Rushford family still feels void after Vietnam

Jerry Johnson, Rushford, Minnesota, Vietnam War

Jerry Johnson of Rushford, Minnesota, was one of the first soldiers from southeast Minnesota to be killed in the Vietnam War. The family left behind still feels the scars over a half century later. (Contributed photo)

It’s been over half a century since the end of the Vietnam War, but the scars for some are still as fresh as the day it ended. For those families whose relatives didn’t make it home from the war, they feel the void that is left as big as it was all those years ago.

Rushford native Jerry A. Johnson was one of the many men who didn’t make it home from his deployment to Vietnam.

He grew up in a military family, and some of his earliest pictures as a child showed him wearing miniature Navy sailor suits. Johnson’s story is a true picture of sacrifice. Medical reasons should have kept him out of the military but he went anyway.

Family history of service

“He came from a family of soldiers,” said Rosemarie Morken, Jerry’s sister. “His father, Harvey, served in World War II in France, Germany and Austria. He had two uncles – Clarence, who served in the Army, and Wallace, who served in the United States Air Force.”

On his mother’s (Bernice) side of the family, she had three brothers who served. Two of them served with one dying in service to his country. Her brother, Kenneth, was in the Army, and her brother, George, was a pilot in the Army, serving in Africa during World War II, where he was killed. In addition, Johnson’s brother, Harold, served in the Navy from 1956-1962.

“When his father was in the Army,” Morken said, “even then, Jerry was a little soldier. He and his brother, Harold, often wore little sailor suits or Army uniforms while growing up in Rushford.’

Johnson’s love of country and family

“He loved to play baseball, go fishing and hunting, and would often spend time with his sister and brother-in-law to help take care of their eight kids,” Morken reminisced about her brother.

Johnson was born on Oct. 15, 1941, to Harvey and Bernice Johnson. His siblings included sisters Yvonne, Marilyn and Rosemarie, along with his brother Harold.

Johnson died when he was only 23. Morken described him as a quiet man. When he first went to enlist in the service, they wouldn’t take him.

“He had a heart murmur,” Morken said. “But, then they turned around and drafted him when ‘Nam broke out. He was a quiet man, so he did what he was told. Jerry entered the Army in 1964 and was stationed at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., where he was in the First Infantry Division.”

Johnson had only been in Vietnam around two months when that knock came at their front door. It was the knock no family wants to hear.

“He was one of the first soldiers from southeast Minnesota to die (in Vietnam),” she said. “Then came a letter from one of the soldiers with Jerry in Vietnam. He said Jerry had been sick and that they took him to a hospital for an X-ray of his lungs, which came back clear.”

The letter said Johnson had recently been sent out on detail to someplace near Saigon shortly before his death.

“Another soldier called Jerry’s mother and said he was with Jerry when he died,” Morken explained. “He said that he (Jerry) died from shrapnel on Aug. 9, 1965.” A year later, the family received a document from the military saying Johnson had been killed in action.

Johnson posthumously earned the Medal of Honor, second class, from the Republic of Vietnam.

In 1986, the family received Johnson’s Purple Heart and certificate. He also earned the Gold Star lapel pin, Vietnam Service Medal with two bronze and two silver stars, an expert badge with ribbon bar, the National Defense ribbon, and the Republic of Vietnam campaign ribbon.

In 1965, Johnson’s mother inquired about becoming a Gold Star Mother through the Veterans Administration. Women are eligible to become Gold Star Mothers if their sons are killed in the line of battle. She became a Gold Star Mother in the Winona Chapter, where the names of her son and brother are in a book that Rosemarie has.

Johnson’s service to country is honored in several locations.

The First Division was also called the Big Red One. The museum in Wheaton, Ill., has his name up on its memorial wall. He’s also listed on the Vietnam Wall in Washington, D.C.

There’s also a Big Red One Memorial at the Executive Building across the street from the White House where his name is listed. He’s mentioned in other locations like the Fort Snelling Book of Remembrance.

“He could have fought the draft,” Morken said. “He didn’t. Jerry did what his country wanted him to do.”

Northwoods League baseball, the Honkers, and high-def

As the weather in southeast Minnesota warms up, the Rochester Honkers get busier preparing for the 2016 Northwoods League baseball season, set to start on May 31 at Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

Rochester Honkers, Northwoods League baseball, HD cameras

The Rochester Honkers open their Northwoods League baseball season on May 31 at the Eau Claire, Wisconsin Express (photo from northwoodsleague.com)

The Honkers front office staff has all but wrapped up signing players for the upcoming season. Honkers General Manager and Co-Owner Dan Litzinger said the action in the front office has been ramping up in recent weeks.

“It’s been very busy,” Litzinger said. “We have a small front office staff of two or three people, so it’s a lot of work.

On a tour of the park as preparations continued recently, the first thing people might notice are new cameras being installed around the field. The Northwoods League is upgrading the Honkers video system at the ballpark to a full 1080p HD, and Litzinger said that’s unprecedented.

Rochester Honkers, Northwoods League baseball, Summer, HD cameras

The view from center at Mayo Field in Rochester is about to get an upgrade to HD in order to improve the quality of watching Northwoods League baseball online. (photo from digitalballparks.com)

“We’re installing a new camera in centerfield that’s up 25 feet just left of center,” Litzinger said. “It will give it a really pro look with the picture coming in over the right shoulder of the pitcher. There will be three more HD cameras by first base, third base, and behind home plate, so watching the games online will be a whole new experience.”

The new cameras are going to enhance video production all across the Northwoods League, and will include replay capability. You can get access to the games on the Northwoods League website or on the Honkers website as well. Click on the “Watch Now” button on either site and follow the prompts.

It’s a pay-per-view access, but pay by the game, the month, or the season, and its give you access to the entire Northwoods League and not just the Honkers

The team roster for 2016 is set with a 30-man roster, three coaches, and ten temporary players mean everything is full. Now they just wait for possible readjustments to happen.

“Things like grades, injuries, girlfriends, a grandmother dies, and other things like that will flip our roster starting soon,” Litzinger said. “So there’s a backup list of players and you hope in the first two weeks that your record is 7-7 and not 0-14, otherwise there’s no chance of making the first half championship in our division.”

The Honkers look far and wide to pull in players. This year’s roster actually has a strong California flavor to it because two of the team’s coaches have great connections in that particular state.

“Trevor Hairgove and Demetre Kokoris are both coming back,” Litzinger said. “They’re California guys (Hairgrove at UC Riverside and Kokoris at Santa Barbara City College) with connections through their colleges. So, we have a lot of kids from California colleges, but overall, the kids come from both coasts, from Florida to California up north to Washington and Oregon.”

Rochester Honkers, Northwoods League baseball, HD cameras

Dan Litzinger is co-owner and General Manager of the Rochester Honkers of the Northwoods Baseball League. He’s been the GM since 1997. (photo from northwoodsleague.com)

He added, “We have players from New York and even a couple coming all the way from Taiwan.”

Team Co-Owner Kim Archer actually has a son that lives in Taiwan and met an agent that wanted to send players overseas to play baseball. One of the players coming in is a high school senior that’s left-handed and throws hard. The other coming in is also a pitcher and a high school junior.

“It was a challenge to find a host family that spoke Mandarin Chinese,” Litzinger said. “We found one that was a current host but not scheduled to host anyone this summer. Thank God they stepped up and said ‘we’ve had foreign exchange students and we’ll take both these kids.’ Hopefully, this brings us some international exposure too.”

From year to year, most of the roster typically turns over from one summer to the next. Typically, Northwoods League teams try to get four to six players back from one year to the next. It’s important for several reasons.

“One is the fan base,” Litzinger said. “They’ll have an automatic connection with guys who may have played the year before. There are always kids you want back and kids you don’t, plus, some kids can’t come back for whatever reasons.

One big reason players may not want to come back is they want to get out and see the world. Litzinger said it’s hard to tell them no when they want to travel and play in other places.

“How do you tell someone who got an offer to play in Alaska not to go there,” said Litzinger, who’s been the GM since 1997. “There are kids who may have a goal of playing in the Cape Cod League out east, and even though I think we’re a better league, they want to go and try it.

“We tell them to go and give it a try, and most come back saying playing in Rochester was a much better experience,” Litzinger said. “Those players actually become pretty good recruiting tools for the Northwoods League.”

The Honkers have four kids on the roster that return from last season.

One of the more recent additions to the roster was Jackson Douglas of Iowa Western Community College. He played his high school ball at Rochester Mayo.

The Honkers open the season on May 31 in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, to take on the Express. They return home to Rochester the next night for the home opener, also against the Express.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MN farmers See For Yourself in Vietnam

Minnesota farmers See For Yourself

Doug Pohlman (right) of Lakefield, Minn., thanks a Vietnamese poultry farmer for hosting the Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council’s See For Yourself delegation. Thirteen Minnesota farmers toured parts of Vietnam to assess soybean checkoff investments in the country. (Contributed photo)

The Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council (MSR&PC) went to the Far East for it’s most recent See For Yourself trip. A delegation of farmers took a tour of Vietnam to see firsthand how the MSR&PC investments in the country are paying off for American soybean farmers.

Kevin Paap is a farmer from Garden City and the Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation President. He also serves on behalf of the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) on Soy Insights (formerly Soy 20-20), a strategic planning group looking at markets and demand. He said Vietnam is one of the world’s fastest emerging markets.

“With being involved in the AFBF Trade Advisory Committee as Chair,” Paap said, “we’ve been very active in trade talks, including the Trans Pacific Partnership, the See For Yourself was a good opportunity to mesh all those things together.”

He said trade missions are most successful when put together by people with what he called “boots on the ground.” It’s important that people who know the countries, such as the US Meat Export Federation (USMEF) and the US Soybean Export Council (USSEC), help with lining up the trips. That way, Paap said they wouldn’t turn into sightseeing trips.

Paap said describing Vietnam as an emerging market for agricultural goods might catch some people by surprise, but a number of different factors make it a true statement.

“It’s an emerging market because it’s the 13th most populous country in the world,” Paap said, “and that number is increasing by about 1 percent per year. It’s also the eighth most populous country in Asia. They’re only the 32nd largest economy in the world, but they’re growing.”

Vietnam is the 11th largest export market for American agricultural products. They import 70 percent of their livestock feed ingredients, which means they can’t raise it themselves. They also pay a lot for their own food.

“They spend 65 percent of their incomes on food,” Paap said. “They don’t necessarily want more calories, but better calories in their food, before they spend their money on a car or a house. They’d like to eat something more than rice 3 times a day.”

The other opportunity for livestock feed comes from strong Vietnamese pork production. It may come as a surprise, but Vietnam ranks sixth overall in world hog production and seventh in the world in pork consumption.

Paap called the “See For Yourself” trips that most of the checkoff organizations are now hosting a great opportunity for farmers to see how their checkoff dollars are invested, both locally and overseas.

“It’s tough to see opportunities overseas when you aren’t there,” Paap said, “and the opportunities are there in international marketing. Until you not only see, but also hear from, those folks with boots on the ground, it’s exciting to know they want better food.

“They can’t grow the crops themselves and they’re very accepting of biotechnology,” Paap said. “With limited land, biotechnology is the only way they can grow more on the land they do have.”

Minnesota farmers See For Yourself

Thirteen Minnesota farmers toured Vietnam to evaluate the work of the Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council, the elected board of Minnesota farmers who direct investments of soybean checkoff money to open new markets, create new uses, educate farmers and non-farmers and promote soybeans. (Contributed photo)

First impressions for farmers on overseas trips can vary greatly. Ben Storm farms near Dover, in Olmsted County, and went along on the See For Yourself trip to Vietnam. He said the first thing that jumped out at him when he stepped foot in the country.

“The modernization,” Storm said.   “The feed mill we toured look all new with modern technology. You might have thought you were in a feed mill in the United States. The poultry farm we toured had 20,000 laying hens. The only difference between that and a barn in the US was the hens are hand fed and the eggs are picked by hand.”

He said the Bungee soybean crushing facility actually prefers American soybeans to South American beans. American soybeans, particularly from Minnesota, arrive at their plant with much less moisture and heat damage.

Overseas trips to Asian marketing partners are very important. Asian businesses typically place a very high value on face-to-face interaction.

“You’ve got to have those relationships and know each other before they’re willing to do business with you. It’s a much different culture than in the US.”

An American farmer back home who’s never been on one of these trips may be saying ‘how does this benefit me?’ The 13 Minnesota farmers on the trip saw firsthand how important and effective these trips are.

13 Minnesota farmers See For Yourself

Ben Storm (left) of Dover, Minn., and Kevin Paap of Garden City, Minn., tour a market in Hanoi, Vietnam. Paap and Storm were guests of the Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council, which sent a delegation of 13 Minnesota farmers to Vietnam as part of its See For Yourself program. (Contributed photo)

“It just so happened that Keith Schrader (Nerstand, MN), the Chairman of the MSR&PC was on the trip,” said Kim Nill, Minnesota Soybean Director of Market Development. “He was the leader of this trip. When he walked into place after place over there, it was ‘Oh, hi Mr. Schrader,’ and ‘How good to see you again,’ et cetera. Keith has been there a couple times and also been a part of USSEC projects to bring Vietnamese here.”

Nill added, “It was surprising, even to me, to see how many of them already knew Keith and greeted him warmly.”

In terms of actual business conversations, the 13 farmers also heard firsthand how USSEC investments overseas pay off in terms of increasing market demand and buyer loyalty as well. Nill said the 13 farmers asked very probing questions of overseas customers and partners.

“For example, they would say ‘Okay Mr. Soybean Mill operator, we’ve heard about what the USSEC investment did to help you get your mill built, or maybe improved it’s capacity. Has that made you more likely to purchase soybeans from the United States?’ Then, they’d hear the response of that feed mill owner or swine farm operator, and the answer was obviously, yes.”

These trips do add to the bottom line for American farmers. USSEC recently hired an economics expert from Texas A&M University to run the numbers to see how much impact these types of trips have to the American agricultural economy.

“They do go through the calculations to see what the impact of the checkoff expenditures is to the bottom line of soybean producers,” Nill said. “Their latest determination is that for every 1 dollar of checkoff funds spent on projects like the Vietnam trip, it returns 7 dollar net benefit back to the boots on the ground farmers in the United States.”

Tran Trong Chien is the USSEC Country Representative for Vietnam, and Ben Storm said he and the rest of the staff do a great job promoting American soybeans.

“Everywhere he went, people knew who he was,” Storm said. “It was pretty obvious he’s done a great job getting to know people and promoting American products. I was extremely pleased with how we’re investing our money over there.”