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Vietnam veterans sought for ‘Welcome Home’ event

By Rachel Barduson

The “Huey” helicopter was an icon in the Vietnam War. One of these helicopters will be on site at the “Welcome Home” on June 16.

It has been nearly 50 years since the Vietnam War ended. When soldiers returned home at the end of the war, they did not receive a warm welcome. Many veterans and others in the U.S. have always thought that a better reception was warranted for the sacrifices given by these men and women in uniform. Two Alexandria men felt so passionate about the sour welcome that these soldiers received, that they are doing something about it. The men have planned a special community event called “Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans” on Sunday, June 16, 2024 (Father’s Day) in Alexandria, at the Alexandria High School football field. And now the men are looking for Vietnam veterans to join them on the special day to celebrate their service and sacrifice to the country.

“This is going to be a big gathering and community event,” said Pat Ellingson and Jeff Timm, who began coordinating the upcoming Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans event several months ago. Their goal  -  “that this celebration serve as a special tribute to our Vietnam veterans.” 

“We know there are more than 250 Vietnam veterans in the greater Douglas County area,” said Ellingson. “And what I mean by ‘greater Douglas County area’ includes Douglas County, plus veterans in and around Osakis and Todd County – and in and around Lowry and Pope County. We invite them all to this free event. If you grew up in the area, whether you have lived here all of your life, or if your roots are here but you don’t live around here anymore, you’re invited. We want to bring families together to honor and thank these veterans personally, give them proper recognition and serve them a meal to enjoy with their families. And for the fathers...on Father’s be proud of their military service and celebrate with their families.”

Ellingson and Timm, both Vietnam veterans, began brainstorming about giving recognition and thanks to the veterans of the Vietnam era several months ago. At coffee one day they talked about how 25 years ago the local Army Reserve veterans from the Iraq War were escorted from the interstate into Alexandria with full support.

“Pat and I have been lifelong friends and I said, ‘did they ever do that for us?’ - but, of course knowing the answer,” said Timm. “Four months ago, Pat called me and said ‘let’s do it’ - he didn’t have to say another word. I knew exactly what he meant.”

“It was a bad time back then (during the war),” said Ellingson. “When we left for Vietnam we didn’t get to go as a unit. We went individually. And we served. We had friends who didn’t make it back. And after all of that, when I came home, there were 225 of us who landed in Oakland and walked past protesters on the tarmac...lined up the entire way. And we were told not to wear our uniform. That was our welcome home.”

The volunteer committee for Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans consists of “exceptional people” Ellingson said, including Jeff Timm, Tom Anderson, Doug Houska, Carl Wittenburg and Russell Oorlog. Elliott Christensen, who passed away last year, was also on the committee. Timm explained that it was important to bring in non-veterans as well as veterans in planning a large community event such as this.

The American Veterans Traveling Tribute Vietnam Wall, a large replica of the Vietnam War Memorial, will be on location to view for the Welcome Home event on June 16. Contributed photo

The committee estimates that the Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans event could bring more than 3,500 people to the Alexandria Area High School football field.

The event is sponsored by the Alexandria VFW, the Lowry American Legion, Alex Industries and the Osakis VFW. Charlie Meyer of Fat Daddy’s/Broadway Ballroom is helping to sponsor the meal for the veterans and their families (more than 600 meals).

When the committee tossed around ideas about where and how this event could take place, Ellingson suggested the Alexandria Area High School football field as a perfect venue. Thousands of people can gather. Timm said that Doug Houska took care of securing the football field and the large-screen TV will be utilized to highlight speakers and veterans.

Each registered veteran who served in-country and received a Vietnam Service Ribbon, will be individually recognized for their unwavering service and sacrifice, according to the Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans website. Gen. Dean Johnson will be the guest speaker.  Each veteran in attendance will receive a medallion and a cap, personally presented to them. Quilts for Valor will be donating a quilt for each veteran.

Ellingson said there will be a Huey helicopter and the American Veterans Traveling Tribute (AVTT) Vietnam Wall, the largest replica traveling the country, will be on display at the football field. Across its 360-foot length, the wall contains the name of every single veteran who sacrificed their life in Vietnam etched in granite. It is a 3/5 scale of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington DC, it stands six feet tall at the center and covers almost 300 feet from end to end. This Traveling Memorial stands as a reminder of the great sacrifices made during the Vietnam War. It was made for the purpose of helping heal and rekindle friendships and to allow people the opportunity to visit loved ones in their home town who otherwise may not be able to make the trip to Washington.* The traveling wall will come from Texas. It will take 90 sandbags to anchor it and the Douglas County Posse will provide 24-hour security for it while it stands at the AAHS football field. Stephanie Wittrock of Alexandria has been instrumental in securing the Wall and other parts of making the day a success – to honor our Vietnam Veterans.

“If you know a Vietnam Veteran from the greater Douglas County area, please let them know they are welcome,” Ellingson emphasized. Veterans and their families will be individually honored for their service, served a meal with their family, and celebrate with their community at the Alexandria Area High School football field.

The planning committee is still seeking volunteers to help. People who wish to volunteer can contact committee members or simply go to the website that gives all of the details of the event. Registration details can be found on the website.

Ellingson emphasized that the committee wants to include every Vietnam Veteran.

“Help us find all of them,” he said. “We want to welcome our guys home.”

To learn more, to donate, to volunteer and to register, visit

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