There is a strange calm about downtown Minocqua this time of year. The lakes are just now starting to unfreeze and the shops are dark waiting for the summer rush of tourists. This calm is truly a world away from the horrors and devastation that took place during the war in Vietnam. However, what binds this quiet resort community with a troubled country in Southeast Asia is a flag in a nondescript frame on a 1970's wood paneled wall in an American Legion post. It isn't just any flag, it is the last American flag to ever fly over Vietnam before American troops were evacuated from the country exactly 38 years ago.
"April 30th to a Vietnam veteran is not a nice day. Never has been and never will be. Every April 30Th they say that's the day we got out of Vietnam. You should have been happy. The answer is yes, it was good we made it out but millions of people died after we left." says American Legion officer John Brandenburg
For Brandenburg, talking about the war is still difficult after all these years. That is why for the members of Legion Post 89, having this flag serves as a point of pride and in many ways is a hidden gem of the legion.
"You would be surprised at how many people in the community and other places don't know its here." Brandenburg says.
Perhaps the most obvious question about this flag is how on earth it ended up here in the first place. It's been a bit of a wild ride getting from the fields of Vietnam to the lakes of Northern Wisconsin. The story all began when the last American troops left the United States embassy in 1975. One of the last people on the helicopter just happened to have family that lived in Minocqua.
"There was a Buck Sargent by the name of David Rose who took it down from the top of the embassy building. He folded it up, tucked it under his arm. Got on the helicopter with the rest of the Marines and flew out to the carrier and held on to it from that point on." Brandenburg tells.
For the legion, it has always been a difficult decision about whether or not to part with the flag. In fact, it's something they have been wrestling with for years. They say they have considered a number of options about where it might be donated in the future, and some big name museums say they are interested.
"The Smithsonian would probably be first. After that, the Marine Corp. Base at Quantico with their museum there." Brandenburg says proudly.
John Brandenburg feels it would be tough for the Legion to part with the flag. While the flag may someday hang in a renowned museum, for the time being, it will remain on the wood paneled wall just a little while longer.
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