Veterans Day 2012 is November 11th. In honor of America’s veterans, we’d love your tributes or stories of a veteran you admire. Please share your stories and tributes here. Ecumen is proud to serve the Greatest Generation and help shape the future of aging for future generations. Please join us in sharing your tribute to any veteran of any generation. Below is a tribute from Ecumen blogger and veteran Jim Klobuchar. It honors Vietnam veteran Denny Wellmann, a native of Hanska, Minnesota:
The Day Corporal Denny Wellmann Came Home
He grew up on a farm near the small Minnesota community of Hanska. He was a laughing, fun-craving kid who lit the affections of the townspeople whether he was trying to be a farmer or a salesman at the Green Clothiers in nearby New Ulm .He lived in a small but active world of work, bowling parties, farm chores, ball games and fun with his pals.
He was called Denny by all who knew him, in school, on the farm and– not much later– in the jungles of Viet Nam. Along with hundreds of others who knew him, I will remember Denny Wellmann, a Marine corporal, on Veterans Day.
In the midst of the tumult of an approaching election and mounting unease over the direction of a divided America, the country on Veterans’ Day will try to regain its unity by remembering the sacrifice of those who fought to preserve it.
For Denny and the 58,000 others who died with him in Viet Nam and the 36,000 others in Korea, it has taken awhile.
The euphoria that followed victory in World War II was stirred by the nation’s gratitude to those who fought in it. American prosperity followed and America became the global leader. It also went to war again, in Korea and Viet Nam. Neither of those wars stoked the patriotic fervor of the American public. Thousands of young people fled the country to escape the draft. As the years stretched out Korea and Viet Nam were viewed by a large part of the public as needless and political. Thousands of those who fought there were ignored or actually taunted and mistreated when they returned.
Today, whatever the American public’s divided views on the necessity of the recent or current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it has embraced and honored both the professional and citizen soldiers, men and women, who have fought in it.
Denny’s return to America was quiet and solemn. But in all of the years that I have spent in journalism, it is a day impossible for me to forget, more than 45 years later.
He had fought in many of the big engagements of the war in Viet Nam, once wounded by shrapnel. He had confided to a friend in Hanska that “ I just hope we are fighting for something worthwhile.” But his letters home rarely bore a trace of self-sympathy. He was a good Marine, recognized by his superiors when they promoted him to corporal.
Not long after, two Marine officers appeared at the home of his sister with the news that her brother, Denny, had been killed by an explosive device at Quang Tri. To spare his ailing father the initial shock, he had asked the Marines to inform his sister first in the event of his death.
On a radiant September morning in 1966, the day of his funeral, I drove to the little Scandinavian town where he grew up. I then wrote for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Hours before the service I visited with his father, Elmer Wellmann, who had been out on the farm, in his work clothes, assisting his other sons and a son-in-law with chores. “The war is so far away,” he said. “It’s hard to understand. But I think it’s right that we are there. I had four other boys; all were in the service. I would hate to think Denny died in a useless war. And I don’t.”
They held the memorial service in a lovely white church on a hilltop. Dirt farmers with big, reddened hands, and their families, bowed their heads and wept. Mourners filled the tiny church and the adjacent service rooms. When there were no seats left, the late-comers gathered in the churchyard and sang hymns. The minister’s eulogy was thoughtful. Instead attempting to understand the big questions of why wars, why hatred and violence and hunger for power, he asked the mourners instead to focus on the brief life of Denny Wellman. “We recall the young man with the winning smile, the disarming personality and his potential, all beginning to become clear.”
The manager of the store in New Ulm, where Dennis had worked , remembered the young man’s last words before leaving for Viet Nam: “I just hope I don’t change too much by the time I come home.”
He came home as Denny Wellman , a Minnesota farm boy who in the ultimate test of his life fought without flinching , an American soldier and a credit to the best there is in this country. When the church service ended a Marine sergeant took the folded flag and tenderly placed it in the hands of Denny’s mother. He saluted, for all of us.