WDAZ: Your Home Team

Published November 12, 2012, 02:31 PM

Farmer Uses 10 Foot Tall Rock to Pay Tribute to Veterans

Grafton's Leonoard Kubousek is a farmer and a veteran. After farming around a large rock for years he decides to make it into a tribute to veterans.

By: Kevin Bonham, Grand Forks Herald

FOREST RIVER, N.D. — For years, Leonard Kubousek farmed around a well-worn rock that protruded from a field.

“There was just a small head sticking up,” he said. “We were breaking cultivator heads all the time.”

When he finally decided to get rid of it last year, he discovered it would be no easy task. So, he hired an excavator, who used a backhoe to remove the rock, which stands about 10 feet tall, and is some 8 to 9 feet wide and deep.

You don’t just throw away a rock that weighs at least several tons. Instead, he had it moved to the edge of the field, resting against a shelterbelt.

“I thought the rock should be put to some useful purpose,” he said.

And as a Vietnam-era veteran, he figured it would make a fine tribute to veterans, maybe even a tourist attraction — never mind that it’s more than three miles from the nearest paved road.

He contacted Devon Allen, an artist who works as a nail technician in a salon in nearby Park River, N.D.

Together, they came up with a design: A soldier, kneeling in a field, rifle in hand, with the sun rising in the background; above, a bald eagle flying in front of the U.S. flag.

That the rock — located along Walsh County Road 8, 2 miles west and 3.25 miles north of Midway Public School — is not on any normal tourist map means little to Richard Krajewski, state commander of the North Dakota Chapter of the Disabled American Veterans.

Memorials, no matter where they are located, can inspire hope among men and women who have served their country, and those who want to serve in the future.

“I think we need symbols and icons to remind us of our past, the sacrifices made,” Krajewski said. “It helps you remember how we got our freedom.”

Vietnam veteran

Krajewski, a Grand Forks resident who is serving a one-year term as state DAV commander, will participate today in Veterans Day events in Grand Forks and East Grand Forks.

Born nearly 65 years ago in the St. Thomas, N.D., area, he has spent most of his life in or working with the military.

Krajewski volunteered for the U.S. Army at 17, spending several months training in Cali-fornia before landing in Saigon, Vietnam, where he and fellow troops were greeted by a mortar attack. It was in December 1965, on his 18th birthday.

He served for 27 months in Vietnam in two tours, the first one as a door gunner, firing M-16 rifles while hanging out of open doors of helicopters with the 128th Assault Helicopter Com-pany.

“I was shot down once,” he said. “There were 22 bullet holes in the chopper. And we crashed four different times. I was 19 when I got home, and I couldn’t even go into a bar.”

The second tour, from May 1970 to May 1971, was spent as part of the 25th Infantry Division, in which he worked with special force units.

Like many returning veterans, Krajewski met hostile crowds when he returned to the United States, especially after his first tour, in April 1967.

His first stop was San Francisco, where he checked into a hotel. He remembers cleaning up, donning his Army uniform and walking outside, to breathe in the cool air.

“I was proud,” he said.

The euphoria didn’t last long.

“There was a protest going on 500 feet away from me,” he said. “A Vietnam War protest. I had to go back into my hotel and change my clothes.”

Like many of his comrades, Krajewski never really fit into non-military life after Vietnam. That’s why he went back to Vietnam. And that’s why he stayed connected with the military throughout his career.

“I just needed to be around military people,” he said.

After his second tour, he returned to North Dakota, spending 41 years at Grand Forks Air Force Base as equipment management supervisor, and 22 years with the North Dakota Na-tional Guard.

Reaching out

Krajewski now spends much of his time lobbying for veterans causes, for legislation that will benefit those who have served.

He also reaches out to veterans, to make them aware of available benefits, or simply to lis-ten, as someone may have shared some similar experiences.

Some 4,600 veterans are registered with the DAV in North Dakota. But the rolls have been falling.

“Our biggest goal is to attract Iraq and Afghanistan veterans,” he said. “We’re losing our World War II vets fast. We’re losing our Korea vets, and even our Vietnam vets.”

Few veterans of Iraq or Afghanistan have joined the DAV, even though Krajewski believes most people who have served in combat have some degree of post traumatic stress disorder.

“They need time to reassess things in their lives,” he said.

Krajewski understands that. He was immersed in a military career most of his life and didn’t join the DAV until he was 57.

Today, the DAV is his mission.

He’s encouraged by the growing number civic actions — the dedication of memorials, parks and other tributes to honor members of the military and veterans, especially since 9/11.

But he’s never forgotten that reception he received from the group of war protesters in San Francisco.

“That’s the kind of recognition Vietnam veterans got,” he said. “What’s happening today is that whole communities come out to welcome home soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan. We opened the door for the Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.”

Leonard Kubousek doubts he’ll ever see a veterans’ park or some other big tourist attraction in that field, where he moved that giant rock and had painted it to honor those who have served.

That’s not the point.

The veterans rock is just one more tribute decorating the landscape, one that serves as a subtle reminder to those who happen to drive by.

“Any memorial serves a purpose,” Krajewski said. “It might close the door on a particular event, a war. But it never lets you forget.”