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From school grounds to Capitol grounds, Vietnam veterans honored on Memorial Day

This year marks 50 years since U.S. combat troops left Vietnam in 1973.

MENDOTA HEIGHTS, Minn. — On the heels of National Vietnam War Veterans Day in March, commemorations continued Monday, marking 50 years since the last U.S. combat troops left Vietnam and when the remaining U.S. prisoners of war were released in 1973. 

Vietnam Veterans of America's Anoka County chapter sponsored a Memorial Day service Monday afternoon at the permanent Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the State Capitol grounds. Vietnam Air Force veteran Steve Freitag was the featured guest speaker.

There was also a special focus on Vietnam veterans with a temporary display erected at St. Thomas Academy in Mendota Heights. "The Wall that Heals" is a replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. Like the original, it lists the more than 58,000 names of those who died while serving in Vietnam.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund tours the country with the wall in a semi-truck that also serves as a mobile education center. Site manager Vic Muschler arrived with it Wednesday last week in Farmington before stationing at St. Thomas Academy in time for Memorial Day weekend.

"I have the privilege and honor of being one of the two employees that travel with the memorial," Muschler said. "We bring honor and respect to those individuals that served during the Vietnam Era, the Vietnam War, and those that didn't come home."

John Keller visited the display Monday, telling KARE 11 he served as a civilian diplomat during the height of the war. It's where he met a teacher from France, who later became his wife.

"It was kind of an odd situation but we hit it off," Keller said. "[Today] I'm here by myself, yes, because she just died. She would have come very happily, I think."

Keller's role involved informing people of what was happening in Vietnam and he went on to teach communications in the U.S. He says events and monuments like The Wall that Heals also help educate the public, considering the return of Vietnam veterans to the U.S. was widely viewed as unwelcoming.

"[The purpose is] to explain what we were doing in Vietnam and it's hard to do that because it was a war that was unpopular," he said. "Most Americans, especially in the upcoming generations, don't know much about it at all, including my own kids."

"It's important for people like me to sort of tell our story."

Volunteers disassembled "The Wall that Heals" at around 2 p.m. Monday. Its next stop is Crivitz, Wisconsin.


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