August 30, 2023 at 6:00 a.m.
David Drager, of Little Sauk, came to Sauk Centre Aug. 24 with a list of names, including Roger Holler, Gary Hedin, Francis Toenyan and Anthony Mensen. He found all of them on the Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall, brought to Eagle’s Healing Nest for their annual Nest Fest.
Drager was one of the Vietnam veterans who came home; Holler, Hedin, Toenyan and Mensen did not.
“What this is doing is honoring the ones who were killed,” Drager said.
Drager knew Holler when they both attended school in Long Prairie. Holler was two years older than Drager, in the same grade with Drager’s older brother, LaMarr. Drager knew Holler as a nice person on the quiet side.
“When you’re in a small town, you know kids whether they’re in your grade or not,” Drager said. “I still talk to a lot of Roger’s close buddies.”
Holler was drafted two years before Drager and was killed May 5, 1970, right before Drager joined the Army.
“He would’ve been getting pretty close to the end of his tour in Vietnam,” Drager said. “I don’t remember if my folks sent me a letter (about his death) or if I saw it someplace. I was in Fort Leavenworth, Missouri, at the time.”
Hedin was another schoolmate of Drager’s. He was deployed with the Army to Vietnam and killed Jan. 10, 1968, in the province of Phuoc Tuy.
Toenyan was one of Drager’s neighbors who came from a large family. He was deployed to Vietnam as a Marine and was killed June 29, 1967, in the province of Quang Nam.
“He was killed when he was supposed to be coming home,” Drager said. “They were short of guys on a mission, so they sent him out, and he got killed on one of his last days in Vietnam.”
Drager himself was shipped to Vietnam in July 1970 and came home in October 1971. As he was discharged, Anthony Mensen from Sauk Centre, serving in the Army, was killed Oct. 22, 1971, in the province of Quang Ngai; Drager knew of Mensen through working with his brothers.
“I was one of the pallbearers at his funeral,” Drager said. “They wanted people with uniforms that fit, and I’d only been discharged for a few days.”
Today, Drager goes to see the Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall every chance he can, including its 50th anniversary commemoration in Wisconsin.
The arrival of the Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall Aug. 23 marked the beginning of the Nest’s annual Nest Fest. The dedication ceremony was the evening of Aug. 25, with the Clarissa and Browerville American Legions presenting the colors and providing the gun salute.
“It’s been an amazing week already of watching so many come to heal,” said Melony Butler, Eagle’s Healing Nest director. “(Veterans) are not a statistic. They’re not a project. They’re someone’s loved ones. … We made a commitment when we started that (the wall) would come here every other year. It’s important to remember. It’s important never to forget.”
The Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall also included panels commemorating those who fell in more recent conflicts.
“When they first started bringing the other memorials, that was really tough,” Butler said. “I have family and friends on those walls. A lot of our local veterans here in Minnesota have loved ones on those walls, so to watch them come through here over the course of the days it is here in Sauk Centre is really emotional because, for some of us, we attended those funerals, we supported their families and continue to do that today.”
The rest of the ceremony consisted of prayer, presentations of the armed forces and memorial wreaths, explanation of the Missing Man Table to remember prisoners of war and those missing in action, taps, special presentations, open sharing and a performance by veteran Justin Touchette, singing his song “Healing.”
It was a mission complete for Drager Aug. 24. He honored fellow military personnel who gave their lives for their country, while serving in Vietnam, including Holler, Hedin, Toenyan and Mensen.