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Two area veterans honored at new Minnesota Military Family Tribute on the grounds of the Minnesota Capitol Mall

Farmers Independent of Bagley, Minnesota

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There has been a proliferation of Veterans' Memorials in the U.S. This includes those new ones in Clearwater County (Gonvick, Clearbrook aad Bagley). We can add one more important, but little advertised memorial located on the Minnesota Capitol Mall that featured a groundbreaking ceremony in March 2015.

With Veterans Day celebrations coming up on Nov. 11, we want to acknowledge this new state memorial and what it means to our local counties.

First of all, this Minnesota Military Family Tribute (MFT) has been built with donations from across the state. It is the brainchild of a group of citizens led by Teri E. Popp. What is unique about this memorial is that it contains "Story Stones." Each of the state's 87 counties will have a stone and each stone will have excerpts etched into them from correspondence sent between soldiers and family members during the time they served in the military. Information on this was placed in area newspapers last November. The purpose of these Story Stones is a forever "Thank You" to each spouse, significant other, child, parent, grandparent, sibling, or a former member of the military.

Many letters sent home from throughout the different wars were submitted, and one letter was chosen for each county. "Please note: all inscription choices are final and were determined by a jury process of representatives from the MFT (a non-profit entity), the Minnesota State Department of Administration, the Minnesota State Capitol Board, and the Minnesota State History Center. As laid out in the 'Guidelines for Story Stone Inscription Submissions, 'juried decisions may not be appealed." (a note from MFT President Teri Popp dated Sept. 22, 2015).

The committee that decided the inscription for the Polk County stone chose the excerpts from Franklin Buer of Trail. His letter to his parents in 1966 from the jungles of Vietnam contained these words, "Here's what I want, some good home-baked cookies, that's all I want." The Buer family kept most of the letters he sent home from Vietnam

Franklin Buer, 70, is the eldest of four children born to Olaf and Zona Buer of rural Gonvick. He was a farm kid who attended school and graduated in 1963 from Gonvick High School. After high school, Frank worked for his great uncles Gilbert, Alvin and Carl Wenneberg, who taught him how to do mechanical things and to weld. He worked on old tractors, old cars, and steam engines. Now, in his retirement, he still enjoys working on old machinery. He added, "My Uncle Alvin introduced me to Rollag, Minn., where they still run old machinery."

He was drafted into the U.S. Army in September 1965 where he received his basic training at Ft. Leonard Wood and advanced training at Fort Ord, Calif. He noted, "I was inducted into the Army at the same time with Johnny Sundquist of Gonvick and Dennis Nelson of Clearbrook. Both of them were killed in action in Vietnam. I took the train from Bemidji to Fort Ord, Calif., where I trained for combat duty in the 81 millimeter mortar section. Afterward, we boarded the U.S. John R. Pope ship and went to Vietnam. During that trip, it took 17 days to reach Okinawa, and one day later we were part of the landing crafts on the white sand beaches of Vietnam."

Next, his unit traveled by truck into Pleiku, Vietnam and set up a base camp.

They had to spend a lot of time in the jungle and did observation on the Ho Chi Minh Trail ~ anything that came down the trail, they were in contact with the Air Force and their B52s.

Frank recalled, "We could not tell a friend from an enemy because they worked in our camp during the day and shot at us during the night. We were located close to the Chupong Mountains. We operated out of the mountains and heavy jungle. During the dry season, the temperatures reached 120 degrees in the daytime and the humidity was horrible — no way to stay cool. During the monsoon season, we'd get around 250 inches of rain. We were wet most of the time. The U.S. helicopters dropped dry clothes to us about every five days. It was nasty." The stress and elements plus Agent Orange took its toll as Frank had his first grand mal seizure. Those seizures continued until 1975. The military denied that the war conditions had caused them. It was during this time in 1966 that he wrote home about not feeling well and wishing for some homemade cookies for Christmas. Besides his wish for cookies, he wrote, "I'm feeling a little better today. I have a headache, my jaws ache, and I feel weak. The medics don't even know what happened to me." Frank explained, "After I got home and didn't have that stress, my seizures quit and I haven't had one for 40 years."

Another letter that he sent home from Vietnam is dated Dec. 13, 1966. "Sgt. Turner, me, and a couple of other guys went out and got Dan (Nolff) during the firefight. He was hit in the arm, leg, and twice in the back. I talked to him in the morning and he knew me. In the afternoon, they took him out by helicopter. He made it as far as the hospital room. Everybody sure misses Dan, especially in the weapons platoon." (He also included the address of Dan's parents so his own parents could write a sympathy note to them.)

Frank came home on June 14, 1967. Because of seizures, he said, "I didn't drive for several years after getting home from Vietnam. Dad and several others drove for me until 1975."

After returning home, he bought the Hollace Gustafson farm located across the road from his parents in rural Gonvick. He worked for Dean and Irvin Godtland at Dean's Service in Gonvick from 1970 to 1986.

He met his future wife Margie when she worked at the Village Inn for Mamma Gallo in Gonvick. Frankie came into her inn to eat at noon and they became acquainted. Frank smiled, "We will be celebrating our 40th wedding anniversary this year. They raised two kids — Buddy and Holly — and now have grandkids. Frank and Margie moved to a smaller estate just outside Trail in 2004, and son Buddy purchased their farm.

Both he and his wife enjoy quilting — especially in the winter time. They make one quilt a year. Frank added, "In the wintertime is the only time that my hands are clean and free of grease from working on cars or tractors. We like gardening, pawn shopping, sewing, family, tinkering with machinery, and traveling."

As to memories of his war experience, he said, "Some of the sights, smells, and sounds still cause me to react after 47 years."

He said, "My letters were submitted to Les Goodwin, the Veterans Service Officer in Polk County, and a sentence from one of mine was chosen. That is a real honor to represent Polk County on the Story Stones. We have been to see them on the Minnesota Capitol Mall this past summer."

According to Clearwater County Veterans Service officer Harry Hutchens, the inscription on the Story Stone for Clearwater County comes from a letter written by Dr. John Stevens of Gonvick, who was sent to France in World War I. The letter is to his friend Jack Anderson. It is dated Dec. 16, 1918. "Dear Jack, Perhaps you would like to know what we are doing in France now that the fighting is over. Mostly, we are trying to keep dry and warm."

He continues in his letter: "No one can describe a battle or even a bombardment. One is too busy in one way or another to make any note of what is going on other than in his immediate vicinity. As for being scared, I knew I was and imagine most of the others were, too. But we appreciated that the other fellow was probably more scared, so we just went with it. In gas attacks, too, it was beastly, and I have worn my mask when it seemed that I absolutely take it off, yet I knew to do so meant certain death. Many did and paid the penalty. But the number of wounded and gassed were awful at times and not pleasant to dwell on."

Dr. John Stevens was bom on Nov. 26, 1875, a native son of Maine. He studied internal medicine at the University of Minnesota and graduated in 1904. He was a classmate of the late Dr. P.C. Bjorneby, doctor and mayor of Bagley both before and after World War I. Before coming to Gonvick, he practiced medicine in Maryland where he met and married his wife Bessie Marden, who fell victim to the influenza epidemic in 1919 and died. Later, Dr. Stevens married Mabel Newman of Gonvick, a medical technician who worked in his office. Dr. Stevens died in 1947 and is buried in the Samhold Lutheran Church cemetery in Gonvick. Besides his medical work, Dr. Stevens was active in civic affairs in Gonvick, serving as mayor, commander of the American Legion, and president of the Gonvick Community Club.

He served in World War I from 1917-1919. He was father to two sons — Frederick and John. According to old timers in Gonvick, in the early days such as the 1920s the roads were very poor and Dr. Stevens got around to his patients via horse and carriage. For fun Dr. Stevens and his friend Les Reimer liked to go fishing in Canada for a few days at a time in the summer. He is credited with encouraging Roy Slagerman to build a drugstore in Gonvick and for Arthur Neujhar to build one in Bagley. These two places provided a place for him to get some medicines. There is not much more available history about Dr. Stevens.

As for the other 85 stones representing the other 85 counties, you may visit the website of this new memorial at visit the newly built Minnesota State Capitol Mall in St. Paul.

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Original Publication Date: November 4, 2015

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