Riding to Heal
By Lee Ulferts
For many years I have personally carried the burden of my service in Vietnam. I, like all veterans I know, buried my feelings (as we were all told to do) and went on with my life. I never talked about my service, never asked anyone else if they served and whenever a veterans holiday came around felt somehow that it wasn’t meant to honor or remember my service. I cannot tell you how many problems that created in my personal life. In 1991 I had a chance to welcome home a unit from Operation Desert Storm. I received two hugs that day to welcome me home and when I received the first one I became an emotional basket case. I never realized how much I needed that. My second experience occurred in 2004 when I spoke at a ceremony at one of the traveling walls. Afterwards I was greeted by a person I had worked with for six years. Neither of us knew the other was a Vietnam veteran. As I rose in the ranks of the VFW that story repeated itself a number of times and an idea started forming.
Each State Commander of the VFW selects a project that becomes known as the Commanders Project. Mine is the Ride For Healing. The more I read about the attempt to build the Education Center at The Wall, the more I knew that I had to do something to help that become a reality. This nation must never forget what it did to our generation and must always be reminded it cannot happen again. It then occurred to me that I could accomplish two things at once. I dreamed of being able to reach out to those veterans who live in the far corners of my state and welcome them into our posts and tell them that their service was honorable, that they are valued, that their sacrifice was as great as any from any other war, and most importantly they needed to be welcomed home. Many have never had that hug, that recognition by their community, and they so desperately need that.
The Ride for Healing
will begin on Memorial Day, May 27, 2013. We will gather at the Vietnam Memorial at our state capitol in St. Paul, Minn. As soon as the ceremony at the Vietnam Wall here is completed we will begin a motorcycle and classic car caravan that will travel to the four corners of the state with four different teams. We will spend four days from Monday to Friday traveling across the state and visit 60 different posts that will have parades and welcome home ceremonies planned. On Friday, May 31 we will meet at Cragun’s Resort, Brainerd which is in central Minnesota. While we are traveling one of the Traveling Walls will arrive at the fairgrounds in Brainerd and be set up to be viewed by the community. There are events planned at Cragun’s on the days leading up to our arrival on Friday and it is anticipated there will be as many as 1,000 bikes and cars waiting for our arrival. All along the way we will be honoring our veterans and collecting donations for the Education Center. On Friday night we will have a night on the beach and it will be a time when we can get together, laugh, cry and most importantly share. On Saturday morning we will have a police escorted caravan that will arrive at the fairgrounds to a welcoming there. At 1:00 we will have an hours program after which it will be free time. Saturday night we will have a banquet at Cragun’s along with a candlelight service at the wall. Sunday morning we will have a memorial at the wall and then everyone will be free to return home.
I pray that this event will bring healing to our Vietnam veterans. I agree that the WWII generation is the greatest generation but I also believe that the Vietnam generation is the bravest. We fought a war in Southeast Asia that had the same hazards that any war has but the war of apathy, hate and dishonor we fought in our own country was disgraceful. Every day we are losing thousands from the effects of that war, especially Agent Orange. Our veterans need to heal before they pass from this earth and I know that we can reach many of them for that healing. Never again must we allow one generations of Americans abandon another.
Lee Ulferts is the Minnesota VFW State Commander.