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Local veterans, public join in and welcome statewide Ride for Healing to Bemidji

Members of the "Ride for Healing" were escorted Wednesday night into Bemidji by 26 local veterans on motorcycles, along with members of the Paul Bunyan Vintage Car Club. The ride culminates in a large celebration in Brainerd on Friday to honor the service of Vietnam veterans. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI — Vietnam veterans were at last given a formal welcome home here Wednesday night during the statewide "Ride for Healing" event.

Bruce Malterud, commander of the local Veterans of Foreign Wars post, organized the pit stop in Bemidji and said he was happy to do it.

"I just tried to get the word out and get the community together to give a welcome home the Vietnam vets never got," said Malterud, who served a term in Vietnam and returned to the U.S. in 1967. "Communicating with everyone and getting this thing going has been great."

With more than 40 Vietnam veterans taking part in Wednesday’s recognition program at the National Guard Armory, Vietnam veteran Steve Peterson said he was pleased for such a turnout.

"It’s nice that we’re finally accepted and can honor each other now," Peterson said. "I can remember the day I came home from serving; we had eggs thrown at us."

Riding from Wilton to Bemidji, the veterans were escorted by area motorcycle and classic car groups.

"Ride for Healing" is a statewide event that began in St. Paul on Monday. Groups of motorcycles and classic courts have been traveling to the four corners of the state before they meet up in the Brainerd area Friday for two days of events.

Upon arriving Wednesday, the public greeted riders with applause and comments of gratitude.

Among the team serving the meal at the Armory, Dave Christianson, post senior vice commander of the VFW, described the significance of the event as "appreciative."

"It means a lot because when we came back the first time, it felt like we had done something no one appreciated," Christianson said.

For Tyrone Fairbanks, the sacrifices serviceman face when enlisting in the military is not something he under appreciates. Fairbanks, who served in the U.S. Marines from 2008-2012, comes from a long line of veterans.

Showing his support for the Vietnam veterans, Fairbanks, 23, showcased an Eagle Staff that commemorates each family member’s service to the country.

"I feel humbled to be a part of this tradition," Fairbanks said. "It’s great to know that I’m not alone and know we have all served our part in the country."

Receiving an overwhelming response from area Vietnam veterans, Malterud’s experience in organizing the Bemidji event has "been nothing but emotional."

"The further I got into organizing the thing and talking with these people (Vietnam vets), it gets really emotional and brings back a lot of memories," Malterud said, adding that many were giving he and other veterans hugs Wednesday, something which he says "feels good" to know people care.

"After today, there will hopefully be relief for us, as we (Vietnam veterans) don’t really talk about it."

Article by Trent Opstedahl a reporter for the Bemidji Pioneer. topstedahl@bemidjipioneer. com