Lou Ellingson once shared that his requested transfer to Swift-boat duty in Vietnam while in the U.S. Navy didn’t quite play out as advertised.
A Navy colleague told Ellingson – who was looking for a change after being assigned to the USS MountTrail in Norfolk, Va. – that Swift boats would be pretty easy wartime duty: patrol off the coast of Vietnam, occasionally stop and search a junk or Asian sailing boat, and approach U.S. destroyers and other ships and ask for ice cream.
Instead, the Navy captain and his small crew used the 50-foot-long, machine-gun-toting Swift boat – all aluminum and known for its prowess in shallow water – to patrol a long stretch of the Mekong River, interrupt enemy supply lines, and stop North Vietnamese and Viet Cong incursions across the river from their safe bases in Cambodia – often drawing or opening fire in the process.
It’s a Vietnam War experience that makes the longtime Eden Prairie resident a natural for recognition this coming Memorial Day, May 31, when the Eden Prairie Veterans Committee holds its annual ceremony at the Veterans Memorial in Purgatory Creek Park, at the corner of Technology and Prairie Center drives, starting at 11 a.m.
Also being honored and asked to speak at the event, as the Eden Prairie Veterans Committee expands its veteran recognition beyond city borders, is Jim McDougall, a World War II veteran from Minnetonka.
McDougall served in the Southwest Pacific, flying the Navy’s PBY “Black Cat” Catalinas, which were amphibious aircraft used for patrols, bombing, and search and rescue. Their “Black Cat” nickname came from their black paint, applied to add stealth to their night missions.
He has recorded his memories in a book titled “Conflict to Combat in the South Pacific,” and was featured in a story published by the now-defunct Lakeshore Weekly News in December 2018.
Weather permitting, Eden Prairie’s Memorial Day ceremony will be another step in the return to normalcy. Committee member Steve Steele said chairs will be spaced farther apart than normal to respect health concerns, but many of the traditional elements of the program will be back after a minimalist program last year and a rain-out in 2019.
That includes Viking Civil Air Patrol cadets posting the American flag and an honor guard from the Eden Prairie Police Department raising the colors.
The public is invited.
The Eden Prairie Veterans Memorial was dedicated in 2008 after a committee of local and dedicated service veterans came up with the vision, raised the money, and supervised its construction.
(You can learn more about the Eden Prairie Veterans Memorial at Purgatory Creek and the local veterans honored there by visiting a section of the City of Eden Prairie website.)