Vietnam veteran Glenn Pederson builds memorial near Oylen; shares stories of his own experience
It’s been two years since Glenn Pederson first had the idea to build a Veterans Memorial near his home in Oylen...a place where service men and women from across the ages would be remembered.
“I put some posts in the ground but wasn’t quite sure where to go from there,” Glenn said recently, adding that for quite some time, the posts were all that he had to show for the memorial. “All of a sudden, a few months ago, I just couldn’t sleep. I knew I had to finish it.”
With the help of some friends, Glenn’s idea became a reality and for the past two months, the Veterans Memorial is one of the first things travelers along Cty Rd. 7 in Oylen see.
Six flags wave from the top of the memorial. “I’ve got one for each of the service branches (army, air force, marines, navy); there’s a MIA (Missing in Action) flag; and one from the 4th Infantry Division from Vietnam, which I was a part of,” Glenn said.
A majestic eagle, designed by a carver from Park Rapids, is perched in the center; and the message, ‘God Bless America’ stretches the length of the memorial.”My neighbor, Doug Hart, is a welder and he helped me with that,” Glenn said.
In addition, two wooden banners hang at each end of the structure, inscribed with the messages, “Home of the Free Because of the Brave;” and “We don’t know them all, but we owe them all.”
A Vietnam veteran himself, Glenn said he “wanted to do something for my buddies that didn’t come back and for the ones I didn’t know.”
“Hopefully, when people drive by, it will mean something,” Glenn went on, adding that he hopes it will be a place where veterans and non-veterans alike can stop to remember those who have served their country.
Perhaps the memorial will stimulate conversation about past and present wars; and encourage veterans to share their stories...something Glenn had not been able to do for decades.
“This is the first I’ve talked about it,” Glenn said of the 12 months he served in Vietnam over 48 years ago.
“Nobody asked me about it when I got home,” he went on, looking out at the pasture once owned by his grandparents, Glenn and Ann Pederson. “Everything went on like nothing ever happened, so I just never said anything.”
Maybe it was the completion of the veterans memorial that triggered his memories and gave him permission to speak. He’s not really sure, Glenn says, but it feels like the right time to give voice to the ghosts from the past he’s kept quiet for so long.
“I was drafted in June of 1968,” Glenn said. “I was a very young 18 year old...didn’t know anything about the war.”
Prior to boarding the plane bound for Vietnam (his first airplane ride ever), the Sebeka High School alumnus had spent his time helping out at the family farm, hanging out with his buddies and fishing in the Crow Wing River.
That all changed in an instant.
Glenn remembers first traveling to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, where he joined other army recruits for training. From there, he underwent advanced training at Fort Polk, Louisiana.
“After that, they shipped us to Vietnam,” Glenn said. “We got in the plane and flew for hours and hours before landing in Cam Ranh Bay...that’s where the base camp was.”
His first impression was that he didn’t see a lot going on.
“The next day, we got in a C1-47 (military aircraft) and flew to another base,” Glenn recalled, adding they were told that, “tomorrow, you’ll go out to where your companies are stationed.”
The following morning, Glenn’s unit was shipped to the LZ (Landing Zone) Mile High site. “They dropped us off there on top of a mountain.”
That’s when “everything changed,” Glenn said. “There was no more partying, this wasn’t gloryland. We were right there with all the fighting. This was a war zone.”
He recounted being a part of the Recon Infantry as a foot soldier. As part of an early assignment, Glenn was sent to an area at night to patrol for enemies. “You’d be there all night long and come back in the morning to report what you saw. It was scary there at night,” he said, mentioning that on his third night out, illumination rounds were shot.
Shortly after, Glenn’s captain asked if he would be willing to work as a gunner, utilizing a Four-deuce mortar. There were some nights he’d shoot 200 - 300 rounds of ammunition, Glenn recalled. Although the situation was still scary, it was better than being a part of the recon unit, Glenn said.
“It was always scary, but we didn’t want to show it,” Glenn said.
He remembers trudging through rice fields and the jungle when his unit was transferred to another area, setting up camp where the enemy was expected to be. “We’d have to put all of our belongings into the helicopter...too big to carry.”
When the call came that the enemy had arrived, it was time to get the mortars set up.
“I saw some terrible things,” Glenn said, recounting the times he saw someone on his squad injured. “When the helicopter came and picked up your buddy...” Glenn went on, his voice trailing off with the memory. “It would make your soul sick.”
He recalled seeing one soldier die after the helicopter he was boarding got stuck in the mud and fell over on him. “It was his last day to be out in the field...he was getting ready to go home.”
Glenn was never injured, he said. “I was one of the lucky ones.”
They may not have been physical, but Glenn had plenty of scars when he returned from Vietnam.
When he flew into Washington D.C., Glenn remembers the welcome at the airport was not a warm one. “Some people threw rocks at us. That was rough.”
Nobody thanked him for serving. “I think that’s what hurts the most. Instead, people told me I should have dodged the draft.”
It makes him happy that veterans of recent wars are given the respect that they deserve, including applause when they arrive home. “We never had any of that. It was total silence. I’ve carried that silence with me until today.”
Even his family remained silent. They were stoic Norwegians who didn’t know how to talk about their feelings, Glenn said of his parents, Elmer and Irene.
He didn’t know how to cope with all that he had seen in Vietnam, of all that he was feeling from the war’s aftermath. “I went to drinking,” Glenn said, adding that he went through a time of deep depression. “I drank for eight or nine years before I went to treatment.”
Without the help he received in treatment, Glenn’s not sure where he would be today. He learned that there is a higher power he can depend on. He also learned how to deal with the emotions that he’d kept pent up for so long.
“Big, tough guys aren’t supposed to cry, but I tell you, I’ve done plenty of it,” Glenn said.
He’s in a good place right now, Glenn went on, expressing gratitude for the support of his wife, Brenda; their five children (collectively) and grandchildren.
After several years living in Blaine (where Glenn worked as a bricklayer), the Pedersons moved back to the Oylen area. “I had bought this land from my grandparents with money saved while I was in Vietnam,” Glenn said, adding that they built a new house on the property when they retired.
“It’s peaceful out here...quiet,” Glenn said. “I like to watch the birds and the other wildlife.”
He thanks God every day that he made it back from Vietnam alive and that’s he’s been given the opportunity to give back by building the veterans memorial.
“I want everyone to remember the sacrifice these soldiers made,” Glenn said.
It won’t bring back the veterans that died at war, but Glenn hopes the memorial will help bring comfort to those who have lost a loved one.
“I met a guy from Spicer who came all the way up here because he heard about this memorial. He had lost his son and was so happy that this was here.”
In addition to those who have died, Glenn wants to pay tribute to those veterans who are still with us. “Like my step-daughter, Shannon Farber...she served in Iraq,” he shared.
Hopefully, the memorial will be a place where veterans will feel at home...a place where they feel safe enough to share their stories. After nearly five decades, Glenn is ready to join the conversation.