’s spectacular.”
“As the wife of a Vietnam veteran, being part of the dedication of Veterans Memorial Park was one of my proudest moments as mayor and as a resident of the city,” says Montgomery Mayor Jean Keogh, who adds that these initiatives have drawn visitors to the community and caused a surged in community pride at a time when morale needed a boost.
Montgomery also has a Memorial Day program that starts with church services and includes a program at the American Legion during which a “roll call” is read honoring those who served and died. City, VFW, and American Legion officials also sponsor the Le Sueur County Veterans Van, which is used to transport vets to medical appointments.
“We can never forget [the veterans’] loyalty and dedication to the nation,” Keogh says. “This is our way of remembering. We owe them for all the freedoms we enjoy.”
Andrew Tellijohn is a freelance writer based in Richfield, Minnesota.
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Richfield Mayor Debbie Goettel says cities can play a big role in helping their veterans participate in Honor Flight—simply by making sure they know about it. “Cities have a lot of connections to senior citizens, so we can help let them know this is available and how it works,” Goettel says.
To learn more about Honor Flight—and access trip schedules and applications—visit www.honorflight.org.