Honoring Our Veterans who Defend Our Freedom


All over America, people are gearing up for Veteran's Day. As a way of honoring the brave men and women who have served and are serving our country, there will be parades, free meals for veterans, and activities showing gratitude for the sacrifices they made for us all.

Many small towns have their own memorials for the people who still live there, and those who died doing their jobs. Prisoners of war who have returned, and those still missing in action who did not. They, as well as their families who also endured the service of their loved ones, are recognized on this day.

I was tipped off by a former Messenger reporter that there was someone doing sand blasting for the Wanamingo Memorial one sunny October day, so I went to check it out. There I met James Schaefer. James has been sandblasting the names of our veterans into stone plaques for over 30 years. It is a very tedious job, and one he is proud to do. His father served, and he is proud to be a member of the Sons of the American Legion. As he prepared the stones, he told me that he is from Altura, and travels around to many small communities to enter the names of men and women and the years of service they they gave, to be forever emblazoned for generations to come.

He gave a bit of history that i would like to share. The memorials were started by the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) to honor military service of all kind, and of all ranks. All the money for the gardens is acquired by fundraisers. No money comes from our government, or from our taxes. The gardens and spaces are all built and cared for by volunteers who care, and are proud to do their part, whether pouring cement, planting and weeding flowers, or caring for the site.

I was asked to choose one veteran from Wanamingo and one from Kenyon for this article. John Tiller and Mac McDonald were the ones I chose. Every soldier has a job to do, and they are trained to do it well. Each has a story to tell. When you think of being in a war, sometimes the building blocks of living on a base in a war zone escapes attention. These 2 men served their country in different ways, and both had some stories to tell.

Michael (Mac) McDonald lives in Kenyon, and served in the U.S. Army from 1969 to 1972. His job, or MOS as it is called, was Crew Chief of a Huey helicopter. When the helicopter (bird) was on the ground, he took meticulous care of it, doing maintenance and making sure it was safe and ready to fly. In the air, he was a door gunner in Vietnam from 1970 to 1971. . His company was called the Ghost Riders, and their mission was to insert and remove troops into the bases, and to bring supplies, rations and ammo to the operations on the ground. They flew from base to base around the country, bringing what was needed.

I asked Mac if he was drafted, or if he enlisted on his own. "My father was a World War 2 veteran, and suggested I join up on my own and enroll in aviation mechanics, and learn a new trade while I served. He thought it would be a safer job than ground combat." Now, Mac is involved in several different military organizations, and helps with the celebrations and parades, and does whatever he can to honor his brothers and sisters that served and are still serving. He encourages everyone who has an interest to find an organization to join to help with programs, parades, and other tributes to our troops.

John Tiller lives in Wanamingo, and at 93 years of age is a wealth of information on many historical subjects. He served as a Corporal in the U. S. Army in the Korean war from 1951 to 1953. He began and completed his infantry and engineer basic at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri, and learned the electronics trade. On his base, men were trained to build the facilities the troops overseas were based in. His company learned engineering, explosives and bridge building, all necessary to build military bases that housed the troops. On the base, there were "stores" of electrical, plumbing and supplies. After basic training, he travelled on a troop ship to Korea, and started building the base he served on. It is an interesting fact that the Korean war was the last to use troop ships to get the guys to their destinations. After that war, airplanes were used instead. John says, "When I arrived, the engineer supply base GI's were housed in tents. We set to work constructing housing, and moved into them. the 552nd engineer supply base was huge, and the facilities group I was a part of had quite a job keeping all the lights on."

Another fact John shared was that the Korean war was the first war that the men weren't segregated because of race. The men all worked together as equals for the first time in history. The Korean men also worked alongside our troops, doing all kinds of chores to assist our men. They had "house boys" who were paid to sweep, clean, and do laundry. There were trained mechanics, and drivers, and men who knew the terrain. We worked together to win the war.

Both of these men were very humble when they shared their stories. I enjoyed listening to them recount some of the activities they were involved in, and what they learned while serving. One thing both men encouraged was to be a part of the programs that are put on to honor our veterans, and to volunteer when you can to be a part of the history of our country. Even if many of us weren't directly serving in a military fashion, we can still join groups that still serve to remember the sacrifices our relatives and friends made when they were needed.

Kenyon will be having a presentation at the Middle High School on November 10th at 10 am. Ray Ades will be the speaker for this event. Wanamingo will be doing the program at the Wanamingo Elementary School at 1 pm. Both events are open to the public. The Kenyon/Wanamingo VFW and Honor Guards will be hosting a pancake breakfast from 7 to 9 at the Wanamingo Community Center for a free will donation on November 11th. Be sure to visit the Memorial Gardens in both towns to see the new plaques, and if you care to have your name or that of a loved one engraved onto a granite plaque, there is information on that in the info-tubes on the Memorial grounds.

Please always remember to honor our Veterans, and say thank you when and how you can. All the Vets in our area say thanks to their communities for supporting their efforts to remember those who have served. Happy Veteran's Day!