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Veterans reflect on meaning of the Fourth

July 4, 2013
By Michael Tidemann - Staff Writer , Estherville Daily News

So what does the Fourth of July mean? What does freedom mean? What does America mean?

The west side of a new memorial in city park in Armstrong tells the true cost of freedom where a picture of John Thorson is depicted. Thorson grew up in Armstrong, and like everyone else his age, played sports, worked on farms, dated girls. He also laid down his life for the other men in his unit when he threw his body on a Japanese grenade. For that, he posthumously received the Medal of Honor, the highest honor that a soldier can receive.

Dean Higgins of Estherville was part of that same war, but in a different part of the world. Higgins served in the Allied occupational army of Germany, arriving in 1946 and serving there one year, mainly in Frankfurt.

What he remembers most is the defeat in the eyes, spirits and hearts of the German people.

"They were in real bad shape," Higgins said. "Everything had been bombed out. The people were just desperate for food and everything."

Higgins remembers GIs throwing cigarette butts in the streets and German people fighting over them.

"Chewing gum was a thing they wanted over there also," he said.

As Higgins thought of the memorial to Thorson, he said he was glad he was memorialized. "It's quite an honor," he said.

Allen Kahler, who served with the 101st Airborne Division in South Vietnam, knows firsthand the price of freedom. He was severely wounded in action in the A Shau Valley, an extension of the Ho Chi Minh Trail the North Vietnamese used to transport troops and supplies toward Hue and Danang.

Kahler was wounded April 8, 1970, taking shrapnel along his right side. It wasn't until about July 4 of the same year that he recovered.

So what does Kahler think of the memorial to Thorson?

"It's better than what we got when we went home," he said, recalling the civil unrest over the war. "No war is nice," he added.

So what would Kahler like people to think about when they think of the Fourth of July?

"Just appreciate their freedom because it doesn't come cheap."

Kahler used to own the Armstrong Locker and now lives in Ceylon, Minn.



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