JENKINS - With an escort of some 50 motorcyclists, the American Veterans Traveling Tribute pulled into the Jenkins VFW Wednesday night.
On Thursday morning the tribute will be set up, featuring an 80-percent replica of the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., and several other displays honoring veterans past and present.
The traveling wall is 370 feet long and stands more than 8 feet tall at its apex. It contains the names of the 58,253 American soldiers who died during the Vietnam War.
There also will be Cost Of Freedom displays - nine large memorials represented in gold dog tags under glass to remember and honor all who died in service since Vietnam, including those who died in the 9/11 attacks.
Don Allen, co-owner of the American Veterans Traveling Tribute, (right) gave a safety brief to several motorcyclists Wednesday in Nisswa before they escorted the tribute, which features an 80 percent replica of the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., from Nisswa to the Jenkins VFW. Brainerd Dispatch/Clint Wood » Purchase reprints of this photo.
The traveling wall and other displays will be available for viewing 24 hours a day until Monday morning.
Roger Ortloff, commander of the Jenkins VFW, said his post sought a visit from the American Veterans Traveling Tribute in order to honor all local veterans, especially Vietnam veterans.
"I'm a Vietnam veteran and I feel the veterans of the Vietnam era are shunned upon, they just didn't get the respect they are entitled to," Ortloff said. "Also, I'd like the people of the community who can't afford or make it to Washington to have a chance to view it."
The American Veterans Traveling Tribute is owned by Washington state residents Don Allen and Steve Doty. The tribute started with the traveling wall in 1997, which took 14 months to build and has been touring the country ever since. Allen said it wasn't until last year that the Cost of Freedom displays were added.
These three motorcyclists were among about 50 motorcyclists who escorted the American Veterans Traveling Tribute Wednesday night on Highway 371 from Nisswa to the Jenkins VFW. On Thursday morning the tribute will be set up, featuring an 80-percent replica of the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., and several other displays honoring veterans past and present. Brainerd Dispatch/Clint Wood » Purchase reprints of this photo.
"We are a tribute to all those who served, so we want to make sure we've got them all covered," Allen said. "That's what we are, the Cost of Freedom Tribute. We're not a war memorial, we're not political. All we care about is honoring America's warriors."
In traveling across the country, Allen said large numbers of people have come to pay their respects to veterans wherever the American Veterans Traveling Tribute stops. He said the purpose of the memorial is not only to honor veterans but to educate people on why they have the freedoms we do.
"We see the real world, the real people in America. We don't see the CNN or MSNBC people," Allen said. "These are the true patriots of this country, the people who care about our country and obviously want to pay their respects."
Larry Mortenson and Randy Perkins, both of Nisswa, were among the people who came to the VFW Wednesday night to watch the traveling memorial's arrival. Mortenson is a veteran of the Vietnam War but has never traveled to Washington, D.C., to visit the memorial wall.
Mortenson said the experience of the Vietnam was a very personal one and there were no words to describe how it felt to see the veterans of that war honored.
"I have friends' names on there," he said.
Perkins, too, is a veteran and was glad to have the wall travel close to his home.
"I think it's a little bit more of a private place rather than the big Washington, D.C., memorial," Perkins said. "It's nice that it's localized, with local people, average people. Hopefully more people will learn about the war."
The American Veterans Traveling Tribute arrived in Nisswa before 6 p.m. and was escorted by motorcyclists and police officers to the Jenkins VFW. Allen said some escorts have been only one motorcycle, while other escorts have had as many as 14,000 motorcyclists.
Pete Axness and Ron Schaefer were both part of the motorcycle escort. Being Vietnam veterans, they said they felt it was their duty to travel with the wall to Jenkins.
"It means a great deal to us," Axness said. "A lot of Vietnam vets got treated pretty poorly when we got home. Me personally, I don't ever want to see that happen again."
MATT ERICKSON may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5857.
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