Parkston community rallies around Vietnam veterans by bringing traveling memorial wall
“When I came home from Desert Storm, it was an entirely different return than what these men and women experienced. We’re showing them the respect they deserve,” Parkston military veteran Rob Monson said
PARKSTON — Nearly six decades have passed since Donald Dahlin served for his country in the Vietnam War, but the South Dakota veteran hasn’t forgotten the brave soldiers he stood beside.
Since returning home from Vietnam in the late-1960s, the Beresford native has taken part in Vietnam War memorial ceremonies to honor his fellow brothers and sisters in arms. On Thursday, the Parkston community gave Dahlin and Vietnam veterans a ceremony that he said ranks among the most moving memorial events that the 77-year-old has experienced.
“The respect and reception that we received today is moving. I’ll never forget it,” Dahlin said of the “Celebration of Freedom” event that kicked off Wednesday when the replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall in Washington, D.C. landed in Parkston.
Although many Vietnam War veterans aren’t alive to take part in Parkston’s event, Dahlin said seeing the replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial helped him remember the fallen soldiers who paid the ultimate sacrifice during the near two-decades-long war.
“I’ve buried 18 Vietnam veterans, and all of this reminded me of them right away,” said Dahlin, who was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1965 to fight in the Vietnam War with an infantry group.
After risking their lives and watching soldiers be killed on the battlefields of Vietnam, many U.S. soldiers who made it out returned home to angry mobs of anti-war protesters. But the Parkston community had a different type of welcoming in mind for veterans this week.
Speckled throughout the town are American flags flying in front of businesses and homes. Signs with names of fallen Parkston veterans hang on light poles.
The “Celebration of Freedom” event is a product of a small community made up of residents committed to honoring the sacrifices made by the men and women who have defended American democracy since the country’s foundation on July 4, 1776.
Rob Monson is among the Parskton natives who poured effort into making the six-day event come to life.
As a former military veteran who fought in the Gulf War during the Desert Storm operation in the Middle East, Monson knows the realities of war. Unlike many Vietnam veterans in the 1960s and 1970s, Monson returned home to a community who celebrated and honored his return. That’s what he and event organizers strive to achieve with the Celebration of Freedom event.
“We’re showing them the respect they deserve,” Monson said. “I think our country learned from that. They didn’t ask to be there. They were doing the job they were sent there to do.”
Monson said the community effort that helped bring the Vietnam traveling wall to Parkston is a testament to the pride the small town has for all military veterans and active military service members. Proceeds from the event will go toward the local VFW, Monson said.
With over 1,000 miles separating southeast South Dakota from Washington, D.C. where the Vietnam memorial wall is located, Monson said bringing the replica of the wall to Parkston can provide people around the surrounding area who have family ties to the war with a chance to experience the powerful monument.
“For people who will never have the chance to go to Washington, D.C., this is a rare chance to see a part of history in our community, in our corner of southeastern South Dakota,” Monson said.
The replica of the wall that stretches 360 feet on 144 panels was created by American Veterans Traveling Tribute, based in Bullard, Texas. The group honors veterans from every major conflict since World War I, with the wall among the featured displays. The exhibit will remain on display in Parkston until 3 p.m. on Monday, July 4.
Parkston native and former Sioux Falls mayor Mike Huether opened the memorial wall display on Thursday at the Parkston Amphitheater in the heart of the small town. For Huether, the traveling Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall landing in Parkston struck an emotional chord.
While visiting the real memorial wall in the nation’s capital, Huether said his daughter chalked the carving of his wife’s uncle’s name, Marlow Loecker, that’s among the Vietnam War veterans on the wall.
“He’s on there, row 47 on the wall. My father-in-law raised my daughter on his shoulders so that Kylie (Huether’s daughter) could chalk Marlow’s name at the wall. My strong father-in-law was crying as Kylie did it. It was beautiful then, and it will be just as beautiful as I try to do that again today,” an emotional Huether said during the opening ceremony with the wall standing behind him.