Veterans Banquet, Program honors many who have served

CRESCO - The Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4561 and American Legion Post 135 hosted the 12th annual Veterans Banquet Saturday, honoring those who served in the United States military. 
Sixteen individuals received Quilts of Valor at the event in appreciation for their service.
VFW Post Commander Gene Thorne, U.S. Army, welcomed the attendees. Emcee for the evening was Nate Thorson, U.S. Army (Ret.).
“I want to thank you for coming to the 12th annual Veterans Banquet showing our support to our veterans. You all being present tonight shows that the veterans are not forgotten,” Thorson said.
Gene Koschmeder, U.S. Army, Post VFW Commander, presented the Opening Prayer.
Door prizes were announced. McAllister’s Catering provided the dinner for the evening.
The Colors were posted. Al Sommers, U.S. Army and 101 years old, who was in attendance, was an honorary member of the group.
Dee Hosek, U.S. Army, sang the National Anthem.
Marshall Rogne, U.S. Army, presented the POW/Missing Man and Honors Ceremony.
“As you entered into the dining area, you may have noticed a table in front of you, raised to call your attention to its purpose,” Rogne said. “It is reserved to honor our missing loved ones. Set for six, the empty places represent Americans still missing from each of the five services: Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and civilians. This honor ceremony symbolizes that they are  with us here in spirit. All Americans should never forget the brave men and women who answer our nation’s call.”
 Audience members stood in silent prayer as the honor guard  placed five service covers and a civilian cap on each empty plate.
Guest speaker for the evening was Carl Johnson, U.S. Army. 
Thorson introduced Johnson: ‘It is an honor tonight to have a great guest speaker who took part in this ground combat (in Vietnam) as a young man during some of the heaviest fighting of the great Tet Offensive of 1968.”
Thorson continued, “Carl Johnson entered the Army after volunteering for the draft in 1966 when most people were running away from it. He served in Vietnam from April of 1967 to April of 1968. He was a member of the First Calvary Division. Johnson earned several decorations: Silver Star, Bronze Star, Combat Infantry Badge and Air Medal. He was wounded three times and received two Purple Hearts. After being discharged in the fall of 1968, he spent some time recuperating from the injuries he received in Vietnam. In July of 1969 he married his wife Julie and they have been married for 49 years. They have four children, six grandchildren and one great-grandchild.”
“Carl  joined the U.S. Postal Service and worked for them for 35 years. He and his wife live on a farm west of Waukon. One of Carl’s achievements was that he served as State Commander of the VFW in 1990-1991.”
Johnson recounted his harrowing experiences serving in Vietnam and mentioned many of his heroes by name throughout his speech. 
“I want to thank everyone here tonight, especially Nathan and Sandy for inviting me to speak. I have to say that  I had some trepidation about speaking tonight. I am sure that there are a lot of veterans here that realize that as you get older, sometimes you have a hard time speaking about some things. If I start shedding a tear or two, please excuse me. I also want to thank the American Legion and their auxiliary and the VFW and their auxiliary and everyone else who provided the great meal we had tonight. I can definitely see patriotism is alive and well in Howard County,” Johnson said.
Johnson prefaced his talk as follows:
“My talk today is going to center around some heroes I served with (in Vietnam). Some made it home alive, but were serously injured. Some didn’t make it home, at least alive.”
Johnson recalled running across an open field, one of the last men to make it across that night. Johnson was joined by another soldier, who noticed a dead American soldier nearby.
“He said, ‘We’re not leaving anybody.’ He dropped his wet gear, handed me his rifle, and we took off across the field in a dead run; thankfully, neither one of us was hit.”
Johnson recounted exchanging intense fire with the enemy and how many of his personal heroes, who he named throughout his speech, withstood their own injuries but continued to help attend to others in need of medical care.
He found himself in another perilous situation when he was in the water, but didn’t know how to swim.
“We went into the water that night and I didn’t come back up. A guy came in and pulled me out saved my life. He is here tonight.”
That man, Dale Carpenter from Illinois, stood to a round of applause.
Presently, Johnson is trying to contact family members of the 13 soldiers he helped bury in a mass grave in Vietnam.
“Over the years I have tried to contact all of the families and have  been fairly successful, but I am still working on it,” he said.
Johnson closed his speech by acknowledging the mental and emotional impact of war on veterans:
“We have so many young men and women still going into combat. They are coming home with wounds that you cannot see. They are having troubles; it could be flashbacks or nightmares. Some turn to alcohol and some turn to drugs. Let me tell you there is help out there. If you know somebody who could possibly be suffering with something like this, contact your local veterans’ organization; they can point you in the right direction and contact the veterans’ administration. I know when I came home in 1968 there was no mention of post-traumatic stress. Back in the old days, during World War II it was called battle fatigue or shellshock. I am sure I had some problems when I came home, but as you heard earlier, I got married in 1969. My wife was my rock. She got me through some tough times. If it wasn’t for her, I probably wouldn’t be here today. I’ve always told her that she’s my hero, that she saved my life.”
Following Johnson’s talk, the Sopha Sisters of Cresco sang, ‘In Flanders Fields’ and ‘It’s A Grand Old Flag.’ Nate Thorson recognized the Combat Wounded/POW and Foreign War veterans.
Jim Perry, current commander of American Legion in Cresco and Chairman of the Freedom Rock Committee, discussed the Howard County Freedom Rock Memorial Park in Cresco, located on Highway 9.
“When we started this, we had a goal of $150,000,” Perry said. “We currently have received  $145,355 in donations for this project.”
Perry asked members of the Freedom Rock Committee in attendance to stand and then addressed the audience: “I hope you all stop down to take a look at (Freedom Rock Memorial Park) because it’s a beautiful thing.”
Sandy Thorson described the symbolism and meaning of the Quilts of Valor and acknowledged the women who helped create the quilts.
“I have 35 ladies on my list who work on the quilts with me,” she said. 
“Quilts of Valor is a 501 (c)3 non-profit organization. It was founded in Oct. 2003. Catherine Roberts’ son was being deployed to Iraq. She was worried and had a dream one night and the dream was of a young man sitting on a cot, all hunched over and distraught. The next vision in her dream was like a movie: He had a quilt wrapped around him and he was at comfort and peace. That is our goal in Quilts  of Valor, to provide comfort and peace to those  who need it and to cover those who are affected by war.”
Thorson continued, “A Quilt of Valor is not a charity quilt. It is not a blanket. It is a quilt consisting of three layers. I would like you to think of those layers in these terms: The top of the quilt is of many colors, fabrics and shapes. This represents communities. Each stitch in the quilt represents the love, gratitude and sometimes the tears of the maker. The batting of the quilt is the center and represents warmth and hope that this quilt will bring warmth, comfort, peace and healing to those who receive it. The backing is the strength of the quilt. It holds the many pieces together and it represents the strength of the recipient, his faith in his God, himself, family, community and of course his nation. A Quilt of Valor is priceless. It can never be bought; it should never be sold. It is not a birthday gift or a present. It is an award to honor those who serve and comes                  from the hearts of the makers.
“Now, although we never know the depth of their sacrifice to defend the United States of America, as a gesture of gratitude and on behalf of the Quilts of Valor, we would like to award  a group of veterans tonight with a Quilt of Valor to thank them for their service and sacrifices for our nation. We will pray the Quilts of Valor will give them healing and comfort.”
Quilts of Valor recipients for the 2018 Veterans Banquet include:
• Travis (T.J.) Engle, U.S. Army
• Richard Jirak, U.S. Navy
• David Farnsworth, U.S. Army
• Leon Roethler, U.S. Army
• Robert Joens, U.S. Army
• Arthur Swestka, U.S. Air Force
• Gary Hovey, U.S. Navy
• Gary Pladsen, U.S. Army
• Victor Lukes, U.S. Army
• Leon Langreck, U.S. Army
• Clifford Pedersen, U.S. Air Force
• Howard Hanson, U.S. Air Force
• Keri Schlecht, U.S. Air Force
• William Owen, U.S. Navy
• Zach Slifka, U.S. Army
• Jeremy Howard, U.S. Army
Following the raffle winner announcements, Thorson offered closing remarks. The audience sang ‘America’.
Nate Thorson said, “I want to recognize someone here tonight who is basically the author of this event. About 13 years ago at a VFW meeting, he suggested we hold a military-type ball to put the VFW more into the community and we looked at it as a fund raiser. It turned out not to be a fund- raiser, but we wanted to be involved in the community and hold a veteran in front of the public. We all agreed to try it at that time and it has over the years evolved to this. I would like to ask Paul Reicks to please stand.” 
Thorson added, “I want to recognize a current-day American hero, serving as a U.S. Marine who recently finished boot camp: Nathan Kruse. I also want to introduce him to the oldest Marine here to my knowledge; Korean War veteran Benny Phillips.”
The two men met and shook hands.
Skip Grinhaug, U.S. Army and American Legion Chaplain, said the closing prayer.

Cresco Times

Phone: 563-547-3601
Fax: 563-547-4602

Cresco TPD
214 N. Elm Street
Cresco, IA 52136

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