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Ardner Anderson, left, first came up with the idea to bring the Vietnam Memorial Traveling Wall - a replica of the Vietnam memorial - to New York Mills in June. Representing the project here are four members from a larger committee working on raising the roughly $20,000 needed to bring the wall to Mills. Pictured here are, clockwise from lower left, Anderson, Chris Underdahl, Arles Kumpula, and Billy Ayers.

V.F.W. to bring Vietnam Wall to Mills

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Ardner Anderson ran his fingers across a haunting name etched in black granite during a visit to the Vietnam Memorial Traveling Wall last summer.

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Anderson chairs a committee from the NY Mills V.F.W. and community currently raising money to bring the Traveling Wall to New York Mills June 3-8.

The goal is to raise about $20,000 to pay for the project.

Anderson, a Vietnam veteran and New York Mills resident, says he doesn't cry very often but to see and touch the names of buddies he lost in Vietnam was overwhelming.

The wall, which was in Mahnomen last year, travels the United States each year with a mission to honor, respect, and remember those who served.

"I thought I could handle anything. But I couldn't handle the wall," Anderson said. "I found names of buddies and couldn't hold back the tears."

Anderson did two tours in Vietnam - 1967-68 and 1969-70 - serving in a river boat patrol unit.

Anderson recalls one friend he lost in Vietnam. The two had gotten together one night for a little reunion and comradery over a few beers and some laughs. Anderson's Navy buddy was killed the next morning.

The centerpiece of the traveling exhibit is an 80 percent replica of the Vietnam Memorial Wall located in Washington, D.C. This replica contains 100 percent of the names. It is 370 feet long and about 8 1/2 feet tall at the apex. The Traveling Wall was constructed in 1997-98, and began traveling the country in 1998.

Committee members

The committee to raise funds for the project consists primarily of: Ardner Anderson (Chair), Dale Frost, Scott Koennicke, Billy Ayers, Chris and John Underdahl, Rhonda Schornack, Arles Kumpula, Dolly Tumberg, Lynn Kasma, Lina Belar, and Millie Lauer.

Anderson said he got the ball rolling on the idea following his visit to the wall in Mahnomen. He talked to Chris and John Underdahl who helped form the committee. Billy Ayers, a U.S. Army veteran of Desert Shield and Desert Storm, then joined the group.

"I thought it was a good idea to bring it in," he said. "What better way to pay tribute to our Vietnam veterans?"

Arles Kumpula from the Ladies' Auxiliary, someone who seems to be involved in just about everything, said: "It's good for the city and for our remembrance of Vietnam veterans. It's also a good educational program for the kids."

Schedule

The wall will arrive in New York Mills on June 3. Set up will take place June 3 and the morning of June 4, with opening ceremonies expected to take place around noon on June 4. Closing ceremonies will be June 8.

The wall will be open 24 hours a day until June 8, with posting of colors everyday.

(More information on the schedule will be available as the event draws closer.)

This is a collaborative effort led by NY Mills V.F.W. Post 3289 and involves a number of other area organizations, including the NYM Regional Cultural Center and In Their Own Words Veterans Museum.

Local fundraisers

Along with donations from local businesses and service organizations the V.F.W. and Ladies' Auxiliary will hold fundraisers. There will be a bake sale at the NY Mills Trade Show on March 28. Donations will also be accepted at the V.F.W./Auxiliary booth at the trade show. And on April 4, the V.F.W. will host a chili feed and auction. Anyone interested in donating an auction item should contact a committee member.

With the fundraising effort now in full swing, Post Commander Scott Koennicke sees this project as a tribute to those who served in the Vietnam War. The veterans weren't received well when they came home after serving during such an unpopular time.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial facts

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial was conceived by Jan Scruggs, and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund was incorporated on April 27, 1979 in Washington, D.C. by a group of Vietnam veterans.

They lobbied for Congress for a 2-acre plot of land in Constitution of Gardens. On July 1, 1980 President Jimmy Carter signed the legislation to provide a site near the Lincoln Memorial.

The memorial wall was designed by Maya Ying Lin and was dedicated on Nov. 13, 1982.

"The Wall" now has carved into it the names of 58,253 American military personnel (eight were women) who were direct casualties of the war, including about 1,300 who are still considered Missing in Action.

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