FAIRMONT - The rain put a damper on the bikers, but the first "Ride for Healing" brought together several Vietnam veterans and supporters here Tuesday.
"Overall, it's been a good turnout," said Lee Ulferts, state commander of the VFW. "We realize this is in the middle of the week, in the middle of the day, and it's a first-time event. But the reception we received when we started yesterday was great."
"Ride for Healing" kicked off on Memorial Day from the Capitol in St. Paul, with five different teams riding through different parts of the state to raise awareness and say thank you to Vietnam vets along the way.
"From Belle Plaine to Mankato last night, we had four riders that stuck with us when it was raining cats and dogs," Ulferts said. "But none of them were Vietnam vets; they just wanted to show their support for Vietnam vets."
The riders had dwindled by the time the team reached Fairmont, but the event is allowing bikers to pick up and leave off as they please.
"Tonight, we'll be in Fulda, and that's my hometown, so I'm expecting a big turnout," Ulferts said. "There are big rallies planned for some of the other evening events."
"Ride for Healing" is being held not only to collect funds for a National Vietnam museum in Washington, D.C., but to show proper appreciation to Vietnam vets.
"It's a welcoming back to Vietnam vets, which they didn't get," Ulferts said. "That's part of our mission. Another is that Vietnam vets are dying at a faster rate than any other generation ever. I've lost three friends in the past two years."
Exposure to deadly chemicals, such as Agent Orange, and the shunning of Vietnam vets when they first came home has taken a toll. Ulferts relates a tale of two friends in his life that he only recently learned were Vietnam veterans, because the stigma of Vietnam was so strong.
"I didn't know they served; they didn't know I served," Ulferts said. "A lot of the reason you see people supporting the troops today is because of us. We swore that we would never lose another generation like that again. When we came home, we were told to keep quiet and move along."
State Rep. Bob Gunther, R-Fairmont, and Fairmont City Council member Terry Anderson were on hand for the event. Both served in Vietnam - Gunther in the Navy, Anderson in the Army.
"I think this is a great cause," Gunther said. "The federal government is not fulfilling its promise to these veterans. When we have to collect money for a memorial for these veterans, it's a tragedy ... People are coming back with [post-traumatic stress disorder] and they aren't helping them take care of that."
Donations to Ride for Healing can be dropped off at the VFW on Albion Avenue in Fairmont, or mailed to VFW state headquarters: Rice Lake Station, Box 17146, St. Paul, MN 55117.