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Air museum program honors Vietnam veterans

Vietnam veteran Warren K. Hoppman, Minot, shows on a map where he was during the Vietnam War.

Warren K. Hoppman of Minot served in Vietnam from 1964-66 with the U.S. Army’s 504th Military Police Battalion. Hoppman, with his wife, Liz, was among 60-plus Vietnam veterans attending “A Tribute to Vietnam Veterans” held at the Dakota Territory Air Museum in Minot on Saturday.

“I was drafted,” said Hoppman. “I was in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, working for Collins Radio Company.” He said it used to be said there wasn’t a military vehicle without a Collins radio.

Hoppman said he was stationed at Qui Nhon in South Vietnam, indicating the location on a map provided by the Disabled American Veterans, Chapter 4.

“I was there for 13 months and nine days,” he said.

About 200 people, including Vietnam veterans, attended the patriotic program held in the air museum’s Flying Legends Hangar.

Senior Airman Zachary Holly, center, sings the National Anthem during the “Tribute to Vietnam Veterans” held at the Dakota Territory Air Museum on Saturday. Back from the left are retired Air Force Lt. Col. Jose Castaneda, Wendy Walker of the Disabled American Veterans, Chapter 4, and retired U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Trygve Hammer, Velva. The Minot Air Force Base Honor Guard is at the right.

“Thank you to our honored Vietnam veterans, both for your service to our country and for being with us today,” said retired U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Trygve Hammer of Velva, program speaker. He also thanked those who organized and participated in the program, and those who attended the program.

Hammer gave those attending a brief history lesson on the start of the war dating back many years and covering the timeframe moving forward to bring it up to the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in 1964, and 1965’s Operation Rolling Thunder and the arrival of the 9th Marine Corps Brigade.

“That’s my personal feeling. Once the Marines have landed, you have yourself a war,” said Hammer, a retired Marine Corps major. By that time, he said, more than 400 U.S. servicemen had fallen in Vietnam, and the end of 1965, the number of Americans serving in-country was over 185,000.

“More important than when the war began or ended is what did it mean and what can we learn from it,” Hammer said.

He said one of his earliest childhood memories was watching the evening news and asking his father why gorillas (guerillas) were being fought in Vietnam.

Wendy Williams, at podium, explains the meaning of the folds of the American flag.

“I was horrified of the idea of armed apes organized for combat,” he recalled.

“Years later, it meant that I had joined the military led by Vietnam veterans who had been hardened by combat against a tough and determined enemy. All of the tactics, techniques and procedures I learned both as an infantry officer and as a helicopter pilot had been honed by lessons learned in the Vietnam War,” Hammer said.

When he attended briefings in Quantico, Virginia, during the run-up to the 1991 Gulf War, he said the predicted U.S. casualties were in the thousands.

“Those numbers were based on an enemy equal to what our Vietnam veterans had faced. Fortunately, that was not the case,” he said.

He went on, “For over 58,000 servicemen and women, the Vietnam War meant the end of their lives. For their loved ones, it meant end of hope for the safe return of the fallen and the life they had imagined for and with them.”

For over 77,000 veterans, he said, the war meant permanent severe disability.

“Eventually more than 2.6 million Americans served in uniform in Vietnam. I won’t claim to know what it means to those who returned because I know that it’s probably different and carries more than one meaning for each of them,” Hammer said.

For this nation, he said, the Vietnam War has meant many different things at different times. He said it has inspired books of memoir, history and fiction, and movies ranging from “Apocalypse Now” and “The Deer Hunter” to “Forrest Gump.” He said it has also inspired songs and other types of art.

“We as a nation learned, I believe, not to blame the soldier, sailor, airman or Marine for the genesis or conduct of war. I hope we have learned to question our assumptions and to examine the paradigms through which we view international relations and the conduct of war,” he said.

He said many who are old enough to remember that time have some kind of opinion or belief about the war. He said there also was disagreement when the winning design for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., was unveiled, but the finished memorial is a can’t miss attraction on the Mall.

“It may be the most often touched of all the memorials. It is stark and powerful and you can’t stand along the 58,318 names carved in stone and not feel something.

“The Vietnam War does and can mean something to each of you,” Hammer told those attending the program. “Perhaps you haven’t found it yet and as an American, you’re free to not make the effort, thanks, in part, to those who have been willing to go in harm’s way.

“To the Vietnam veterans in attendance and to those 1,458 whose names are carved on the Tri-State Wall — thank you. You made me and my peers better warfighters and you are a treasured subset of your generation — those who went,” Hammer said.

The Tri-State Vietnam Memorial Wall is on display in the air museum’s Flying Legends Hangar.

Others participating in the program included retired Air Force Lt. Col. Jose Castaneda, Minot Air Force Base Honor Guard, Senior Airman Zachary Holly, Senior Airman Chanz Kennedy, Wendy Walker of the Disabled American Veterans, Chapter 4, and other representatives of the DAV along with Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion.

The program included a flag-folding ceremony, Battlefield Cross presentation and performance of the service songs with presentation of the service flags. Military reenactors Jon Sturgill and Graham Maline, both Minot AFB, and the Minot Vet Center also took part in the event sponsored by Michelob Ultra and Bud Light.

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