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Touch, reflect, recall, honor

Karen Berg stared intensely at the wall, searching for two names among the tens of thousands: Brent Sveen and David Johnson. She looked a long time. Finally, she found what she was looking for. She placed a sheet of paper against the wall and use...


Karen Berg stared intensely at the wall, searching for two names among the tens of thousands: Brent Sveen and David Johnson.

She looked a long time.

Finally, she found what she was looking for.

She placed a sheet of paper against the wall and used a crayon to rub an impression of one name and then the other.

Berg had been near tears when she couldn't locate the names, but after finding them she walked away from the wall with a sad smile.


Sveen and Johnson, she said, were her schoolmates at West Fargo High School, class of 1969.

A year after graduation, both men died in Vietnam.

Their names are now on the Vietnam Memorial wall in Washington and on a smaller, traveling version of the wall that officially opened in West Fargo on Sunday.

Located at Third Street and Third Avenue East, the memorial will remain open 24 hours a day through Saturday.

Berg of West Fargo was one of about 200 people who attended Sunday's opening ceremony and she joined the dozens who walked along the wall, gazing at the more than 58,000 names of Vietnam war dead.

"Brent kind of was our class clown," Berg said, recalling her high school friend. "He said all he ever wanted was a silver Porsche.

"They (Sveen and Johnson) did this for us," she said of her classmates' sacrifice.

"It's just like the guys who are in Iraq right now. It's for freedom and that's what they believed in."


The wall contains the names of 196 other North Dakotans who died in the war and 1,193 Minnesotans.

The average age of the soldiers who died in Vietnam is 22.

Veteran Jon Hovde, Fertile, Minn., spoke at Sunday's ceremony, remembering five comrades whose names were on the memorial behind him as he spoke.

Les Cowden was one of the names.

In 1968, the 21-year-old medic from Anoka, Minn., pulled Hovde from a burning vehicle and saved his life.

Hovde said days later, after recuperating from burns and returning to the battlefield, Cowden was killed trying to save another soldier trapped in a burning vehicle.

"I'm just so lucky to be standing here with the sun shining on my face. My name is awful close to being on that wall," said Hovde, who lost his left arm and leg to wounds suffered in battle.

Others attending Sunday's ceremony included Ed Milligan of Dilworth, who was at the memorial to look for the name of Lowell Harms, an ROTC cadet Milligan trained at North Dakota State University in the 1960s. Milligan said Harms, from Detroit, Mich., stood out as a cadet.


"He was a super soldier. If anyone had a John Wayne mentality, it was Lowell," said Milligan, who spent 25 years in the military, including two stints in Vietnam.

Milligan said he was impressed with the traveling memorial and the way people viewing the wall could see themselves reflected in the shiny surface.

"So what does that do? You're intermingling with the dead. That's one of the things the architect did," he said.

Milligan said people forget that in addition to those who died in Vietnam, many hundreds of thousands more suffered serious wounds.

"It's terrible," Milligan said, referring to the human cost of war. "We don't want to be building anymore walls," he said.

A tent set up near the memorial contains computers that help to pinpoint where specific names are located on the wall.

Bob Hinnenkamp, Fargo, who served as a sniper and police officer in Vietnam in the mid-1960s, was one of the volunteers assisting.

Many veterans will probably prefer visiting the memorial at night, when other people are not around, Hinnenkamp said, adding he felt that way when he visited the national monument in Washington.


"When my wife and I were at the wall in Washington, D.C., I went by myself first," he said.

"Then I went and got her and I said, 'This is going to sound really stupid, but I've got some friends I'd like you to meet.'

"That's the way that wall is, it's like they (the dead) are there, if that makes any sense at all.

"Today, I look at the guys and I miss 'em," Hinnenkamp said. "But I remember them."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555

I'm a reporter and a photographer and sometimes I create videos to go with my stories.

I graduated from Minnesota State University Moorhead and in my time with The Forum I have covered a number of beats, from cops and courts to business and education.

I've also written about UFOs, ghosts, dinosaur bones and the planet Pluto.

You may reach me by phone at 701-241-5555, or by email at dolson@forumcomm.com
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