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Honoring Sacrifices of Fallen Soldiers for Memorial Day

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EAGAN, Minn. — The origins of Memorial Day in America are traced to the end of the Civil War, but it didn't become an official national holiday, to be observed on the final Monday of each May, until 1971.

In observance of Memorial Day and the service members who have paid the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty, Vikings.com is re-sharing stories in tribute to fallen soldiers.

An emotional tribute | by Craig Peters

Amid a sea of purple inside U.S. Bank Stadium, a lone black seat stands unfilled and dedicated to service members who have been Prisoners of War/Missing in Action.

Navy Cmdr. Brian Danielson was invited to stand guard in 2016 as part of the first Vikings Salute to Service game at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Cmdr. Danielson "was almost overwhelmed with emotion," making it difficult to stand solemnly at full attention. More than 66,000 fans stood and cheered.

"You could feel the vibe throughout the stadium of love and support, and that's a very humbling experience," Cmdr. Danielson told Vikings.com in 2016.

View the story of Lt. Cmdr. Brian Danielson, who found his father Capt. Ben Danielson more than 35 years after he was classified as 'last known alive' and 'Missing in Action', after being shot down over Laos in 1969.

His father, Air Force Maj. Ben Danielson, flew the F-4 Phantom during the Vietnam War. Maj. Danielson, who was a Captain at the time, was shot down in Laos on Dec. 5, 1969. One of the largest search-and-rescue missions ever led to the recovery of 1st Lt. Woody Bergeron, who was alive, but Danielson was not located.

In April 2006, Danielson (then a Lt. Cmdr.) became the first family member of an active MIA serviceman to participate in an excavation effort. He joined 15 members of Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency in the effort for 45 days, but the group was unable to find remains.

When Danielson returned from his seventh overseas tour in September 2006, he received word that a bone fragment and dog tags had been found. A DNA test confirmed it was Maj. Danielson, providing closure after 38-plus years.

Cmdr. Danielson said some have expressed sympathy for all the years without his father and the long wait, but he doesn't see it as a sad story.

"The point for me is it should be an inspirational story," Danielson said. "For all of the things that are bad about our country — war, divisiveness, all of these types of things — my dad's story is uplifting to me because it shows the story of why you maintain hope and why you place faith in the government, why you place faith in your local communities. My community, my state, my government never gave up and always worked to get my dad home. That's a good news story."

Guests from TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors) | by Lindsey Young

The Vikings players, coaches and staff hosted family members from the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors on May 28th.

The day after Memorial Day 2019, the Vikings held a voluntary Organized Team Activity practice and welcomed families of eight fallen U.S. Military members.

TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors) helped connect the families with the Vikings.

Becky Ewing and her 3-year-old grandson, Asher, were invited on behalf of Sgt. Zachary Ewing.

Sgt. Ewing (Becky's son and Asher's uncle) passed away Aug. 27, 2016, after a yearlong battle with cancer that was discovered in 2015 after Sgt. Ewing was injured during his second deployment to Iraq.

Asher was greeted with a fist bump from Dalvin Cook, who took notice of the young man's Batman-themed sunglasses, saying, "Wow, I've never met a real superhero before!"

Becky described attending a Vikings game before Sgt. Ewing's second deployment.

"We definitely made time to come to a game before his second deployment. Make the memories before they go, just in case something happens," said Becky. "It was great to just have a day as a family."

Capt. Brad Cedergren (ret.) and his family attended in honor of his brother, U.S. Navy Hospitalman 3rd Class David Cedergren, who passed away Sept. 11, 2004, in a non-combat incident near Iskandariayah, Iraq.

"He loved the military," Capt. Cedergren said. "He actually was about two weeks away from coming home from his deployment, and one of the things that he had talked about was going to Navy Seals training and being a corpsman with the Navy Seals. He wanted to continue medical in some capacity. Being over there, there's not a whole lot of great things to talk about, but he looked optimistically at it. He would talk about the 'long, never-ending beaches of Iraq.' He was just a really optimistic guy."

The Vikings and NFL partnered with The Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) to host families during Pro Bowl week.

During the Pro Bowl in January, Tanisha Henri and her two youngest daughters traveled from Maple Grove, Minnesota, to Florida in honor of husband and father, Army Sgt. Paul Henri.

Sgt. Henri passed away March 2, 2018, on his 38th birthday.

The Henri family met with other families in a circle at ESPN's Wide World of Sports and created a wooden American flag in memory of their loved ones and finding a unity with other families impacted by tragedies.

"It's amazing because when you're at home, you don't really see other families. You think you're alone; no one else knows what you're going through," explained Tanisha, who appreciated the opportunity to meet Vikings teammates Harrison Smith and Eric Kendricks. "But being here, it's like, 'OK, her husband also died, and she has kids, so she probably understands what I'm going through.' And I think for my kids, it's showing them that they're not the only ones that this happened to." 

Safety Harrison Smith and Eric Kendricks met the family.

A legacy lives on | By Craig Peters

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Army Sgt. Nicholas Dickhut was 23 years old when he died in combat in Zharay, Afghanistan, on April 30, 2012.

The native of Stewartville loved to travel and planned to tour the country by motorcycle when he finished serving in the military.

In order to connect that passion and help Sgt. Dickhut's legacy, his mother Jacque Carson began creating dog tags and distributing them during her work shifts at a gas station off Interstate 90.

A couple in Australia took one back after attending a wedding in Wisconsin, and Sgt. Dickhut's memory is also kept alive in Scotland, Germany and New Zealand.

"People come from all over," Jacque explained. "I always have a couple of them handy because, this way, he gets to go to places he never went."

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Jacque, her husband Randy Carson, and their son, David Carson, were invited to Vikings Training Camp with a group from Survivor Outreach Services. She brought a dog tag with her to give to the team for its road trips and randomly handed it to long snapper Austin Cutting, who had graduated from the United States Air Force Academy last spring.

When Cutting and the Vikings took flight to open the 2019 preseason in New Orleans, the dog tag honoring Sgt. Dickhut made the trip.

Cutting appreciated the joy the family had in sharing the memento of Sgt. Dickhut. He said he was "honored to be able to carry out something that his family wanted."

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"It's always kind of incredible to see how much families have gone through," Cutting said.

Sgt. Dickhut appeared in a famous Reuters photo taken by Raz Batner just days before dying in combat.

"He texted me and said, 'I'm famous.' I said, 'Whaaat?!' He sent me a link, a picture of him with the news photo of the day, worldwide," Jacque recalled. "We were talking back and forth and chatted on Facebook. He called Sunday (April 29) to wish his little brother David a happy birthday. Mostly what we talked about was he was thinking of re-upping.

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"He was nearing his four-year tour and thinking of going back. When he was talking to me, he wanted to re-enlist but only if he got to go to the airborne unit in Italy. It's called the Ghost Brigade because nobody is ever there. They always ship them out for training, and that's what he was wanting. He wanted to be a helicopter pilot. He had this all planned, but he went out on a mission after he called and was shot and didn't make it.

"That was pretty awesome that we actually got a phone call, and he said, 'I love you.' That's not what many people get," she added.

Click here to read more of Sgt. Dickhut's story.

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