Community shows support for troops during ‘Red Friday’ rally

By Terry Lehrke, News Editor 

In a tradition started by spouses of Marine veterans, nearly 50 people showed up at the front gates of Camp Ripley Oct. 12, wearing red and holding American flags, to support U.S. troops.

Anne Sinotte, left, of Staples, and her sister, Mary Beth Grams, attended the Red Friday rally held Oct. 12, in front of Camp Ripley’s main gate. Grams’ banner showed her “Proud Military Family” (from left): son, Garrett, SPC F Company 1/189 Aviation Regiment Minnesota Army National Guard (MN-ARNG), daughter, Olivia, 148th Fighter Wing Air National Guard, Mary Beth, her husband, Harlan, retired after 22 years of service with the MN-ARNG and son, Marshall, SGT, F Company 1/189 Aviation Regiment MN-ARNG. Sinotte said she held the U.S. flag as she did because if it had been on a pole, that’s the direction the wind would have blown it.

The group was made up of civilians, families of soldiers, Legion and Legion Auxiliary members and veterans who served in wars in Vietnam, Korea, the Gulf War and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Some traveled from Pequot Lakes, Aitkin and Annandale.

Ken Oechsle, a veteran, and organizer of the Little Falls event, said the tradition of wearing red every Friday was a way spouses could show their support of veterans “Till they all come home”

It started, he said, when a unit of Marines had been deployed and there were a lot of anti-war protests.

“Some of the spouses of deployed soldiers got kind of tired of the protests getting all the press,” he said.

These spouses wanted to show their support for the troops under the radar, he said, and decided to wear red every Friday until all the troops were brought home.

“That’s the whole point of it,” he said. “Red sticks out. If I see someone wearing red on Friday, I know what that means.”

It’s a simple way for anyone who wants to support the troops to show it, he said.

It’s not just troops engaged in war that are supported. Soldiers are called in for flood duty, fire duty and other community missions, some as simple as helping to clean yards during the annual Day of Caring or supporting a Toys for Tots drive, he said.

“Our soldiers do so much in our community,” said Oechsle. “We live here, too.”

1LT Blake St. Sauver said Camp Ripley has a three-part mission: 1) its state mission to train Minnesota National Guard soldiers to support the state during an emergency; 2) its federal mission to prepare soldiers for war and 3) its mission to support the community.

Youngsters took part in the Red Friday rally held Oct. 12 at the main gates of Camp Ripley, including the children of Erin Harris and Dale Keehr of Little Falls (from left): Bryce Harris, 9; Brielle Harris, 11 and Broderick Harris, 7. Their uncle, Jerome Valentine, accompanied them to the event and later took them to the Minnesota State Veterans Cemetery. The children were there, they said, to honor their Grandpa Harris and Grandpa Valentine, both veterans. “If we didn’t have veterans in the military, we wouldn’t have the freedoms we have now,” said Bryce.

Oechsle called Red Friday a “grassroots” effort. “It’s just citizens who support our troops; it’s not just about the war on terror,” he said. “It’s for soldiers anywhere who are in harm’s way — and until they all come home.”

It’s not about politics, he said.

Jerome Valentine brought his two nephews and niece to the event, Bryce, Brielle and Broderick Harris. Valentine said they had talked about the meaning of the afternoon on their way, and considered it a way to honor the kids’ Grandpa Harris and Grandpa Valentine, both veterans.

“If we didn’t have veterans in the military, we wouldn’t have the freedoms we have now,” said 9-year-old Bryce.

Mary Beth Grams of Little Falls carried a banner proclaiming her “Proud Military Family.”

Her husband, Harlan, is retired after 22 years of service with the Minnesota Army National Guard. Her two sons, Garrett and Marshall, are also members of the Guard. Her daughter, Olivia, is in the Air National Guard.

Not long before the rally, the Grams family buried Harlan’s father, Melvin, who was a decorated World War II veteran. Both his grandsons took part in his military service.

“As a proud military wife/mom,” said Grams, “I wanted to remind the protestors who are against the military that if it wasn’t for this and past generations stepping up, we wouldn’t have the right to voice our opinions and that our service men and women are ensuring our continued freedom plus the freedom of all people in countries where that right is denied them.”

Little Falls resident Loren Boyum brought an American flag his son-in-law, Kris Wallman, had flown while he was deployed. On Sept. 11, 2005, the anniversary of attacks on the Twin Towers in New York City, Sept. 11, 2001, the flag had been flown  for 9 minutes and 11 seconds, during “Operating Enduring Freedom,” in Bagram, Afghanistan.

The flag was then sent as a gift to Boyum and his wife, Marilyn, as a thank you for their “patriotic support.”

Ken Oechsle, pictured at right, organized the Little Falls event and said it was a tradition started by spouses of Marine veterans when the current conflict began years ago. The tradition is to wear red every Friday in support of U.S. troops, “Till they all come home,” as his shirt declares.

A letter accompanied the gift. In it, Wallman wrote, “Our nation’s flag is a symbol of peace, liberty and security. Although there are those who would argue my assessment, they have never seen our flag draped over the body of a dead American; an American who died for those colors and what they stand for.”

As for Oct. 12, as the group stood, those in vehicles going in and out of Camp Ripley smiled, honked and gave a thumbs-up.

“The troops going in and out of the gates will remember this,” said Oechsle. “I know I will.”