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Red Wing will welcome home Vietnam veterans

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Daryl Duden of Red Wing poses with his 45 caliber pistol for what he called my "glamour shot for my parents" as a Marine infantry rifleman in February 1967 in Vietnam. Photo courtesy of Daryl Duden2 / 6
Doug Kocina served as a mechanic on a Navy ship that patrolled much of the coast of Vietnam. He was stabbed in the stomach by a war protester in Little Creek, Va. Photo courtesy of Doug Kocina3 / 6
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Bill Lachlan was stationed at Phu Cat Air Base with the Security Police Squadron. He was assigned as a heavy weapons specialist on the Armored Personnel Carrier in this photo. He said, “My crew and I were a Quick Reaction Team to repel any unwanted guests that tried to get on the base to do us harm.” Photo courtesy of Bill Lachlan 5 / 6
Army veteran Fred Fanslow, standing in the center holding the paper, was stationed in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. In January 1967, he fired at attacking Viet Cong forces, alerting and saving many men in his unit. He received a Bronze Star and the citation stated that "Fanslow's personal bravery and devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service." Photo courtesy of Fred Fanslow6 / 6

The Vietnam War was unpopular for many reasons. Social unrest. The draft. The nightly body counts. It was the first time the reality of war came into living rooms on the television.

One sad result of that was that American troops returning from Vietnam were not welcomed home. A group of Red Wing citizens hopes to address that with a Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans event at the Elks Club on March 30.

Red Wing veteran Bill Lauchlan said anticipating the event is "very emotional" for him, because of "the way we were treated when we came home," he said. "We were told not to wear our uniforms, to be as discreet as we could, because we were getting spit on. This is very heartwarming, and it is way past due."

The tensions over the Vietnam conflict affected soldiers in the U.S., according to Doug Kocina. He said hecklers often waited outside the gate to his base and yelled at him and his fellow soldiers if they left to go downtown. One time it got personal.

Red Wing Vietnam veterans Bill Lachlan, Fred Fanslow, Doug Kocina and Daryl Duden. Steve Gardiner / RiverTown Multimedia

"I was stabbed in the stomach by an anti-war protester in Little Creek, Virginia," Kocina said. "There were two wars going on then, one in Southeast Asia, and one in the United States,"

Many veterans struggle with difficult memories, Kocina said, and "an event like this is good for veterans' mental health if they will show up. The more I talk to other veterans, the more I think it is a good idea to have this event."

Having a chance to be with other veterans and finally celebrate a homecoming means a lot to Fred Fanslow.

"You are with all your friends, your veterans. There is a camaraderie between veterans that you never get in life anywhere else, because they cover you and you cover them," said Fanslow, who was awarded a Bronze Star for heroism in January 1967. "You got each other's back."

On March 11 at the Red Wing City Council meeting, Mayor Sean Dowse presented a proclamation celebrating the event.

"A lot of opinions have changed since the end of the Vietnam War, and this is a great opportunity to formalize that change in heart and outlook and welcome everybody home," Dowse said. "It's not only the folks who were in country, in theater, but it's for all of those folks that answered the call of duty. It is a great opportunity to do that and recognize everyone finally."

The March 30 event at the Elks Club will run from noon to five p.m. with speakers during a brief program at 2 p.m. Anyone is welcome to attend any part of the event and stay as long as desired.

Veterans who served in Vietnam will be able to place a pin on a map to show where they served in Vietnam. All veterans who served between Nov. 1, 1955, and May 15, 1975, will receive a Vietnam Veteran's lapel pin and may register for a drawing for a quilt.

"We want to encourage everyone to come, including friends, family, aunts, and uncles," said Lottie Aslakson, who is leading the committee to organize the event. "We want to recognize our veterans and welcome them home."

"The atmosphere when we came back from Vietnam was not welcoming," Vietnam veteran Daryl Duden said. "I've stood on the streets and watched us welcome the soldiers back from the Iraq wars, from Afghanistan, and unfortunately, our Vietnam vets never did get welcomed home.

It would be an honor to actually be welcomed home."

Steve Gardiner

Steve Gardiner taught high school English and journalism for 38 years in Montana and Wyoming.  He started working at the Republican Eagle in May 2018.  He focuses on features and outdoor stories.  

(651) 301-7872
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