In his second week of travel down the Mississippi River, 67-year-old Jim Crigler of Winona pulled into LeBourget Park in Little Falls for the day. Why was this 67-year-old travelling down the Mississippi River in a canoe? To raise awareness for Vietnam Gold Star families and to try to raise $2.5 million on the trip down.
As a Huey helicopter pilot in the Vietnam War, Crigler, the oldest of nine and his roommate and friend, First Lieutenant Thomas Shaw, the oldest of five, made a pact to do their best to return the other’s body home and comfort the family should the other die in combat.
“The day after that my roommate was killed in action and I had the honor and the burden of being the escort burial officer for a guy that I just loved,” Crigler said.
For many of the families who lost their loved ones during the Vietnam War, Crigler said the situation was the same. They would receive the news, a coffin and a neatly folded American flag, buried their loved one and never spoke of it again because of the controversy that clung to the war.
Now, Crigler works with American Huey 369, which gives honor flights to those families who lost a loved one in Vietnam.
“The sound of those Huey blades in Vietnam for all of our troops was a sound of hope, because it meant they’re coming to get the wounded or taking them back, but today for our Gold Star families it’s a sound of honor and it’s a sound of healing,” Crigler said.
When he meets these families, Crigler gives them a special gold coin to show his appreciation and that of other Americans for the sacrifice they and their loved one made.
As he travels down the Mississippi River, Crigler said he is hoping to convince other Americans to show their support and appreciation to these families.
“I want to get normal, everyday American citizens to go out and get a 49 cent stamp, an envelope and a piece of paper and look up a Gold Star family member,” Crigler said. “I want them to write them (the families) a thank you note.”
Crigler views it as his mission of honor to try and get people to do this by doing something as audacious as going down the Mississippi River.
When his family first heard about this audacious plan, Crigler said they thought he was crazy at first, before becoming very supportive of his plan.
As he makes the trip, Crigler is using technology to keep in touch with home, and even had a business meeting through the phone on the canoe.
Another supporter of Crigler’s is his friend from Texas, Herb Koenig, 70, who has been traveling on the road to act as Crigler’s ground crew.
Crigler chose the canoe trip because he loves canoeing and because so few people have done it, under 200 since records started being kept, he said.
His goal is to complete the trip in 67 days.
“I’m going to do it in less than 67 days. I’m going to raise $2.5 million. I’m going to start a movement in America to get us to change our thinking about those people that sacrificed for our country and I’m going make a statement in this world,” Crigler said.
The trip took one year to plan, and has taken Crigler through the narrowest parts of the river, snow, wind tossed waters on Lake Winnibigoshish to a beautiful sunny day as he pulled into Little Falls, May 5.
Those looking for more information about Crigler and his mission, or to track his progress, can visit www.missionofhonor.org.