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Volunteer veterans visit hospitalized vets at Sanford Health

While this is a week to thank and remember the service and sacrifice of military veterans, for one hospital volunteer in Fargo, every day is Veterans Day.

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Al Nielsen, a volunteer with Sanford's Veterans Ambassador Program, salutes Thief River Falls veteran, Ron Winter.
Ryan Longnecker / WDAY News
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FARGO — Al Nielsen carried an important list with him as he walked the halls of Sanford Health.

"Of the 24 that I should try and visit, I'll probably end up visiting, maybe, 15 or 16," Nielsen said, referencing the list of veterans he meets as part of Sanford's veteran ambassador program.

First on his list was Vietnam War veteran Gary Rachuy, a longtime teacher in Warroad, Minnesota.

"I'm Al Nielson. I'm here to say thank you for your service," Nielsen said as he saluted Rachuy.

Nielson, who grew up in Rugby, North Dakota, was in the U.S. Army Reserves as a medic during the Vietnam War.

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"The places that I went to when I was in the reserve was Fitzsimons Army Hospital in Denver, which was a primary burn area. (W)e worked with a lot of veterans from Vietnam," Nielsen said.

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Nielsen also had a twin brother who served in Vietnam and suffered from Agent Orange, so meeting veterans like Vietnam War veteran Ron Winter of Thief River Falls is why he volunteers.

"It's some way to just give back a little bit," Nielsen said.

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Ron Winter, a Vietnam Veteran, returns the salute to veteran volunteer, Al Nielsen at Sanford.
Ryan Longnecker / WDAY News

For the veterans, it means talking with someone who can relate to time spent in the service.

"Five minutes is supposed to be the max, and (...) I have exceeded that at times," Nielsen said smiling.

With the help of Sanford's program, the doors to conversation are more easily opened.

"The things I went through, even though I wasn't in infantry, were unbelievable," Rachuy said. "You can talk to a veteran about them, and that's the best thing to do."

"I get more from it than I give," Nielsen said. "It's super rewarding, yes. There's many stories that I can relate (to), but then I start crying. Some of them are really difficult, they really are."

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There are currently three veteran volunteers for the ambassador program. To learn more about volunteering, email jackee.haak@sanfordhealth.org.

Kevin Wallevand has been a Reporter at WDAY-TV since 1983. He is a native of Vining, Minnesota in Otter Tail County. His series and documentary work have brought him to Africa, Vietnam, Haiti, Kosovo, South America, Mongolia, Juarez,Mexico and the Middle East. He is an multiple Emmy and national Edward R. Murrow award recipient.

Contact Email: kwallevand@wday.com
Phone Number: (701) 241-5317
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