Lowell Hagen of Whitewater recently visited Camp American Legion in Lake Tomahawk for the very first time.
He's a U.S. Army veteran, having served from September 1970 until June 1973.
Hagen was a truckdriver in the Army, his tour in Vietnam spanning both 1971 and 1972.
"I hauled just about everything that a man could haul," he said.
Upon his return to the United States and discharge from the Army, he and the man who was to be the best man at his wedding bought a milk truck.
"Bought two of 'em, as a matter of fact," Hagen said. "So he could drive one and I could drive one."
From those humble beginnings, he was able to, over the course of the next several years, along with his sons and son-in-law, among others, build a pretty good business, or businesses.
"Lowell C. Hagen Trucking is the main business," Hagen said.
By design, his sons have been running the family business for four years now, but Hagen, his "nose to the grindstone" all those years after Vietnam, still helps out.
"I drove truck two or three days last week," he said with a smile. "I do some work at the shop. When you do something for 40 years and it's your baby, you just can't walk away from it. That's just really hard to do."
Hagen was one of many Vietnam War veterans and spouses who visited Camp American Legion last week.
His busy schedule over the years never allowed him much time to get to Camp American Legion.
"I've never been up here," Hagen said. "It's gorgeous up here. I didn't even know it, but the Whitewater American Legion post has a cabin. I'd love to bring the whole family up."
While last week marked Hagen's first time at Camp American Legion, another Whitewater-based Army veteran of the Vietnam War, James Kosharek, has been coming up to the camp since the early 1960s.
"My dad built the cabin from Whitewater in 1964," he said. "So, I've been coming up since I was a kid."
Kosharek, a 50-year member of the American Legion, was drafted in 1967 and he was in Vietnam during 1968 and 1969.
For the past 30 years, his time at Camp American Legion has included things like teaching his nieces and nephews how to water ski.
"That camp is ... number one," Kosharek said, getting a little emotional.
David Hubatch of Antigo served four years in the U.S. Air Force and two years in the U.S. Air Force Reserve.
He was a crew chief on a Lockheed C-130 Hercules transport aircraft, his time in Vietnam during 1966.
"It's a really good plane," Hubatch said.
This was his third year attending Camp American Legion and he said he'll keep coming back "as long as they'll let me."
"They treat you awesome here," Hubatch said. "It's Vietnam veterans week ... all fellow veterans from Vietnam. We get together and it's a wonderful time being here."
Bob Veierstahler of Oak Creek, another Army veteran, was in Vietnam during 1970 and 1971.
"I was a ground surveillance radar operator," he said. "I worked on bunker lines, trying to pick up anyone trying to come in (the base)."
Following his time in the service, Veierstahler worked for The Milwaukee Journal for over 37 years.
"I was more or less in the pre-press area," he said. "The composing area, the newsroom, doing graphics and stuff."
Like Hagen, this visit marked the first time he'd ever been to Camp American Legion.
"My sister, who's a nun, has been up here three years already," Veierstahler said, noting that his sister is a volunteer with the Veterans Administration in the Milwaukee area and talked him into coming to camp.
"It was a good move," he said.
It's people like Hagen, Kosharek, Hubatch and Veierstahler Tuesday's "Vietnam Veterans Welcome Home: the Northwoods is calling" - a special pontoon boat ride from Camp American Legion to Minocqua - was meant for.
'Simple as that'
Ten boats were involved, including those piloted by local residents who volunteered their time and their boat for the day.
There was a "pit stop" at Lakeside Bar & Grill where one of those volunteer boat captains, Minocqua Lions Club member Dean Olson, there with his new tri-toon, said the day was "very important to us."
"The Lions Club has supported the veterans ... anytime we get a chance to do something, that's one of the things the club believes in supporting," he said.
As the boats approached the U.S. Highway 51 bridge in Minocqua, there were members of the American Legion Riders, local chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America, local American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts and members of the local Marine Corps League detachment - "The Leathernecks of The North" - all on the town's fishing pier to salute the flotilla as it went by.
Escorting the boats under the bridge was an officer with the Minocqua/Woodruff boat patrol.
There was also a flyover by Tim Ashe in a single engine, vintage aircraft, a North American SNJ-5, a type used as a pilot trainer for several years by the U.S. Navy.
Ashe made four passes over the boats as they got closer to the bridge and the people below waved in acknowledgement.
The destination was The Boathouse, where the 67 veterans and spouses - including two or three Korean War veterans - along with support staff were treated to lunch.
After that, they had the opportunity to shop in downtown Minocqua for a few hours, armed with coupons courtesy of the Island Business Association before heading back to Camp American Legion.
The driving force behind the event was Minocqua resident Mike Handrick, who in the past year has been more active with Camp American Legion as a volunteer.
Before lunch was served at The Boathouse, Camp American Legion director Don Grundy told everyone gathered that Handrick had been working to put everything together - including the SNJ flyover by Ashe - since February.
"He communicated with everybody," Grundy said of Handrick. "Mike, that was fantastic."
There was a round of applause and shouts from the veterans of "Thanks, Mike!"
Handrick kept his comments brief.
"At camp and in business, we talk about our 'why' a lot," he said. "I just want you to know that, along with the volunteers and the boats ... we do what we do because you did what you did. Simple as that."
Brian Jopek may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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