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The “RIGHT” Slant : When a veteran battles Alzheimer’s

I think about our veterans all the time, especially “their” day, Veterans Day, coming up Nov. 11. They were tough as nails when they served this great nation. During the Vietnam War, they fought for our freedom in far away places called Khe Sanh, the Mekong Delta, and Hue. We lost 57,000 of them there. In Korea, badly outnumbered, they faced nearly insurmountable odds on battlefields known as Heartbreak Ridge, Old Baldy, and Pork Chop Hill. We lost 54,000 of them there.

During World War II, the bloodiest and costliest war in the history of mankind, these brave American warriors fought in two theaters of operations. In Europe, they spearheaded the Allied assault on the Normandy Coast to free France, sacrificing life and limb on beachfronts called Omaha and Utah. Tank battalions later whipped the Germans in the Ardennes Forest near Bastogne during a monumental tank battle called “The Battle of the Bulge.”

Meanwhile in the Pacific, our soldiers defeated the perpetrators of the bombing on Pearl Harbor, the Empire of Japan. Pacific Theater confrontations became legendary; they included such iconic battles as Midway Island, Guadalcanal, and Iwo Jima. Over 405,000 Americans died in World War II.

When they were young soldiers, most battles they fought were winnable. Today, many of the millions of veterans from WWII and Korea are engaged in a battle with the toughest enemy they’ll ever face. They cannot win, at least not yet. Some of these veterans live in Carlton County. Their enemy is called Alzheimer’s, and it strikes primarily elderly people.

The Pine Journal is running a four-part series on Alzheimer’s all month long, beginning with Part One today. The thought of these older veterans, as with anyone stricken by this disease, losing their memory, and dying from it, is painful to consider. Our Vietnam veterans are also at the age when Alzheimer’s will begin afflicting some of them too.

Our veterans are a national treasure. Not only do we owe them our freedom, we owe them an old age free from the ravages of dementia-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s. For the untold numbers of veterans who have already died of Alzheimer’s disease over the years, let us dedicate ourselves to funding research which will find a cure for Alzheimer’s. Let us honor them with a cure before our next wave of heroes, those who fought in Vietnam, and ultimately those who have fought, and are still fighting, the War on Terror, are stricken with Alzheimer’s.

There can be nothing more heart-wrenching than watching an aging warrior fight his/her final battle, a battle to maintain dignity and retain mind. His last battle should have been when he wore his country’s uniform. Please thank a veteran when you see him/her, honor your ancestral veterans by keeping their memories alive, and do what you can to help fight Alzheimer’s disease. Happy birthday Marines!

Writer Mike Berglund is a long-time Cloquet resident, a graduate of Lake Superior College, and is retired from both Conoco Oil and the U.S. Postal Service.