Cerro Gordo County Iowa
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 The Globe-Gazette
Mason City, Cerro Gordo County, IowaFebruary 14, 2015

Forest City has history of welcoming home veterans
by Sam Jefson for the Globe Gazette

FOREST CITY -- Operation LZ is an event designed to give Vietnam Veterans a welcome home and thank you-reception at the Forest City airport. Committee members from a nine-county area have been planning the event scheduled for Aug. 26-30.

The concept of having a welcome home for Vietnam veterans in the area is a new idea, but the idea of honoring veterans is not. "Forest City has a long history of supporting veterans," said Operation LZ committee member Riley Lewis.

Area historian Carol Whiteis recently discovered evidence to illustrate this support. Shortly after Armistice Day in 1918, The Forest City Independent printed a story describing a welcome home celebration planned for soldiers who served in World War I.

The Independent called the event something "never before attempted in the United States."

It took place on July 4, 1919, and was designed to show veterans and families appreciation for what veterans, "have done to make it possible to form a league of nations to promote and enforce peace in the world for all time."

A picnic dinner of 50 roast pigs, 100 roasted fowl, 1,000 loaves of bread and 10,000 buns was planned. Coffee and real red lemonade was also available "by the barrel."

All of the food was free.

The Forest City Summit reported guest speakers for the day were Capt. C.J. Jackson and Col. Dan M. Smith.

Jackson was from Des Moines and enlisted in the Canadian army. He served as the commanding officer of a battalion and was on the front lines from 1915 to 1919.

The Summit said he was "out of the line only while convalescing in hospitals."

Jackson was behind enemy lines for 42 days. He and five other members in his party survived by submerging themselves in mud at the bottom of a shell crater.

The other guest speaker was Col. Smith who served in the "Battalion of Death."

Other events during the celebration included wrestling matches, horse races, tractor races, a baseball game, pie eating contest and sack races.

The day concluded with fireworks the Summit called "the largest display in this section of the state." The paper went on to say, "even Clear Lake and a number of other towns are unable to procure a display of fireworks (for July 4 because Forest City used so many)."

More than 95 years later, Operation LZ committee members are working on an event that follows a similar schedule. Expected guest speakers are Gov. Terry Branstad and Navy Lt. Commander Larry Spencer. Other planned activities include food, music and a stunt plane show.

The event will feature Huey helicopter rides, the Vietnam Traveling Wall and guest speakers.

This year marks the 40-year anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War and the purpose is to give a welcome home to veterans that some never received.

More information about this summer's event can be found at operationlz.com.

Sam Jefson is a reporter for the Forest City Summit, like the Globe Gazette, a Lee Enterprises newspaper.
Photographs courtesy of Albert Lea Tribune
Transcription by Sharon R. Becker, March of 2016

August 27, 2015

Vietnam Traveling Wall Memorial travels to Operation LZ
by Emily Boster

KIMT News 3 – When military members arrived home from the Vietnam War, they did not get a welcome like many see today. Instead, the veterans shared stories of being spit on, and called names, but that’s changing.

These veterans are finally getting the welcome home they deserve, through what’s called Operation LZ. “We were trashed when we come home and now this is such an appreciation. I just don’t know what to say,” Kenneth Coe from Ventura said through tears, as the Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall pulled into Heritage Park in Forest City.

Coe is one of hundreds of Vietnam veterans trying to soak in the first day of Operation LZ. The day didn’t start in Forest City though. It began on Interstate 35 where men and women lined up on overpasses from the Boondocks truck stop to Forest City to watch the motorcade bringing the Vietnam Wall replica to the celebration. “It’s honoring our veterans, and all our comrades,” Joe Redig from Forest City said.

Redig joined the escort to town by motorcycle, but his first stop was the B-20 overpass where he gathered with others to see those escorting the Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall. “We were never really welcomed home, and this is our day,” Redig said.

“It’s big, it’s a day we, I never thought Vietnam veterans would have a day, a welcoming home,” Jay Lee from Mason City said.

For veterans like Coe, not only is he remembering what he went through, but is hoping to connect with those he became close with while serving. “I was a[n] OV-1 Mohawk crew chief and one of our pilots is going to be here this weekend, I hope to find him somewhere today,” Coe said. He says he hasn’t seen his captain from Georgia for more than 40 years. “I just want them to appreciate what everybody did for him, and the 58,000 guys on that wall that died for us,” Coe said.

We’ll have extensive coverage of Operation LZ through Sunday.

The Globe Gazette
Mason City, Cerro Gordo, Iowa
August 26, 2015

Vietnam Memorial Wall arrives in Forest City
by Ray Yost

FOREST CITY - The Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall contains the names of thousands of soldiers who died in the Vietnam War.

"I know some of the guys," World War II veteran Dick Johnson of Forest City said Wednesday. "I know some of the kids on that wall."

Johnson was one of hundreds of people who watched Wednesday as the Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall passed through Forest City on its way to the Winnebago WIT rally grounds. The wall will be part of Operation LZ that runs through Sunday in Forest City.

Operation LZ is a welcome back for Vietnam veterans who didn't receive a formal welcome back or thanks when they returned from the controversial war.

"Vietnam was the worst place. I don't know how to say it, but it was the worst place we ever got into," Johnson said.

Dennis Black made three trips to Vietnam while serving in the Navy during the Vietnam War. On Wednesday, Black, of Buffalo Center, traveled to Forest City to greet the arrival of the Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall.

"This is just the right thing to do," Black said. "We saw some pretty rough times when we came back from Vietnam," Black said. "It was a rough time."

Black was in Forest City with his wife Donetta, son-in-law Mike Eliason and Eliason's son Dale and Colton, all of Buffalo Center.

"I'm here to honor the veterans and to see the wall and motorcycles," said Dalton Eliason, 12.

Residents lined U.S. Highway 69 in Forest City to greet the wall. Others were on Iowa Highway 9 in eastern Forest City and along Highway 9 between Forest City and Hanlontown to watch the wall travel to Forest City.

"They sacrificed their lives for us. You have to support it," Dorothy Dallman of Britt said.

Albert Lea Tribune
Albert Lea, Minnesota
Monday, August 31, 2015

Operation LZ recognizes Vietnam War veterans, families
By Colleen Harrison

FOREST CITY — A welcome home 40 years overdue.

That’s what Vietnam War veterans were meant to receive from Operation LZ at Heritage Park in Forest City over the weekend.

Operation LZ — or Operation Landing Zone — was an idea conceived by a group of north Iowans from nine counties, led by Riley Lewis, Jack Caputo, Mark Frakes, Leon Christianson, Dave Kingland and Bob Havner, who decided to host a local event where all those who served in all services from 1962 through 1975 were honored and thanked. The committee of 25 from the nine counties raised funds from over 100 individuals, businesses and six county governments.

Winnebago Industries Rally Grounds, Heritage Park and Forest City Jet Airport also offered the free use of their facilities.

Activities included viewing the traveling Vietnam memorial wall, seeing military aircraft, tethered hot air balloon rides and air shows, among others. The event was meant for veterans to bring family, friends and community to receive honor and thanks.

The Vietnam War was a long, costly armed conflict that pitted the communist regime of North Vietnam and its southern allies, known as the Viet Cong, against South Vietnam and its principal ally, the United States. The divisive war, increasingly unpopular in the U.S., ended with the withdrawal of U.S. forces in 1973 and the unification of Vietnam under communist control two years later, when the war was officially said to have ended. More than 3 million people — including 58,000 Americans — were killed in the conflict.

For Albert Lea Vietnam War veteran Larry Lahs, the weekend celebration was a welcome change from the reception he first received when he returned home from Vietnam in 1969.

Lahs, now 72, first enlisted in the Army in 1961 and made a 20-year career out of his service before retiring in 1981. Over his years of service he was stationed in various parts of the U.S., as well as in Germany and Korea. He was first sent over to Vietnam in May 1968 and moved around to various parts of the country until he returned to the U.S. in April 1969.

“That’s not something you forget,” he said, when asked if he could recall the dates of his Vietnam tour of duty.

Lahs was originally trained to operate radar in conjunction with Nike Hercules missiles as a part of air defense. When he got to Vietnam, he said he was involved in air defense for all of three days until he was transferred to a supply unit. He eventually put in for a transfer that would put him in the 8th Battalion of the 26th Artillery, where he worked in a TAB — or target acquisition battery.

To this day, Lahs said he still has flashbacks to being in Vietnam. For years after he was back in the U.S. living with his wife, Mary, she’d tell him of the nights he’d wake her up screaming in his sleep — something he never remembered doing.

“I lay in bed and shut my eyes, and I’m back there,” he said. “It takes time… I saw a lot, but you have to keep on moving.”

When Lahs first returned to the U.S., he said he and the other soldiers with him were greeted by protestors who spit on them as they left an airport in Fort Lewis, Washington. Later on, when he eventually tried to join a VFW, he was told by a World War II veteran, “We don’t want your kind.”

Lahs said the stigma surrounding the unpopular war was largely why he, as well as other veterans, didn’t talk about their experiences. For a time, he said he developed a drinking problem as a result of trying to self-medicate.

After more than 53 years of marriage, Lahs said he still hasn’t talked about the war to his wife at all, and has only talked about some of it with his adult son once.

He said a good deal of his residual issues from his service weren’t triggered until the start of the Iraq War in the mid-2000s. Lahs dropped about 40 pounds and said he constantly felt depressed and that his flashbacks were more prevalent than ever. In 2005 he was diagnosed with pretraumatic stress disorder, which is similar to post-traumatic stress disorder, but the reliving of traumatic events or episodes occur before the stressful situation ever takes place. Essentially, Lahs was reliving the trauma he survived in Vietnam because he felt the Iraq War was similarly unnecessary and would be increasingly unpopular — similar enough to dredge up old feelings from his combat experience. He was prescribed Prozac to combat the effects.

Lahs said he was going to go down to Operation LZ on Saturday, where he planned to visit the traveling memorial wall. He said he had a friend who died during his time in Vietnam while trying to take a woman and child to the safety of a bunker during a mortar attack. Lahs said witnessing that event in January 1969 was so traumatic that he can’t remember the man’s name, but hoped that seeing the names on the memorial wall might help him remember. He plans to go to Washington, D.C., for the first time in September to finally see the actual Vietnam Memorial, as well.

“This is going to help, a lot,” Lahs said of the Operation LZ weekend.

He said he hopes the weekend will help other veterans, of the Vietnam War and others, realize that they’re not alone.

“Join veterans organizations, they’re there to help,” he said. “You don’t have to feel alone, and you can’t do this by yourself.”

Photographs courtesy of Albert Lea Tribune
Transcription by Sharon R. Becker, March of 2016

The Leader
Garner - Britt - Kanawaha, Iowa
Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Vietnam Memorial Wall arrives in Forest City
by Rebecca Peter

FOREST CITY – The downpour of rain Friday afternoon may have been only slightly reminiscent of monsoons in rice paddies for veterans of the Vietnam War. By Saturday, any resemblance was gone. Thousands of veterans turned out for the “welcome home” they did not receive upon returning home in the wake of a controversial war that ended 40 years ago.

Operation LZ was held Aug. 26-30 at Forest City. The five-day event featured displays and activities, including the Vietnam Traveling Wall Memorial.

For veterans attending the event, it was a time to heal and remember comrades who died during the conflict. For others it was a chance to say “thank you” to the men and women who served their country during a tumultuous era.

Saturday’s “welcome home” program included Gov. Terry Branstad, retired Lt. Gen. Dennis Hejlik, Lt. Commander Larry Spencer, and retired Major General James T. Jackson.

Gov. Terry Branstad was a Vietnam-era draftee. He served as Army policeman at Fort Bragg, N.C. “You never received the kind of welcome and homecoming you deserved,” Branstad said. “This is a small way for us to say thank you. We’re proud of you. We appreciate your great service to this country.”

Lt. Commander Larry Spencer of Carroll, Iowa, served aboard the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise. On a mission over North Vietnam, he was forced to eject and was taken as a Prisoner of War on Feb. 18, 1966. Spencer spent the next seven years as a POW in the “Hanoi Hilton.”

“Over the years many people have told me, that the happiest time in their life when they look back are those years, they were in the military,” Spencer said.

“As I thought about that, one of the reasons is, in today’s world when we’re bombarded by inputs from all different directions, it’s pretty unique to have a group of people trying to accomplish the same goal.” “As you come home and start your civilian life, you don’t suddenly throw a switch and forget all those experiences and lessons you learned in the military,” Spencer continued. “You do your job as best you can and you accept those things that come along the way.”

Read the complete story in the Sept. 2. Leader and Sept. 3 Kanawha Reporter. More photos on Facebook.

Photographs courtesy of KIMT News 3 & The Globe-Gazette
Transcriptions by Sharon R. Becker, March of 2016; updated November of 2016

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