Howard A Johnson
Howard spent most of his younger life in the Vincennes, Indiana area. He graduated from high school in 1962 and
then continued his education objectives by earning a BS degree from Indiana University in 1967. This was when
Vietnam was starting to really heat up, so Howard
signed up with the Army and headed for basic training at Ft Dix in New Jersey. He then headed for more training at Ft
Benning that lasted 8 weeks.
April 1968 he was on his way to the war zone in Nam. Becoming a member of the Bravo Company ,1st Battalion 35th
Infantry Regiment , part of the Larger, 4th Infantry Division. He was trained as a Light Weapons Specialist, which
included the M16 rifle, M79 Grenade launcher, and the M-60 Machine gun. He participated in 7 Combat Helicopter
assaults and served as a point man, grenadier, and RTO (radio telephone operator) . Their area of operation was in
the Central Highlands bordering Laos and Cambodia where his unit sought and engaged the North Vietnamese
Army. Howard's Platoon leader found out he had a niche to write, so after six months in the jungle, he was honored
to be selected to serve on the personal staff of the 2 star Commanding general of the 4th Infantry Division, Gen.
Pepke That assignment was to be a ghost writer for the General. While serving in Nam, he had the opportunity also
to meet General Abrams, who replaced Gen Westy as Supreme Cmndr.
In April 1969 he returned stateside as a civilian and married his wife Dolores. With 46 years of marriage, they have
been blessed with a daughter Karen, a son Matthew, and
5 grandchildren. Howard has never taken the uniform off and is one of our most active Post members, serving many
positions from All-State Commander to volunteering to be the current Quartermaster again. Howard and Sgt Dick
Mick were close buddies, he always told Howard to "keep it going." With those lasting words, Howard has taken over
command of the Post Honor/Color Guard unit, which fulfills the most important mission of the Post.
Howard and family are avid baseball fans and often attend Twins games. As a Vietnam Veteran, he was honored to
be selected to participate in the flag raising ceremony at a Twins game last year (see pictures on Post website).
Howard started his civilian career working with a book publisher in the Chicago area, and then transferred to the
Pharmaceutical business that brought the family to Minnesota. He officially retired in 2003.
We thank Howard for the numerous hours of dedication performing various Post activities for veterans and the
Medals/Achievements: Combat Infantry Badge, Army Commendation medal, Good Conduct medal, Vietnam
Campaign medal, Vietnam Service medal, National Defense Medal, Expert Rifleman’s Badge, and Expert Automatic
A native Minnesotan living in a Czech neighborhood in New Prague, Stan graduated from high school in 1951, at the
peak of the Korean War. He and a buddy decided to join the USAF in November 1951. His first assignment was
ground radio operator training at Keesler AFB, MS for 12 months. Stan was then orient bound with a stint at Nagoya
AB, Japan assigned to the 1st Communications Squadron early 1953. This was a support unit for the 5th Air Force
stationed in Seoul, Korea. Daily duties included radio checks with Air Bases in the theater. When the Korean War
truce was signed in 1953, Stan rotated back to the states with an assignment to Lowry AFB in Denver, CO. He was a
HF/DF operator for the purpose of tracking military weather balloons that supported flight operations. Stan was
granted an honorable discharge in November 1955 and become a veteran citizen.
After leaving the military, Stan attended the Brown Institute in Minneapolis with concentrated studies in industrial
electronics. With his diploma in hand, he stretched out a career with Univac, Honeywell and Control Data over the
years. Stan married his wife Gert in May 1965 and will be celebrating their 50th anniversary. They currently reside in
Minnetonka and are avid gardeners. Gert specializes in the various hosta species. Their yard is abound in blooms
most of the growing season.
Stan is the current Post Adjutant and records the minutes of our business meetings. He has also graciously
volunteered to oversee our can cage/trailer operation. The Post has 5 can cages that are located in the
Excelsior/Minnetonka area to collect aluminum cans that are recycled to generate income for the Post. We thank Stan
for fulfilling this duty and parking the trailer on their property, which is a handy location.
A regular attendee at the Post monthly meetings, and he and Gert are seen at many veteran events. Stanley is 1 of
only 3 active members of the Post representing the USAF. He is a proud volunteer of the Post Color Guard brigade
that is led by Sgt Howard Johnson. We earnestly thank Stan and Gert for their continued support of all
Play a polka and grab a mug of beer to salute Stanley "Stan the Man" Vikla.
Ralph MacHolda - 3 War Veteran
Ralph MacHolda is another veteran born on the farm in Redwood Falls, MN back in 25 July 1927. An uncle was a
surgeon in WWI. Upon graduation from high school in 1945, with an urge to leave the farm, Ralph signed up to serve
in WWII in the Army. He then volunteered for maritime service and served on the USS Excelsior as his first tour duty
on the sea. Discharged from the Army in August 1945, a lure for ships and water encouraged him to volunteer for
Coast Guard duty as a merchant marine. Ralph started as a maintenance mechanic and after completing engineer
training in New York, worked his way up to Chief Engineer with four stripes, which is the second highest officer on
ship. Was assigned to eighteen different ships and completed numerous voyages across the oceans, primarily from
the east coast to France. His 27 years encompasses WWII, Korea and Vietnam. After being discharged from the
Navy in February 1972, Ralph started his own electrical business career that lasted for another 23 years. He also
worked at Fairview hospital for 22 years, working both jobs on a 16 hour day. He has volunteered his services at the
Ft Snelling military cemetery for the past 10 years. Last year Ralph was selected to participate in the Honor Flight to
DC and visit the various war memorials. In order to protect his health, Ralph is proud to announce that he no longer
smokes or uses alcohol, a hard trick for a salty ole sailor. Ralph was blessed to have a patient and loving wife. He
and Beverly were married in 1954 and have 2 sons and daughters. They bought a house in Edina in 1958 that her
Swedish uncle had built, and still reside at that same address. As other loving mothers and military wives and with the
help of our Heavenly Father, Beverly staid home to care for the family while Ralph earned a living on the high seas.
She has faithfully supported Ralph all these years. Ralph has regularly attended activities of the Lake Minnetonka
Post for years and is the second oldest active member. We are honored to have a three war veteran as a member of
the Lake Minnetonka VFW Post. Long live our veterans.
Duane Bjerke "Mr. B"
Born on a farm in Hatton ND on 20 May 1926, Duane Bjerke graduated from high school in 1943, just in time to fight in
the Big One. His dad told him he had to finish the fall plowing first, but his mother had different ideas, so she enrolled
him at Concordia College. Duane attended a semester, but decided to drop out to join the Army on 11 April 1945.
After completing basic training, he volunteered for airborne so he headed for Ft Benning, GA. Making six jumps, was
awarded his wings and assigned to an airborne unit in Japan. Serving his time, Duane was then honorably
discharged from the Army on 25 June 1946. With the benefits of the GI bill, he headed back to Concordia College to
finish his BA degree with majors in English, History and Psychology. During senior year, a veteran friend told him if
they joined a local reserve unit and made one jump, they would earn $600. That was a lot of dough back then.
Before they could make the jump and receive the bonus, the Korean War caused the immediate activation of their
reserve unit. Duane landed at Pusan and was assigned to 187th Regimental Combat Team (special forces), then
headed north to Wonju, close to the 38th Parallel. Duane can remember hearing the enemy trumpets and single
handedly captured two North Korean and a Chinese soldier together. Soon the unit commenced airborne training in
preparation for a major combat operation. Early in the morning on 31 March 1951, Duane participated in a drop
behind enemy lines. On the way down, with a machine gun strapped by his leg, he was hit with shrapnel and then
busted his right leg on impact. He was helicoptered to a local mash unit, and then transported back to Japan on C-
47. After three orthopedic operations, Duane spent five months rehabbing in hospital at Fukuoka. Returning
stateside in July 1951, he was assigned to inactive reserve duty from Ft Carlson in Colorado.
Employed as a salesman for a short time, Mr. B searched out an opportunity to step into an education career. He
started teaching high school in Hawley, MN and then transferred to NYA, MN where he was a teacher, coach, athletic
director and finally principal for a 27 year career. During that time Duane earned his MA degree at UofM in 1966.
Married in 1951, he now has 3 sons and daughters, twelve grandkids and nine great-grandkids . DB loves to sing,
play the piano and the guitar. You will often hear him singing at Nyes piano bar in Nordeast. His words of wisdom for
the younger generation is, “get involved.” Duane firmly believes that all youth should spend six months completing
military training to enhance discipline. Duane is our oldest active member and the only charter member. He is a life
member of VFW, American Legion organizations, and the DAV. Being injured in combat, Duane has never been
officially awarded the Purple Heart or the Combat Infantry Badge or a unit Bronze Star. Post member Howard
Johnson unofficially presented Duane with a CIB at a past monthly meeting. A Service Officer is currently pursuing
evidence for a Purple Heart, but his military service history was burned in the fire at Kansas City. We stand at
attention and salute a double war fighter of the Great Generation, Duane Bjerke. The Lake Minnetonka VFW Post
thanks you for your dedication to our country and our Post.
Army Veteran - Art Peterson
Art Peterson enlisted into the Army at the age of 19 in Sep 1966. After Basic training at Ft Leonard Wood, he
completed AIT (Advanced Individual Training) at Ft. Gordon Georgia with Military Police Corps. Just days before
graduating, he received orders to ship out to Vietnam. Although somewhat prepared for this it rocked me back on my
boots to think that I’d actually be in a war zone soon. The following morning in formation our First Sgt requested 12
volunteers. New orders were amended and we were shipped out for further training that offered an exceptional
opportunity to become a unique type of soldier. Art learned he had volunteered to be a military K9 dog handler. This
training lasted 8 weeks in the scorching Texas sun. About half way through training it was too hot during the daylight
hours so training was scheduled at night. The bond and loyalty between handler and dog became very strong in short
time, learning to depend on one another and determining what my partner was telling and showing me because of his
natural abilities. When we completed our training he had taught me more than I could ever have expected. This was a
soldier with whom I felt very at ease with and that my life in battle could depend on his capabilities. Military K9’s carry
no weapons or protective gear, and communication was often through the use of hand gestures. This dog was willing
to lay down his life for my safe keeping. His full attention was focused on his job and doing what I requested of him,
no complaining, no questions asked. There would be no room for error on the part of either one of us. After
completing training I was stationed stateside for approximately 6 months and then received orders to head for Nam in
October 1967. My first four months was with a regular MP company. I was an active participant in the 1968 Tet
Offensive. Joining a new unit, was finally assigned to a K9 that had already been in country for a couple of years.
After only a week or so to get familiar with one another, we shipped out to a detachment in the Central Highlands and
began performing our duties working primarily at night. My two K9’s were Fritz M254 and King M315. To leave them
behind was heart wrenching. I wouldn’t have traded my duty for anything in the world and if I had to do it all over
again, I’d do it the very same way, without hesitation. There were approximately 4000 military trained K9 troops that
served faithfully throughout the war in Vietnam. The soldiers who served with the dogs received their CIB’s, Purple
Hearts, Bronze Stars and in turn pin the awards on the collar of their mate. Several hundred dogs were KIA
throughout the course of the war. There was never any mention of their deaths, how they died, and their names never
listed on the Wall. Approximately 200 of them returned alive to the United States after the war. Their contributions
were never acknowledged or recognized until a memorial was dedicated to them in 2000. They served in all branches
of the Armed Forces. Along with working with the MP’s some also served with the Infantry, walking point. Others
specialized in tracking and mine detection. These dogs were so effective that bounties were put on their heads by the
NVA and VC. I’m here today to say God’s hand was on both me and my team mate as the occasional round whizzed
by our bodies. Art has received the National Defense Vietnam campaign medal with 2 stars while serving with the
18th MP Brigade. Assigned to A Company/ 504th Battalion from Nov 1967-Feb 1968. Team C/ 1st Platoon/ 981st MP
Company (Sentry Dog) Feb 1968-Oct 1968. Art Peterson is the current Chaplain for Lake Minnetonka VFW
Post#5919. He has a strong faith in our Heavenly Father while leading members in our 3 prayers at the monthly
meetings. Welcome aboard Art Peterson. Go Army!
Col Bob Ayotte
In 1967 I entered the Army knowing full well I would be on my way to Vietnam sooner than later. In those days, I did
not measure the significance of my choice of career and how it would impact the rest of my life, much less how this
nation viewed our involvement in that Conflict. I just knew I was going, I did not realize years later that each American
that served in Vietnam would carry the burden of that action year after year after year. It was not a popular war, to
say the least. About 58,000 Americans died because their nation’s leaders sent them there to fight. These solders,
marines, sailors, and airmen were not asked their opinion or political stance. They were oftentimes just plucked out of
school or their job, separated from a wife or mom, and sent to a jungle to fight a war. Sometimes they were maimed.
Sometimes they died, and some of us came back. Every Vietnam veteran who returned from that war stood up to an
unforgiving enemy after arriving stateside. They came back to whispers and sometimes outright hate from those who
just did not understand. Many of our citizens who opposed the war did not know about the infection that set into a
wound when a soldier stepped on a pungi stick. They did not know about napalm burns that would sear through flesh;
napalm bombs that were dropped too close by “friendlies.” They did not know about the emotional scars when a
battle buddy was found, tortured by an enemy lying in wait in a hot, bug-infested jungle. Civilians at home just did not
know. By 1968, I was trained and allegedly ready to go do my thing. But on my way to war, the Army decided to send
me to its quiet little conflict in another part of the world that no one was watching. My orders were diverted when
another, not-so- lucky young lieutenant blew his foot off. He stepped on a toe popper, a euphemism for anti-personnel
mine. I was selected to take his place. I was now going to lead search-destroy patrols along some place called the
38th parallel. Search-destroy patrols were a gentle way of saying, “Find the enemy and eliminate them.” Like my
other Vietnam brethren, I lost soldiers. I saw and did things soldiers are trained to do. I did my thing, got debriefed by
two guys in suits, and came home. Once home, I got my quota of jeers and an occasional spit in the face when I wore
my uniform off post. But I did not care, I was in good company. I served with heroes: Vietnam warriors. Now I have
children who have fought their war. People tell me that it is “better for them” because they have come back to a
grateful nation. Well, here is a news flash. After today’s warriors come back from Iraq and Afghanistan, sometimes
two, three and four times, what they leave over there does not make it any easier to face when they come back. Like
my Vietnam buddies, few can understand the burden that our veterans carry. Only their Brothers and Sisters who are
left behind on a far-off battle field really know and understand. They comprehend the burden. On this Veteran’s Day,
when you encounter one of this nation’s warriors, be sure to thank him or her for their service. But please, please
understand that while they truly embrace and appreciate the thank you, their thoughts on this day are somewhere
else, remembering and saying thanks to their brethren remaining on that battle field. Bob Ayotte served thirty three
years in the military, entering as a private and retiring as a colonel. His biggest moment of pride was when his son’s
unit hit the ground at Fort Campbell and a soldier buddy commented, “Hey Bill that must be your old man waiting for
you. He must be a crusty ole Sergeant Major.” You vets out there will know what I am talking about. That is a
compliment. Bob Ayotte is a former Chanhassen city councilor. He now serves as the vice chair for the Chanhassen
Beyond the Yellow Ribbon organization. Two of the Ayotte children are still on active duty and one is a disabled vet.
The dedication of Bob as a war fighter qualifies him to be an active member of the Lake Minnetonka VFW Post.
Welcome aboard Colonel Bob, we appreciate your support and attendance at our meetings.
|Lake Minnetonka VFW