Organizers hope visitors will experience the full range of human emotion during the Lakeville VFW Post 210 100th Anniversary Celebration.
From quiet contemplation to rising up and cheering, the slate of events July 8-14 will offer people that and much more.
"There are lots of things we want people to get out of it,” said Ken Titcomb, quartermaster and finance officer of the Lakeville VFW. "If we can touch one person, it’s going to be a great week. But I think we are going to touch a whole lot more people than that.”
The centerpiece of the event will be the 80 percent replica of the Washington, D.C., Vietnam Veterans Memorial, where silence will speak, but then there will be interactive moments and storytelling opportunities with the military vintage equipment and camp displays, live entertainment, Minnesota Military Museum Displays and the Hall of Heroes where local veterans stories will be featured.
Titcomb, who served 25 years in the Navy, including a year in Iraq, said he hopes the events will spur conversations among family members or friends of veterans to learn more about what they experienced and their feelings about it.
For the veterans and current service members, he hopes they feel gratitude and healing for whatever they’ve been through.
He said those feelings will mostly be centered around the Vietnam Veterans Memorial traveling wall, which is 6 feet tall at the center, has 74 frames covering almost 300 feet, and contains 58,272 names.
"1968. It was awful. We are remembering what it was like then, that divisiveness we felt in the ’60s. We are kind of like that now,” said Titcomb, who was 10 in 1968. "Maybe this can help us see that things are bigger than our differences.
"It brings all the emotions back of that period for many people. You remember that time as one of the darkest times in American history, but we came out of it stronger.
"I remember the protests. I didn’t begrudge (the veterans). They were servicemen who got drafted. For a lot of them, they got a horrible greeting when they got back home, lucky to survive their service time.”
He said experiencing the memorial wall holds different things for different people.
"The slogan is that ‘It’s the wall that heals,’ ” Titcomb said. "For the vets, we want them to experience that. It is a chance to heal.”
For the younger generation, he hopes they learn to understand the sacrifice of the previous generation and how that affected their families, their communities and the entire nation.
He said he hopes that it serves as a conversation starter among families and friends of veterans who served in Vietnam or in any other military capacity.
"Maybe they will ask some questions, they didn’t think about before,” Titcomb said.
In addition to feeling gratitude for their service, he said he hopes veterans and current service members also learn more about the resources available to them in the community through such organizations as Beyond the Yellow Ribbon, the VFW and the American Legion.
"We want them to know that they have a friend and a comrade,” Titcomb said. "We want to build that community. We want to support them. Sometimes they get isolated in their homes. We want to let them know that we are here.”
He said he’s already seen bridges being built in the community because of the anniversary celebration.
More people have been showing up to VFW meetings and planning meetings for the event.
He said meetings in recent months have had as many as 30 people. Most VFW meetings prior to that had about five or six attending.
The community support for the event with volunteers and financial donations have also made connections.
Titcomb said the group achieved its goal in raising the $100,000 needed to cover the cost of bringing the wall to Lakeville and associated expenses.
"We are pretty excited about the outpouring of support,” Titcomb said. "We are still working on the contributions through the Legion and the VFW. It is very heartwarming that we did get that support.”
He said any money that the group raises above the amount needed for the event will be spent on veterans relief programs, high school student scholarships and the Freedom Rock – a large stone that was moved to Aronson Park and is adorned with painted military tribute images by Iowa artist Bubba Sorenson.
"He did a spectacular job,” Titcomb said of the rock that was moved to the park a few weeks ago. "We couldn’t be happier with the final results.”
He said the likeness of Marine Pvt. 1st Class John Alois Gerdesmeier, a Lakeville resident who died in 1968 at the age of 19 while serving in Vietnam, was depicted on the rock along with other military images related to the Lakeville area and Minnesota.
"It’s about the sacrifice he made for us and for future residents to understand his story,” Titcomb said of Gerdesmeier.
Titcomb credited the work of Tim Dennison, Vince Goodwin and Jim Tabaka in guiding the Freedom Rock project through to fruition.
The dedication of the Freedom Rock at 12 noon Saturday, July 6, at Aronson Park is one VFW and Legion-organized event that falls outside anniversary celebration dates of July 8-14.
Sorenson will attend the event and answer questions about his work.
While the traveling wall will be the centerpiece of the event, Hasse Arena and the surrounding 10 acres of fields will be transformed into a living history military village with vintage military vehicles and historical displays from Minnesota Military Museum.
The traveling wall will be escorted to Lakeville from the Elko Speedway on Sunday, July 7, and there will be a dedication ceremony on the McGuire Middle School site at 3 p.m.
American Legion Riders will escort the wall from Elko Speedway to Lakeville.
After that the set up will begin.
He said they plan make specific measures to make sure the site be a somber place. Benches will be placed along the length of the wall to give people a place to rest and contemplate. There will be nighttime lighting, and Pahl’s Nursery of Apple Valley will provide landscaping.
The opening day Monday, July 8, will start at noon with the Vietnam Memorial Wall and Hall of Heroes opening.
After that, the wall will be open 24 hours a day until it closes at 8 p.m. Saturday, July 13. The site will have on-site security throughout that time to ensure it is a solemn space.
The Hall of Heroes at Hasse Arena will be open until 5 p.m. that day. At 6:30 p.m., there will be a USO-style show called Letters from Home that will feature music and dancing at the Hasse Arena stage.
Titcomb said he’d like to see a big crowd for that event, which he calls like seeing the Andrews sisters in their heyday.
The Hall of Heroes will be open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. July 9-13.
Titcomb said one of the best parts of the planning so far has been reading through the stories of local veterans who will be honored in the Hall of Heroes.
He said they have collected more than 20 stories as of June 25. The deadline to submit was June 30.
He said most of the stories have been turned in by family members of veterans. They include the stories of the veterans who started the VFW.
The stories will be accompanied by other media and artifacts on loan from the families.
To enhance the educational experience, Arn Kind, an educator for 38 years as a classroom teacher for grades 4-12 and a history presenter for all ages, will give three different interactive talks.
Kind will give two D-Day June 6, 1944, presentations 3-7 p.m. Tuesday, July 9, and 10 a.m. to 12 noon Saturday, July 13, at the Hasse Arena Stage. Later that day, he will talk about the Vietnam War 2-4 p.m.
Kind uses powerpoint, video, music, drama, role playing and living history during his presentations to give people an understanding of the turbulent times.
All the Historical Experience presentations are billed as being educational and for the whole family.
Titcomb said other highlights during the week will be live demonstrations, such as helicopters being used to reenact a troop deployment and a medivac rescue.
Labor of love
Titcomb said it’s been two and half years since the contract was signed to have the wall come to Lakeville.
"It’s exciting. It is a big undertaking,” Titcomb said. "We want everyone in the south metro to know about this event.”
He said there is a core group of volunteers who are working hard to get preparations done.
"They are doing phenomenal work and getting other groups to participate,” Titcomb said.
Hundreds of other volunteers are expected to help out with the event.
There is still time to sign up to help in areas such as information booths, security, and packing up the wall so it can be removed. A range of skills and ages (from teens to seniors) are needed as volunteers. Most shifts are four hours long.
Titcomb said the biggest need is for information guides of ages 14 and up.
He said the volunteers will receive an orientation training, but the biggest job will just be pointing people in the right direction to experience the many facets of the event.
Volunteers will help people with mobility issues get to different places by offering golf cart rides to different locations or assisting those wanting to make an etching of a name at the wall.
He said volunteers who help with tear down will get a T-shirt and baseball cap.
More information is at https://lakevilleveterans.com.
Tad Johnson is at firstname.lastname@example.org.