Five years ago a handful of Vietnam veterans got together and decided it was time to organize a local chapter. A goal of 35 members was set to meet the minimum required by VVA. Some thought that was a lofty goal, but today Northeast South Dakota Chapter 1054 has 430 members and 33 associate members.
The newly formed chapter recruited members through public service announcements and by getting articles published in local newspapers about the chapter. Members also went on radio talk shows to explain how the chapter functions and that its purpose was to help all veterans in need of a helping hand. We ordered black polo shirts embroidered with our names, the VVA logo on the front, and “Vietnam Veterans of America of Northeast South Dakota” on the back.
We looked sharp. We designed a unique color guard uniform. We marched in parades: Fourth of July, Christmas, centennial parades, 125th-year city celebrations, and small town celebrations. Usually the Chapter 1054 Color Guard leads, flanked by guards carrying M-1s or M-16s. Members and associates walk along the crowded streets handing out small American flags.
On Flag Day we received permission to distribute flags in front of five businesses with heavy customer traffic. In one day we gave away seven thousand flags. We set up kettles for donations; the money we took in paid for the flags and allowed us to buy parade flags and add funds to our program for helping veterans.
Our main fundraiser is the Elk Raffle. Tickets are sold to friends and relatives across the country. This year’s winner, Lee Braeger, was thrilled to have the chance to go elk hunting in the rugged Coteau Hills, an area known for its deep ravines covered by trees—great habitat for elk. He was accompanied by his dad, chapter member Phil Braeger.
But the chapter’s main goal is to participate in as many veterans’ funerals as possible. Our Color Guard and Honor Guard attend the funerals of veterans of all wars. The Honor Guard’s dedication is reflected in its precise march and volley of shots during the ceremony. “Taps” is played at the end.
Transportation to and from funerals and parades posed a problem as it often involved eight to ten vehicles. We investigated purchasing a 17-passenger bus. The city transportation company had a bus to sell and offered us a good deal. The chapter applied to the Watertown Community Foundation for a $5, 000 grant, which would pay for the bus plus the graphics we planned for it. The grant was approved, and now we travel in our bus emblazoned with the chapter name, flags, VVA logos, and a picture of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the back—along with a small thank-you to the foundation.
Chapter 1054 also sponsored thirty-one veterans and nineteen spouses to travel to Washington, D.C., to visit The Wall. We were inspired by Honor Flight, which arranges trips for World War II veterans. Altogether, we raised more than $20, 000 from individuals and businesses. Again, the Watertown Community Foundation came through, this time with a $9, 000 donation.
The members of Northeast South Dakota Chapter 1054 hold their heads up. They went to a war that wasn’t popular. Our welcome home wasn’t so welcoming. But due to hard work, participating in positive events and supporting all veterans, we’ve gained the community’s respect. We went to war at an early age, most in our teens and early twenties. We were told to fight in a far-off place. We went, we did a good job, and we are proud of our service.
For more information on Northeast South Dakota Chapter 1054, contact Dennis Solberg at email@example.com
BY DENNIS SOLBERG