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Little Canada breaks ground on Veterans Memorial
Committee chair Rocky Waite reflects on local vets’ stories
Oakdale already has one at City Hall, North St. Paul is working on one, and there’s one at the fairgrounds in Falcon Heights. Not wanting to be outdone by neighboring cities, Little Canada has also undertaken the challenge of erecting a monument to honor local war veterans.
The memorial will be built at Veterans Memorial Park (formerly Round Lake Park) just south of where Market Place Drive meets Little Canada Road.
A groundbreaking ceremony for the memorial was held June 9 with several veterans, family members, city officials and local legislators in attendance.
The project was originally expected to cost $75,000, but is now projected to be about $150,000. The memorial is being funded almost entirely by private donations, with the exception of an estimated $58,000 coming from the city to install a sidewalk and parking bay on Little Canada Road.
Despite having to raise additional funds, Rocky Waite, chair of the city’s Veterans Memorial Committee, says the sky’s the limit.
The current plans include a scenic trail along the lakeshore leading into the park with a bench honoring war dogs, as well as dedicated paver bricks and a curved limestone wall engraved with the insignia of each branch of the military.
Waite, a Vietnam War veteran, says he’d like to add a water feature and patio area specifically honoring Vietnam vets.
“We’ll see,” he said. “So much is as we go.”
According to the city’s website, the purpose of the memorial is to provide a “place of remembrance and reflection to honor all of those who have served or are serving our country in the military.”
Waite, who has a personal interest in the Vietnam War due to his service there in the late 1960s, has looked into the background of a number of local Vietnam soldiers who died in action. The memorial, he says, will be a way to properly honor their service and sacrifice.
Remembering Little Canada’s Vietnam vets
Waite has investigated in-depth the stories of four soldiers with ties to Little Canada who died in action during the Vietnam War. Several of them, he says, have uncommon circumstances surrounding their deaths.
“They’re all four strange [cases],” said Waite, who utilized the Coffelt Database of Vietnam Casualties and Little Canada Historical Society to conduct his research.
Spc.4 Ronald Alphonse Krebsbach of Little Canada was 20 when he died in Vietnam. He was a medic, like Waite, and attended St. John’s School. Krebsbach married a local girl, Waite said, and his daughter was born just three weeks after he was killed in 1970. Krebsbach’s wife and daughter are still in the area, Waite added, and are helping support the memorial.
Another veteran, Staff Sgt. Robert Edward Mishuk, wasn’t necessarily a Little Canada resident, Waite explained, but his parents were, and are now buried at St. John’s Catholic Cemetery. Mishuk went missing in Vietnam in 1966 after going swimming at the mouth of the Cua Viet River with two fellow soldiers.
“They found three pairs of boots, three uniforms and three M16’s, but no guys,” Waite said.
Records state the men are presumed drowned, but Waite’s theory is the three men were discovered by the Viet Cong. A letter sent to Mishuk’s parents in 1966 states there was an ongoing search for the men, but they were eventually declared dead nine years later in 1975.
Pfc. David Joseph Kern has “the story of all stories,” according to Waite. Kern grew up in a foster home “just across the street” from where the Veterans Memorial will be constructed, Waite said.
“From what I gathered, it wasn’t a nice place to live,” Waite added, so Kern ran away when he was a teen.
Some time later, he befriended Chuck (also known as “Chaz”) Johnson, who invited him to stay with his family. Kern lived with the Johnsons for about a year and a half before he was drafted. He was killed in Vietnam just 15 months later at age 23.
Kern is buried at St. John’s Cemetery, and his funeral was described in intimate detail in an April 17, 1966, St. Paul Pioneer Press article entitled “Orphan Soldier Finds Final Home.”
“Little Canada’s soldier boy had earned a place of dignity in his own home at last,” the final sentence of the story reads.
Misspelling at Gilbertson Field
Another one of Little Canada’s more well-known Vietnam vets who died in action is Spc.5 Alan Dale Gilbertson. In fact, the baseball field located next to Spooner Park was dedicated to the 20-year-old veteran in July 1972, just a year after his death.
A dedication plaque is attached to the Gilbertson Field sign. However, Gilbertson’s first name is misspelled as “Allen,” a glaring error Waite says he’s pointed out to city officials.
“There’s obviously not a lot of respect for the guy if you can’t spell his name right and display it properly,” Waite said.
Waite said he’s been in contact with Gilbertson’s siblings about the issue, but has received little response.
“I haven’t heard much from them,” he explained. “They’re more of the mindset that he’s gone, and been gone for 40 years.”
City forms memorial committee
Waite says his interest in documenting and honoring war veterans sprouted when he returned to the U.S. in 1968.
“The seed was planted the day I left Vietnam,” the former Army medic explained. “It was a somber plane ride. We were all excited to come home, of course, but I didn’t like leaving my military family. I can’t help but feel like I left my guys behind.”
Waite says veterans at the time weren’t given much in the way of homecoming support.
“There were no welcome homes. Guys get more of that now, but a year or so later it’s the same,” he said, adding that he hopes the memorial will help fill that gap.
After reading several books about the Vietnam War, Waite said he decided to take action to get some sort of local monument started.
“In November 2012, I went to the (Little Canada) city council to ask about a veterans memorial. I didn’t know what it was going to turn out like. They asked me what I wanted it to look like!”
So the city formed the Veterans Memorial Committee, which includes members of the historical society, city council and residents. The first meeting was held in January 2013, and plans have grown and changed numerous times since then, Waite said.
“Everyone on the committee had their own design ideas,” he explained.
Fundraising, fundraising, fundraising
Above all, Waite said, raising funds is the hardest part of the project.
“I always tell people you can donate $1 to $50,000,” Waite explained. “And the closer it is to $50,000, the happier I’ll be.”
At the end of April, the memorial project was awarded a nearly $10,000 grant from the Minnesota Legacy Fund. Several businesses, like Frattalone’s and Grant Barrette Company, have also stepped up to donate their services toward constructing the memorial, which will be built in phases.
Additionally, the Veterans Memorial Committee will have a booth set up in conjunction with the historical society at Canadian Days Aug. 1-3.
Mayor Bill Blesener praised the committee’s “excellent work” on the project.
“The committee did a fantastic job and it’s a great location,” Blesener said. “I’m very, very in favor of the memorial.”
A ribbon-cutting ceremony is tentatively planned for Nov. 11, Veterans’ Day. Waite hopes to have it done before then, however.
“It’ll never be [completely] done, but it’ll get done,” he joked.
For more information about the Little Canada Veterans Memorial, visit http://bit.ly/1ryGK9d.
Johanna Holub can be reached at email@example.com or 651-748-7813. Follow her on Twitter @jholubnews.