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PI honors local men who died in Vietnam

News Photo by Julie Riddle State Rep. Sue Allor speaks to Rogers City residents at a rainy Flag Day celebration Saturday.

ROGERS CITY — A crowd of residents and visitors, umbrellas aloft, listened as 10 stories were told of 10 lives lost in service to the Stars and Stripes.

At a Flag Day ceremony Saturday on the lawn of the Presque Isle County Historical Museum in downtown Rogers City, 10 servicemen who called Presque Isle County home were remembered for their ultimate sacrifice in the Vietnam War. The ceremony, held the day after the national Flag Day commemoration on Friday, also paid honor to the traveling Vietnam Veterans’ Wall on display over the weekend at the museum annex.

After introductory remarks by Mayor Scott McLennan and countyProbate Judge Erik Stone, guest speaker State Rep. Sue Allor reminded the audience of the importance of each word of the pledge that is said so often without thought. She quoted the late Red Skelton in a word-by-word examination of the sentence Americans speak, hands over heart, pledging allegiance to the American flag and the country it represents — with liberty and justice for all, “which means it’s as much your country as it is mine,” Allor finished.

Mark Thompson, director of the Presque Isle County Historical Museum, introduced a list of the 10 local men killed during the Vietnam War — a war from which over 58,000 Americans didn’t come home. Sixty-one percent of those who died, he said, were younger than 21 years old.

“The war was fought largely by a bunch of kids,” Thompson said. “And I was one of them.”

A line of locals spoke one at a time, telling the stories of young men they used to know, still fresh in their minds decades later. They told of young 19-year-old Charles Chapman dressing as a cowboy for spirit week in high school, and John Veihl from Onaway, who grew up in a military family and wanted to do his part. They told of fighter pilots Donald Woloszyk and Fred Wozniak, both shot down and never recovered.

David Bruning, another local boy, sailed on the Munson and worked at Calcite before taking a job at Fletcher Paper and classes at Alpena Community College. He was drafted in 1967 and killed in the Tet Offensive early the next year.

The speakers told of Bob Purgiel, an amiable young man who hunted with his buddies and pitched for the local baseball team, who wrote in his girlfriend’s yearbook, “til death do us part.”

Dean Borroush, one of “the Hawks boys,” received the silver and bronze stars for valor. Before that, he played Spitzer with the guys and was Santa Claus for the speech class Christmas program.

Chet Kozdron, with his classic James Dean look, complete with cigarette pack rolled into the sleeve of his white T-shirt, slicked-back hairdo, and comb in his back pocket, was “one of the coolest guys ever to ride bus No. 9,” according to a post on an online wall, a coolness that never made it past age 22.

William Nolde of Onaway, at 44, was the oldest serviceman from Presque Isle County to die in Vietnam. He also goes down in history as the last American to die during the war. He lost his life 10 hours before the signing of the Paris Peace Accord.

Sandy McCreery didn’t have much in the way of life plans when the war started, his friend Tim Berg remembered. He married a girl, played ping pong, and figured he had lots of time to figure out what came next.

“That was the life story of so many of these guys,” Berg said, emotion choking his voice as he looked earnestly out at the audience and told them about his friend. “Please … remember them.”

Representatives of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Boy Scouts laid a wreath at the base of the half-mast American flag to commemorate the departed.

“We honor these men and the honor they have brought to our community,” Stone said, closing the ceremony as a breaking sun began to dry off the grass.

Afterward, the audience wandered to a nearby booth for a Plath’s brat, listened to a City Band concert of patriotic music, or walked across the street to visit the traveling wall. The display is the work of the Macomb chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America. The only such traveling wall in Michigan, its somber black and white squares display the names and hometowns of all servicemen and women from Michigan who marched into the Vietnam War and never came home.

Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693, jriddle@thealpenanews.com or on Twitter @jriddleX.