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Back from Iraq: Soldiers reflect on 'homecomings'

By Louis Hoglund editor@eot.com Uniformed New York Mills VFW Post members waited patiently Monday afternoon for a couple of local soldiers to return home from Iraq. The homecoming drive from Fort McCoy was running late. Original estimates placed ...

By Louis Hoglund

editor@eot.com

Uniformed New York Mills VFW Post members waited patiently Monday afternoon for a couple of local soldiers to return home from Iraq.

The homecoming drive from Fort McCoy was running late. Original estimates placed the arrival in New York Mills about 6 p.m., but based on phone calls along the route, it was going to be 7 p.m. or later.

Veterans from the Post didn't mind the delay. Since Army National Guard soldiers Terry Frost and Ben Lamm, both of the New York Mills area, could serve ten months in Iraq--the VFW members could certainly wait an extra hour.

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"This is not something that is an obligation," said Carol Thompson, a Gulf War veteran with an Army National Guard medical unit, while waiting for the returning veterans. "This is something you just do to show appreciation."

"I'm always supportive of anybody who went into the service...they need recognition," said Korean War era Marine Erken Brack, who is also a Mills VFW Post color guard member.

Lamm and Frost were returning from Iraq to weather that is a complete contrast to the desert environment they experienced. A steady, cold rain no doubt prevented many people from joining the homecoming.

A quarter-mile of yellow ribbons, tied to fence posts along Highway 10, were placed by the Mills VFW.

When Lamm and Frost did arrive, at about 7 p.m., they were escorted through town by squad cars and a New York Mills firetruck. The caravan ended at the VFW Post, where they were greeted by the color guard. Inside, more than 30 immediate family and Post members had an informal gathering.

During the wait for the soldiers' arrival, several veterans had an opportunity to reflect on the homecoming they experienced.

For Brack, there were no flag-waving crowds, parades and yellow ribbons.

"There was nothing for us. There was no such thing after Korea," said Brack. "But that was OK. We just wanted to get the hell out of there and get home."

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Same homecoming story for VFW Post member Roger Bentley, a post-Korean War Army veteran, serving 1953-1955. "Nothing happened. We came home, and that was it."

When the victors of the Gulf War came home, it was a different story.

"It was overwhelming...unbelievable," recalled Carol (Dulski) Thompson, a Perham native who married a New York Mills fellow. It was March 11, 1991, that returning troops from throughout North Dakota and western Minnesota were welcomed by a throng of supporters at the Fargo Civic Auditorium.

"You really appreciate the U.S. of A. when you come back home," said Thompson. Greeting Terry Frost, 34, upon his arrival home, was especially meaningful for Thompson. Frost lives in the same neighborhood, and they talked long distance by phone during his tour of duty.

Dale Bachim, an Army National Guardsman with 22 years of service, including his active duty time with the Army, returned from Iraq on July 26. He had been gone 22 months--16 of those in Iraq.

"You know, it was really nice to see the support and I appreciated it," said Bachim of his homecoming. "But to tell you the truth, I would have been just as happy to go straight home."

You can't blame him. Especially since he was all pumped up and excited to return, but ended up delayed in Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, for four days "with nothing to do." When they were finally released from McCoy and put on the bus, "it was 'don't spare the horses,' let's get home," laughed Bachim, noting that the bus driver violated the law and upped his speed across much of Minnesota.

A tank mechanic by training, Bachim wound up in Iraq with an unusual assignment. He took care of 15 interpreters, most of them Muslim. Bachim hardly set foot off the base. It was his job to make arrangements and connect the interpreters to the proper units prior to their daily patrols. The interpreters, most of them well-educated and multi-lingual, were viewed as "traitors," at least by the radical Islam faction. This made them targets for assassination.

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As the group of VFW members waited for the soldiers to arrive, they openly wondered how many more homecomings would be necessary before it's all over.

"With any religious war, there is never an end, never a solution," said Korea veteran Erken Brack.

"Even if we don't like the war, we have to support our troops," continued Brack, who believes the various Islamic sects will fight right up until the U.S. leaves and after we're gone. And if Iran is the next battleground, the U.S. will need to reinstate the draft.

"I'm afraid we're never gonna win this one," said Brack, "unless maybe we send Bush over there and have him dig a few sand fox holes."

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