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This GR Vietnam War veteran has at least 11 former classmates who were killed in war

Celebrating July 4: GR Vietnam War vet to memorialize West MI vets who gave the ultimate sacrifice.

This Independence Day weekend, one local Vietnam War veteran is inviting you to honor a group of Grand Rapids vets who gave the ultimate sacrifice in the Vietnam War.

Vietnam War vet Jon Hansen was born in Grand Rapids, attended high school in Grand Rapids and then joined the Army shortly after.  It wasn’t until years later that he realized just how many of his former classmates also served in the same war, many of whom never came back.

“During the Vietnam War, it was all about numbers. Who killed more people was winning the war, supposedly, and to me, it was more important to recognize that these were men -- boys we grew up with and not just numbers or names on a wall,” said Hansen.

He served in the war between 1968 and 1970 and says he’s since been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). One day, while seeking treatment and waiting in a lobby, he picked up a magazine about the Vietnam War Veteran Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. This got him to thinking about just how many names on that wall belong to former classmates.

Hansen said, "The names on the wall are just names,” and that he wanted to give those names more meaning, sharing those names, their stories and even pictures on social media.

"This gets a little emotional for me,” Hansen said while getting choked up.

“Those guys need to be remembered as human beings, as guys who lived and friends we had in school, and so, I've made it a point to memorialize these guys and pay them the honors that they deserve."

This year, Hansen is taking those efforts one step further. Through research and help from the public, he now recognizes 11 former classmates who gave their lives fighting in the Vietnam War, and has even locating all of their gravesites.

  1. Don Adamson
  2. Dick Allen
  3. Ron Creager
  4. Terry Frechette
  5. Rich Haag
  6. Jon Jones
  7. Dennis Lobbezoo
  8. Mike Orr
  9. Larry Van Gessel
  10. Bob Van Gilder
  11. Jim Van Hattem

Recently, another former classmate, Bing Goei, suggested that they leave flowers on each tombstone in honor of the upcoming July 4th holiday. Friday, the two intend to visit each one, leaving flowers and a penny from Hansen. This is a tradition he says he recently learned about, when a veteran visits the gravesite of a fellow vet.

Anyone is welcome to be a part of Friday’s events. They’ll get started around 9 a.m. and will visit the following cemeteries:

-Rosedale Memorial Park Cemetery (50 Lake Michigan Dr, Grand Rapids, MI 49544):  Bob Van Gilder, Don Adamson, Larry Van Gessel, Ron Creager and Jim Van Hattem

-Washington Park Memorial Gardens (1205 Richmond St NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49504):  Mike Orr

-Fairplanes Cemetery (2056 Diamond Ave NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49505): Dennis Lobbezoo & Jon Jones

-Plainfield Township Cemetery (6205 Packer Dr NE, Belmont, MI 49306):  Terry Frechette

-Ressurection Cemetery (4100 Clyde Park Ave SW, Wyoming, MI 49509):  Rich Haag

-Restlawn Memorial Gardens (994 Paw Paw Dr, Holland, MI 49423):  Dick Allen

Of the 11 veterans Hansen and Goei will honor all but one attended what used to be known as Creston High School of Grand Rapids, but now goes by City High Middle on Plainfield Avenue Northeast.

Hansen says we must not forget about those who helped to fight for our freedom as we celebrate the July 4th holiday.

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