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Vikings Museum Hosts VA Patients for Veterans Day

Local military veterans were hosted at the Vikings Museum in recognition of Veterans Day. The men and women were thanked for their service by Vikings Legends Mike Harris and Gene Washington.

EAGAN, Minn. – Bob Miller's first time outside of the Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Hospital in three months brought him to the Vikings Museum.

Miller, who is recovering from a stroke, visited the museum with his wife, Darlene, and daughter, Kristina Vollmer.

"It's been very special to spend time with my dad and mom together, because we've all been visiting separately," Vollmer said. "Being together as a family and doing an outing is really nice."

Miller served three years as a PFC in the U.S. Army. He was joined on Monday by approximately 20 other U.S. Military veterans, who were hosted at the Vikings Museum in recognition of Veterans Day. The men and women were thanked for their service by Vikings Legends Mike Harris (2014-16) and Gene Washington (1967-72), whom many of the guests grew up watching.

Miller recalled attending Vikings games at Metropolitan Stadium.

"My dad used to take me there, and we had to wear snowmobile suits," said Miller, cracking a smile on an especially cold November day in Minnesota.

Washington and Harris enjoyed connecting with the veterans and were happy to sign autographs, pose for photos or simply listen to their stories.

"I really appreciate the fact that they have an opportunity to visit this museum, and most of them remember the old-timers like me," Washington said. "It's nice talking to some of these veterans about the early years. I'm just so happy to have the chance to say a few words to them. I played in the '60s, and some of them remember that, at the Old Met, so it's kind of fun."

Vollmer said it spoke volumes for the Vikings Legends and even staff members to take the time to say "thank you" to her father and the other veterans.

"I think it means a lot. The recognition that they get and the respect, just to know that they aren't forgotten," Vollmer said. "Time goes by, and you don't really think about the freedoms that we have because of the men and women who fought for us. Knowing that it is recognized is really nice."

Eric "Scott" Poehler also was among the group of veterans.

He spent several minutes taking in the Bud Grant exhibit and said he learned a few new tidbits about the Hall of Fame Coach, including his two seasons in the NBA with the Minneapolis Lakers.

Born and raised in Minnesota, Poehler was 10 years old when the Vikings franchise was founded in 1961 and remembers watching Fran Tarkenton scramble away from defenders behind the line of scrimmage.

After his high school graduation some years later, he spent the summer in California before returning to the Twin Cities in the fall and registered for the draft after turning 18 in October.

Three weeks later, Poehler was called up.

He recalled arriving with approximately 300 men at the Federal Building in downtown Minneapolis and being asked to line up along a hallway.

"They told us to count off by 4s – one, two, three, four; one, two, three, four – all the way down the line," Poehler said. "Then they said, 'You 4s, step across the hall. You are now Marines.' I looked across at my buddy and said, 'I know guys who were Marines, and they got shot.' So, I went and enlisted in the Air Force."

Poehler served in the Air Force in Vietnam for three years and eight months and received an "early out" when he returned to the States.

"Vietnam, all I can say about that is, it was nothing like the brochure," he said.

Poehler suffered a spinal cord injury during a motor vehicle accident nearly 15 years ago and currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Paralyzed Veterans of America's Minnesota chapter.

He appreciated the opportunity to represent the organization at the Vikings Museum.

"It's always nice to see [and connect with] other veterans who have paid their dues," Poehler said.  

Ron Devoll, Director of Voluntary Community Resources Services at the Minneapolis VA, echoed Poehler's thoughts in emphasizing the camaraderie among veterans.

"They experience that while they're in service, being close to those who are to their left and right, so this is really important," Devoll said. "I think that this is a really significant day for them and a great opportunity to be together out here at the Vikings Museum.

"I think this is a great way for the Minnesota Vikings and the Minneapolis VA Healthcare System to partner," Devoll added. "I would say that how the veterans are interacting with each other and how their overall experience speaks for itself; it's just really incredible."

The group that visited on Monday was a mix of inpatients and outpatients, and all are part of the poly-trauma program, meaning they could be amputees, be dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder or have spinal cord or brain injuries.

The unique Veterans Day outing provided the individuals with not only an exclusive look at the Vikings Museum but also a social setting outside of the hospital in a comfortable environment closed to the public.

Kristin Powell works as an outpatient recreational therapist in the brain injury unit and explained the benefit.

"That's why I want to invest in them, so that they can overcome and find a way to make each day better," Powell said. "A lot of times, it's taking what they've learned out into the community since they now have that skill set. And they're thriving. … Each person has a little bit different goal that they're focused on today, and that's what makes this really individualized within a community setting.

"I think there's a lot of value to them being here together and being able to celebrate each other," Powell added. "You look around at these smiles – for some people, it's the highlight of their week."