It seemed as there were endless smiles, laughs and memories that accompanied the surprises that kept rolling in.
And for five Minnesota-based veterans, it was also a little overwhelming at times.
The Vikings recently honored the group as part of the 2018 Veterans Voyage, which the organization put on for the second straight year in partnership with Hy-Vee.
“I had a wonderful feeling that started from the bottom of my toes and went up because that isn’t something that is normally done for veterans,” said Air Force veteran Gerald Lanahan as he summed up the past few weeks. “Every time you turned around, it was a new feeling and a new emotion.”
Demetrius Young, an Army veteran, added: “I am just so grateful … and I feel like I don’t deserve all that was given to us with all the surprises and everything.”
Lanahan and Young were two of the five veterans recognized by the Vikings. The group also included Shantell Hoff, a veteran of the Minnesota Army National Guard, plus Army veterans Glenn Boche and Michael Quinn.
The quintet were nominated by family or friends and selected from a pool of several hundred veterans.
While the veterans were honored in various ways by the team, the highlight was a surprise trip to Washington, D.C., for Veterans Day.
The veterans were acknowledged on the field in the second quarter of Minnesota’s recent win over the Lions when the surprise announcement was made on the field in front of thousands of appreciative Vikings fans.
“It was so incredible, and we were so surprised,” Quinn said. “We read it on the [U.S. Bank Stadium video board], and we thought maybe it was for somebody else.
“Then they came walking out with those suitcases, and it dawned on almost all of us at the same time what was going on,” Quinn added. “It was like one more surprise after another … it was almost overwhelming.”
Veterans Voyage presented by Hy-Vee
Hy-Vee and the Vikings were proud to partner on the second annual Veterans Voyage, honoring five Minnesota men and women for their outstanding service to their country and their communities. These five were surprised with tickets to the Salute to Service game and FREE groceries from Hy-Vee for a year! While attending the game, our honorees received another surprise – a trip to Washington, D.C. for Veterans Day!
The group left for the nation’s capital on Friday evening and spent two action-packed days taking in the sights and sounds of the city.
The itinerary included a guided tour of Capitol Building and a tour of the Library of Congress on Saturday before the group ventured out for a moonlight tour of various monuments.
They then attended a Veterans Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery on Sunday morning before later exploring Mount Vernon, the historic home of George Washington, the first President of the United States.
It seemed each veteran had a different favorite moment in a memory-filled highlight.
Quinn remarked that Arlington National Cemetery was his most memorable moment, and Young added that he was awestruck by the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Along the way, the group of three Vietnam veterans [Boche, Lanahan and Quinn] bonded with Hoff and Young, the pair of Iraq veterans.
“These are going to be lifelong friends,” Young said. “We exchanged numbers and emails and we’ve already been texting since the trip has been over.
“I’m an Iraq vet, but I got to experience it with some Vietnam veterans and another Iraq vet,” Young added. “Just to experience it with other veterans was so much more special.”
Quinn said the trip was extra special for the trio of Vietnam veterans, who each received a commemorative pin for their service.
“I’m just very humbled, for one thing,” Quinn said. “It’s very touching to me that after 40-45 years of not being able to really talk about what we did, to be thanked and welcomed is just beyond words to me.”
“It’s pretty common with the way veterans are treated now. But the vast majority of the people don’t appreciate what we went through when we came home,” Quinn added. “We couldn’t talk about it … we were the bad boys from over there. I just wanted to let people know we truly appreciate a welcome home.”
While the trip was the signature moment for the veterans, they also received multiple surprises the week before the game against the Lions.
Friends and family members of the group wrangled them up and brought them to Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center on Oct. 29 to begin the festivities.
After the group got a tour of the new facility, Vikings fullback C.J. Ham surprised them with tickets to the game against Detroit.
“It’s really great that the Vikings make an effort to recognize these veterans for what they do,” Ham said. “The sacrifices they made … they took time away from their families to go and protect the country so we can live a better life.”
“It was amazing,” Ham added. “It touched me in a way I didn’t know I could be touched.”
But the fun was just beginning, as Hy-Vee staff then surprised the veterans with free groceries for a year.
Hoff struggled to find the words of appreciation for that gesture.
“I don’t even know … there are no words for that, no words to say thank you,” Hoff said. “[Food is] such a huge expense, even though it’s just me and my boyfriend.
“We have people over for [Vikings] games on Sundays,” Hoff added. “We have a house payment and everything else, it’s amazing and a blessing.”
The friends and family members of the veterans who were in on the surprises said they couldn’t think of a more deserving group to be recognized and honored.
“He keeps giving back,” said Ryan Sabinish, who nominated Boche. “He’s been out of the military a long, long time … since Vietnam, and he was wounded in Vietnam … yet he still gives back to help veterans in need.”
Added Mikey Quinn, Jr., of his father: “He’s kind of my hero for what he did for this country, and I know it means a lot to him. He’s a Vietnam vet, so when he came home, things were not so nice. Now that our country is a little bit more open and we’ve changed to an era of being supportive of our troops, it has been very therapeutic and very good for him. He’s proud to wear it now and be thanked for it.”
And for the veterans who took in the whirlwind journey, it was an experience they will never forget.
“Other than my marriage and the birth of my kids and grandkids, this would be the next most important thing to happen to me. To be welcomed and thanked by these people,” Michael Quinn said. “It’s hard to put into words what that means to us.
“We will be forever grateful for what [the Vikings] did for us,” Quin added. “Seriously, it was over the top and beyond words.”
Added Lanahan: “It was one of the highlights of my life.”