"For the first time, they were coming up and saying thank you.' Tim told me.
"I went there for my uncles,' Jim told me. "They are no longer alive. But we provided them spiritual and emotional honor.'
Last week, Suzi De Graf traveled with fifteen of our area veterans to LZ Lambeau. "LZ' stands for Landing Zone. Suzi told me about the event in Green Bay which honored the Vietnam Veterans who never received the warm welcome home they deserved.
Organizers estimated over 70,000 people attended some part of the three day event, including 1,244 motorcycle riders, many of whom traveled from LaCrosse, to pay tribute to the 1,244 Wisconsin Vietnam veterans or Vietnam era veterans who were killed or still missing in action.
As a special tribute to our Vietnam Veterans, Wisconsin Public Television, the Ho-Chunk Nation and other funders teamed up to create "Wisconsin Vietnam War Stories', a three-part series that debuted this week on Public Television. Over 100 veterans across the state shared their stories for the documentary, including Tomah's own Andrew Thundercloud.
The sharing and preserving stories is a tradition of the Native American Culture. Gathering together and sharing stories of veteran is the purpose of the Talking Circle started by members of the Ho-Chunk nation. The Talking Circle brings balance back to the warrior's life; to make it possible once again for the warrior to live in peace and be physically, spiritually, emotionally and mentally healthy.
I am proud to have joined my Ho-Chunk sister Suzi De Graf and members of the Andrew Blackhawk American Legion in forming the Veterans Talking Circle. They worked hard to create a protected place for veterans of all eras and branches of service to share their experiences and concerns in a compassionate and respectful setting.
By listening and sharing from the heart, each veteran gives and receives affirmation of their valuable service contributions. The bonds they build in the Talking Circle help to heal these warriors in mind, body and spirit. And it was this bond that took sixteen friends to LZ Lambeau.
The healing in Green Bay took place in many ways. One father of a man who had been on suicide watch at the VA hospital in Tomah shared how important the trip was for his son. "It was my son in the Blind Side and you are like Sandra Bullock,' he told Suzi De Graf. "This experience has completely changed his life.'
Although I wanted to attend the event, I have been home doing some healing of my own after my second knee replacement surgery. But through the stories I began to understand the intense emotion shared among those who gathered in Lambeau Field. As the veterans' stories were shared, tears were shed revealing emotions still raw even after 40 years. But remembering also brought healing.
What a privilege it must have been to participate in LZ Lambeau; to pay tribute to our fallen warriors and to salute our fellow Wisconsinites who served and were often not honored when they returned stateside. We honor them by preserving their stories and remembering the debt we can never repay.
"It was beautiful. Never, ever, have I seen anything like it. A crowd of 30,000 people. The Wisconsin National Guard saluting the veterans. The welcome home was so emotional. The healing has begun.'