Community Spotlight: Local Vietnam Veterans Are Welcomed Home
It all started with a small pin…
“A veteran attendee came, sat down at a table and asked me if I had a Vietnam Veteran Lapel Pin,” said Jimmy White, the event organizer. “I said “no” and he handed me one, read a short paragraph, shook my hand and said, ‘welcome home.’”
That experience led White to host a Vietnam War 50th commemoration event in Wadena and finally welcome home local veterans.
“The nation called upon them, they all went, they all served and this is a simple, small token,” said Larry Shellito, Minnesota Veteran Affairs Commissioner.
It’s a small pin that hold a large place on the hearts of many.
“It makes you think of the friends I had over there, some that didn’t come home, but most of us did,” said Vietnam Veteran Edward Waln. “You reminisce and it makes me think of a long time ago.”
The event was a special time of honoring those who served during November 15, 1955 through October 15, 1975.
“You know it’s something that is long overdue,” said Vietnam Veteran Leroy Russell Rentz.
For Leroy, who was born and raised in Wadena, this recognition has finally welcomed him back home.
“When we actually qualified to get this, we were just kids,” Rentz said. “I was sitting at home eating popcorn, drinking a soda, watching all of the flicks about Vietnam on TV and all of a sudden the next day, I got my draft notice and I thought, ‘holy buckets!’ I didn’t know this concerned me. Five and a half months later, I was dropped off in the middle of the night at a place I didn’t know where I was at.”
But now, he was happy to be in Wadena with family by his side.
“It is a pretty great moment to honor them – they never got the true honor and it’s awesome to see these guys that made the ultimate sacrifice,” said Mason Synder, Leroy’s grandson. “They are people we look up to, especially to see [my grandpa] stand up, I like it a lot.
38 veterans now have a new pin to wear with pride.
“Everyone that receives this pin today will not have to say, ‘I was there’ because it is validated, proven and documented,” Shellito said.
And for many, the recognition means more than words could ever describe.
“It’s hard to say, hard to put into words,” White said.
It was an emotional day full of love, support and many thanks.
“I wish every community would do it, it’s the right thing to do,” Shellito said.