The group that erected a Vietnam War memorial in Mankato is disbanding.
But its members will continue to meet to celebrate their service and remember their comrades who did not come home.
The Vietnam Veterans of Southern Minnesota formed 35 years ago with a mission to commemorate fallen friends and support one another through challenging times, said member Wayne Sharp of Mankato.
The group’s chief achievement was the memorial on Stoltzman Road that bears the name of the young men from Blue Earth and Nicollet counties who died serving in the Vietnam War.
It’s one of only a few such Vietnam War memorials in the state, group members say. The city of Mankato donated the land. The organization designed, raised funds and built the memorial with no other public assistance in 1989, member Tom Hallett said.
The group also provided financial and other support to other veterans memorials over the years, most recently in St. Peter.
It was this same group that brought a replica of the Washington, D.C., Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall to Mankato. Members took turns standing guard over it 24-7 for its weeklong visit.
In its early days the group also organized trips aimed at helping Vietnam veterans heal from their time in combat and the unwelcoming reception they received when they returned home. They visited the memorial in Washington, D.C., and marched in belated welcome home parades across the country.
The nonprofit’s board of directors decided this spring its mission has been largely completed.
“We are all growing older and there are now other organizations for veterans help,” Sharp said.
While the nonprofit is officially no more, the Vietnam Veterans of Southern Minnesota lives on as a social group.
Its Last Man’s Club will celebrate its 30th anniversary later this month. The VFW was filled to capacity with 175 Vietnam veterans initiated into the club in 1990. Once a year they gather to swap memories, toast classmates who died in service and members who have died since. There are 125 members still giving the toasts.
The last living member will get to drink a 1971 bottle of whiskey brought home from Vietnam by Ron Rose and later donated to the club.
While the Last Man’s Club is closed to new members, all Vietnam War veterans are invited to the Vietnam Veterans of Southern Minnesota monthly lunches. At noon on the third Wednesday of each month they gather at the Mankato VFW to socialize and share advice on issues such as obtaining veterans benefits.