Perry Brown ’57, a retired high school teacher in La Crescent, Minn., has made it a mission in life to acknowledge the service of war veterans. A veteran himself, Brown grew up in Spring Grove, Minn. As a college student, he took a leave of absence from Luther in order to serve in the US military during the Korean War. Several of his coaches and teammates on the Norse football team also served. Among them, Brown lists coach Edsel Schweizer, assistant coaches John Knipsel and Don Marquard ’56, Denny Mair ’56, LeRoy Schoenfeld ’56, Dick Knutson ’57, Dave Leikvold ’57, Jim Malone ’57, Don Nesheim ’57, and Roger Rima ’59.
The return home following the war, Brown says, was jarring: “Friends both at Luther and in Spring Grove would say, ‘Hey, Perry, where’ve you been? I haven’t seen you for a while.’ This was a forgotten war.”
As a high school teacher in La Crescent in the 1960s and ’70s, Brown saw history repeat itself during the Vietnam War when his former students returned from a devastating experience to a very mixed homecoming. “When the high school boys came back,” he says, “quite a few came back wounded, with Purple Hearts. The way the war went, I was prompted into writing these remembrances.”
Brown’s “remembrances” are poems and prose pieces about the wars that he’s distributed—framed or laminated—to hundreds of veterans to let them know they haven’t been forgotten. In addition to honoring fellow members of the armed forces, one of Brown’s poems was read during the dedication of a monument to service dogs in California.
In June of 2018, Brown took a Freedom Honor Flight through the Honor Flight Network, a nonprofit that flies veterans free of charge to visit war memorials in Washington, D.C. “It was 100 degrees in Washington that day,” Brown recalls. “Some of the veterans were 90 years old. Every time the bus doors opened, there was a container of ice water. They just insisted you take one.”
The visit went off almost without a hitch. When the group left D.C. to return home, the 75 wheelchairs in the bottom of the plane came loose, and they had to make an emergency landing to tie the chairs back down. But that snafu aside, the trip was a success. And the veterans’ homecoming this time was a very different experience. “Because of the problem with the wheelchairs,” Brown says, “we got back to La Crosse, Wisc., at 1:00 a.m. At the airport they opened up the doors to the hangar, and it was full of people, including the high school band from Sparta, playing to welcome us home.”