In September, the traveling Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall came to Mankato for a three-day visit when the 360-foot-long mobile wall was set up at Veterans Memorial Place for visitors to see, touch, remember and continue to heal. The mobile tribute is 80 percent the size of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington D.C., which lists the names of 58,271 Americans whose lives were claimed in that war. Thousands came to see the wall, which is based in Texas and travels around the country to 40-50 events a year. Kevin Weatherly, who drives the rig that carries the wall, is a Marine veteran who served a tour of duty in Iraq during 2003. As caretaker of the wall on the road, Weatherly has seen the emotions and respect shown by those who have visited the traveling exhibit. “It’s a very healing process for the Vietnam vets, their friends and families who come to find, touch and do a pencil rubbing on paper of a name on the wall,” said Weatherly. “You’ll see them standing by themselves alone with their thoughts and memories or in groups telling stories…it helps all of those who endured a loss rather than having to travel to D.C. to see and experience the original monument,” he explained. He noted that about three-quarters of a million people stop to see the traveling wall when it comes to a location near them each year.
Finding his buddies One of those who stopped to remember and pay his respects to fallen comrades was Glen Peterson of Mankato. Wearing his faded Army fatigues and hat, Peterson’s eyes searched the black panels looking for the engraved name of Second Lt. Daniel Lloyd who was killed over 43 years ago on March 13, 1969. “We both played football for New Ulm High School, and I took his position on the line when he graduated,” said Peterson. “We both went to Mankato for college and both got drafted into the Army. He went to Officer Candidate School (OCS), became a Second Lt. and was sent to Vietnam to command a platoon.” Glen also went to Vietnam and was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division, although he never jumped out of a plane during training. “I went over as a personnel specialist and once I was there I figured out about 30 percent of us who were attached to the 101st weren’t jump qualified, just there because they needed replacements,” he recalled. But that didn’t stop him from getting mixed in with one of the biggest fights of the war. “The 101st was involved with a lot of the action at Hamburger Hill in the A-Shau Valley in May of 1969,” recounted Peterson. “Those three weeks were the most chaotic of my life, being close to hell on earth. I can still remember the B52s bombing the A-Shau – it sounded like thunder and the ground trembled when they dropped their ordnance.” Peterson, age 22, recalled the 24/7 work days in the field where it was his job to help process the wounded and the bodies of soldiers who had been killed in action. “We had to keep track of where everybody was going…it was a difficult time as we’d get a lot of pressure from officers in charge of grave registrations to get the work done. Sometimes they’d want the information before we had notice of the KIAs coming in because there were so many casualties…we called it ‘bag, tagged and ready for his flag.’”
Peterson helps build soldier’s memorial Lloyd was a senior guard on the 1963 football team, and Peterson followed into his position for the 1964 season at New Ulm Public. “Whatever Dan did he was always top notch, so it wasn’t a surprise when he went to OCS to be an officer. If he was going to Vietnam he wanted to be a leader there too,” said Peterson. Peterson came home from Vietnam in 1970, and for the next 13 years, he struggled with his wartime experiences. The horrors of Hamburger Hill were hard to let go. “In 1983, I started going to a storefront drop-in center in Mankato to participate in veterans rap groups,” said Peterson. “I went once a week for 16 months and after that four of us, including Purple Heart recipient Rick James of Northfield, became the four founding members of the Vietnam Veterans of Southern Minnesota group.” “We must have had about 250 guys at one time on the mailing list, and we’d go to talk at schools or participate in parades,” he recalled. But it was out of one of the last weekly meetings that the idea was hatched to build a Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Mankato. “One night there was this ex-Marine who showed up that none of us had seen before and he starts telling the story about the 29 guys from Nicollet and Blue Earth counties who died in Vietnam. “None of us knew that so a memorial committee was formed,” said Peterson. “His first name was Jack, and he became the chairman who ramroded the $25,000 project through, and we got it built and dedicated in 1988.”
The Memorial Today the meaningful memorial stands near the place where the Vietnam Traveling wall was set up. A pathway to the memorial is guarded by pine trees on each side and opens to a circular design for visitors to walk around and read the names of the 29 men, listed in order of their death dates on metallic-like shaped dog tags. The centerpiece of the memorial holds a large Kasota rock with a flag carved on the top portion. Underneath the flag, if visitors look closely, they’ll see the images of faces that sculptor Tom Miller also carved into the rock. “The faces reflect the anguished looks of American citizens who suffered from that difficult period of time,” said Peterson. George Stoltzman, who was a Marine, is the first of those who were killed on Nov. 29, 1965. There’s Thomas Manderfeld who was killed on April 10, 1969 who Peterson said he made pizzas with while working in college. “The years 1968 and 1969, were bad,” said Peterson. Seventeen of the 29 men remembered on the memorial died during those two years. Included are the names of four who were killed on the same dates. After 1969 there were no more casualties until 1973. According to Peterson, the last man on the memorial was never found but was listed as KIA on Jan. 21, 1973. Peterson said two of the founding members of the memorial have since passed away, but in another way, the memorial is for them too. “There might be 29 names on it, but it’s also dedicated to all who served and made sacrifices for their country…I’m pretty proud of it and twice a year we have a gathering here for a program on Memorial and Veterans Day,” he stated. Peterson, who worked in construction and later for 27 years at the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter, has made two trips to Washington, D.C., to see the wall and remember his friends.
The Names Following is the list of 29 men on the Nicollet-Blue Earth County Vietnam Veterans Memorial: Cpl. George Stoltzman USMC 11-29-65; PFC Ronald Koehler USMC 12-9-65; PFC Dwight Tollefson 3-4-66; S Sgt Samuel Reed USMC 7-15-66;PFC Michael Compton 8-20-66; PFC Fredrick Brenke USMC 6-27-67; L/Cpl Alan Hoffman USMC 6-27-67; Spec 4 Larry Doring 7-10-67; USAF/S Sgt David Fasnacht 7-15-67; PFC Richard Weise 12-5-67; Capt. George O’Toole 12-12-67; Spec. 4 John Severson 3-8-68; PFC David Williams 4-4-68; Cpl David Haefner 5-5-68; PFC Gary Meier 5-5-68; WO Eric Koeppen 7-11-68; PFC Gerald Oglesby 7-19-68; Cpl Gerald Sack 7-30-68; Sgt. William Gagnier 9-11-68; PFC Charles Dumdei 12-18-68; WO Edward Harris 3-1-69; 2nd Lt. Daniel Lloyd 3-13-69; Spec 4 Harvey Enz 3-22-69; Spec 4 Thomas Manderfeld 4-10-69; PFC Steven Wettergren USMC 4-12-69; PFC Melvin Lurth 6-8-69; L/Cpl Donald Liebl USMC 9-15-69; 2nd Lt. Michael McClellan 11-21-69; PO2 Richard Wiehr USN 1-21-73.