Vets ride for healing, honor and fallen comrades

MARSHALL – Vietnam vet bikers from Team Bravo and Team Echo met up at the VFW in Marshall on Wednesday on the Ride for Healing. After a brief meeting, they set off on the road to Canby and points beyond.

“We started from the Capitol and went in all directions,” said Steve Peterson, officer of the day at the Palmer Lake VFW.

Peterson said the ride will end on Friday with the teams’ arrival at Camp Ripley for closing ceremonies.

The riders left St. Paul on Monday, about 26 of them in five teams: Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta and Echo. All along the various routes, other riders joined to ride with them a part of the way. Their numbers were diminished by the rain, but some rode through it undeterred.

“This is all about my fallen heroes,” said former Lance Cpl. Gerald Determan of the U.S. Marines. “I spent two years in California putting up with hippies calling me a baby killer. We were never thanked. We were hated, and a lot of us carry that to this day. It rained for two days, but it rained in ‘Nam. I’m making this trip, I don’t care.”

According to Peterson, the riders are raising money to build a Vietnam War museum near the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. The estimated cost of the museum is about $85 million. About half of that has already been raised, solely through private donations.

And there are other reasons.

“I’ve been a member of the VFW almost 45 years,” said former Marine Tom McLaughlin. “I went to the Vietnam Wall in 1982, and our VFW post gave us some money so we could send 11 vets for the dedication. Ever since then I’ve been active.”

According to McLaughlin, in the first years after Vietnam vets came home, it was difficult to find acceptance even within the VFW, as old members sometimes didn’t think they’d been in a “real war.”

Nowadays, the face of war has changed. Present day conflicts are far more like Vietnam than World War II.

“We need these service organizations to support the young guys who come back,” McLaughlin said. “I have a son who did two tours in Iraq. We’ve got to make sure they are treated well and get the benefits they are entitled to. When the last man leaves Afghanistan, they’ll start taking them away.”