Sandra Horsman and a small, but appreciative, crowd were able to give a group of Vietnam veterans a proper welcome home at the kickoff of the Sturgis Big Read Thursday.
Horsman, director of the VA Black Hill Health Care System, says she noticed something special about Sturgis when she and her husband moved to the Black Hills two years ago.
"This community and this state are so supportive of their veterans," she said.
She also said she appreciated the opportunity to thank the Vietnam veterans at the Sturgis Big Read kickoff event on Thursday. Horsman said it was time to offer a proper welcome-home for those who served.
So she invited all veterans in attendance to join her on stage. The entire crowd stood and gave the veterans an ovation.
Horsman, along with Teresa Forbes, public affairs officer, presented commemorative pins to 25 Vietnam War veterans who were present.
She said the VA Black Hills Healthcare System is a sponsor of the United States of America Vietnam War Commemoration. The 50th anniversary commemoration is a chance to thank and honor the nation’s Vietnam veterans and their families for their service and sacrifice, she said.
The Vietnam War Commemoration began with the presidential inaugural event at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. on Memorial Day, May 28, 2012, and concludes on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, 2025, by presidential proclamation.
Horsman, whose father served during the Vietnam War, said sadly there was a time when bands, parades and cheering crowds were not the welcome-home that troops received.
"Today we have the opportunity to correct the inexcusable homecoming for many of our Vietnam veterans. Because I am the daughter of a Vietnam veteran, this stikes a deep chord within me," she said.
Horsman said this commemoration marks the second chance for proud Americans to do it right.
"We can't erase the hurt that the returning service members felt when their friends and neighbors shouted, spat on them or simply ignored their return from service, but we can give them the proper welcome home today, shake their hands, look them in the eye and truly thank them for their sacrifice."
The 50th anniversary commemoration will take place over 13 years because that is the length of time the Americans served and sacrificed during the Vietnam War.
"Now, our entire nation is involved in remembering and reflecting on the legacy of the Vietnam War," she said.
Collaborating since the summer of 2016, Sturgis Big Read Community Committee hosted the Sturgis Big Read Kickoff and Book Distribution at Harley-Davidson Rally Point .
Dedi LaRue, Sturgis Arts Council, opened the ceremony followed by the Sturgis Post 33 Honor Guard, Ken Sabers and Darrell Pulscher posting the colors. The Sturgis Area Arts Council with the Sturgis Public Library and Chamber of Commerce all collaborated with community leaders and veterans to create a series of programs on the Vietnam War and veterans that served during it.
The series centers around a novel titled "The Things They Carried," by Tim O'Brien, whose own tour of duty in Vietnam served as the inspiration for the book. All in attendance received a free copy of the book and were encouraged to return it to the library after reading the story so others can also enjoy the book. Author Tim O’Brien will be in Sturgis on Friday, Sept. 22 at the Sturgis Community Center at 6 p.m. for a reception and at 7 p.m. for a presentation in the theater.
On Thursday, Kathy Dykstra, Sturgis Children’s Librarian, and Charlie Nonhof handed out puzzle pieces and asked everyone to take one and draw "what peace means to me" and then it will be displayed in the library. Kate Fjelstad sang and played the guitar during the event.
Screening of the Vietnam War was presented in a 17-minute preview. The series will be shown on South Dakota Public TV beginning Sunday, Sept. 17 and is a 10-day series.
Sturgis Mayor Mark Carstensen thanked the crowd on hand for showing up for what he called "a wonderful event."
"I want to thank all the organizations and volunteers that put this event together," he said.
He commended the Sturgis Area Arts Council for bringing culture to the community.
"All the hours and all the effort put into this help to make our community a better place," he said.
Members of the Sturgis Big Read Committee are: Dorothy Pulscher - Sturgis Area Arts Council, Julie Moore Peterson - Sturgis Public Library, Heidi Mayer Kruse - Sturgis Area Chamber of Commerce - Meade School District, Anne Bodman - Area Storyteller / Community Member, Jerry Lolley - Vietnam Veteran, Keith Marshall - Vietnam Veteran, Dick Turnwall - Vietnam Veteran, John Price - Vietnam Veteran, Justine Burgraff - Sturgis Center for the Arts, Francie Ganje - Homeslice Media Group / KBHB Radio, Deb Holland - Meade County Times, Jane Abernathy - Piedmont Public Library, Francie Ruebel Alberts - Sturgis Area Arts Council, Roxie Chowen - Sturgis Center for the Arts, Sylvia DeJarlais - Community Member and Dedi LaRue - Sturgis Arts Council.