Vietnam vet dedicates memorial in honor of classmate at Wykoff

Wykoff alum Dick Anderson, of Arizona, right, addresses the gathered crowd at the dedication of his hometown's veteran’s memorial KIA marker at the Wykoff veterans' park. Olmsted County Veterans’ Services Officer Nate Pike, of Spring Valley, left, stands by before speaking. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE
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“I stand before you today as a Wykoff High School class of 1964 graduate and as an Army veteran.  As we dedicate this memorial, I am most honored to have my family here today,” said Arizona resident Dick Anderson, who returned to his hometown of Wykoff Saturday as the guest speaker during the dedication of the Wykoff veterans’ killed in action (KIA) memorial stone recently installed at the Wykoff Veterans’ Park on the corner of Gold Street and Highway 80.

He recalled the names of his uncles who had served the nation during World War II and told of how he felt privileged to have the honor of standing to speak about their legacy. 

“I stand here on behalf of several million young men and women who went to a place called Vietnam…we moved here to Wykoff in 1950, and my dad owned Anderson Furniture and Funeral.  We moved to Iowa in 1964, after I graduated, but in 1950, America was only removed from World War II by four years, then came Korea and the Cold War,” he told the crowd gathered for the dedication. 

“You may remember ‘duck and cover,’ and that near the edge of town, there was a little nightclub that was also where they kept watch for the Soviet warplanes.  You may wonder, ‘Why would anyone bother with little Wykoff?’ because it seems that the Soviets were a million miles away and it seems silly now, but they were very serious about it during the Cold War,” said Anderson.  “Many of the same who kept watch went off to Korea and to Vietnam.  Fillmore County had 11 young men that were lost in Vietnam, and almost 80 percent of the boys in Wykoff’s class of 1964 served in the military.  If you look around, you’ll probably see the same level of service in other towns.”

Members of Wykoff’s class of ’64 all came home, except Bill Lucas, who was killed in Vietnam.  However, Anderson noted that those who did come home did not receive the honors that soldiers of the previous wars had because of the political entanglements that the forces that fought for South Vietnam — Americans — encountered as a consequence of service. 

 “I kept my service in the closet.  I didn’t even have a hat like this one that says, ‘Vietnam veteran.’  I believe all Vietnam veterans had the same experience, but when my son Andrew was in the service, I saw how openly welcomed and honored he was by the people,” he said. 

The alum and veteran stated that he had grown to proudly claim his service to his country over the years as a reminder that he was part of the brotherhood that was able to come home, unlike Lucas and three others who were killed within the same time period. 

“This memorial is for William Harvey Lucas.  Bill was a few weeks short of his 21st birthday,” said Anderson.  “When you’ve experienced war, you make a promise never to forget this experience.  My hope is that our kids and grandkids never have to serve in war — only in peace time.”

Anderson explained a tradition of using coins left at a soldier’s grave to tell about one’s relationship to that person. He recommended that people visit St. Johns Cemetery and leave a coin at his headstone.  A penny signifies a visit.  A nickel means the visitor trained with him.  A dime means the two served together and quarters means that whoever left the coin was with the soldier when he/she died. The money left at the graves of soldiers is used to pay for the funerals of indigent veterans, added Anderson. 

He asked Vietnam veterans in attendance to stand to be recognized by the crowd as he concluded with a quote from the late Sen. John McCain that spoke of how patriotism is only a word for the very important reasons to serve one’s country well, citing that “Patriotism is more than a flag waving” and that it is “One small part, and a part that we are honor-bound to play.”

Olmsted County Veterans’ Services Officer Nate Pike also spoke, telling his story of service, calling on the names of local veterans he admires, such as Spring Valley Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Commander Steve O’Connor, and World War II veteran Norbert Skaran, with whose assistance the Wykoff Veterans’ Park memorial was designed. 

He observed that at the close of the Vietnam War, that was the start of the end of support for the military in the United States, and that some of those present likely lived through the refusal to welcome soldiers home.  Pike pointed out that at the beginning of the Gulf War era, that changed. 

“That started the healing.  What I see of Vietnam, though, is a generation plagued by Agent Orange, used to defoliate the jungle but which also poisoned the generation,” said Pike.  “At work every day, I see a group of proud individuals.  I work with surviving family members because their spouse or parent passed away from Agent Orange, and I see spouses of Vietnam veterans who stand by their spouse every day.”

Pike credited Vietnam veterans with knowing who understands them best – others who fought alongside them – and reflecting together on the things they witnessed.  He elaborated on his own service in Afghanistan, illustrating for the listeners how he led a platoon of Afghan soldiers with whom he got to defend a country but also with whom he’ll never get to have a reunion to begin the work of recovering from war together.

Pike read a list of Vietnam veterans from Fillmore County who are now forever silent due to their service, including Harlan Riehl and Thelmar Rudlong of Spring Valley, Lucas of Wykoff, David Michel of Harmony, Steven Miller of Preston, Kerry Gossman of Whalan, Harold Housker and Allen Dunman of Mabel, Roger Lee Back and Wesley Stevens of Peterson, and Jerry Johnson of Rushford. 

“These are from all our small towns in Fillmore County,” he said. “Those folks answered the call and made the supreme sacrifice.”

At the close of the ceremony, the bugler played “Taps,” closing out the observation of the memorial’s dedication and sending attendees off into the chilly early fall morning with reminders that their freedom was not free.