Memorial Day services in Hallock honor Ricky Knutson and his father, Gerald with posthumous medals
By Margie Holmgren, KCE Editor
Memorial day is a day of remembrance for those who have died in service of the United States of America. Started in 1868 with several possible birthplaces, Memorial Day is celebrated locally in every city in the county.
Memorial Day holds a lot of meaning for the many family members and friends who have lost a loved one while they were serving our country.
For the relatives of Ricky Knutson, it is especially meaningful as they spent over 20 years now knowing the fate of their beloved son, brother and uncle.
Knutson was a chief warrant officer serving in the Army of the United States during the Vietnam war in 1973.
A helicopter pilot, Knutson and his fellow officers were believed to have crashed over enemy territory after being struck by an enemy SA-7 missile. It was unknown if Knutson was a Prisoner of War or Missing In Action.
In the United States, his family waited for news, kept praying and hoped for the best.
In Vietnam, a search of the area turned up nothing.
Three weeks later when the American involvement ended it was believed he was a POW?that had not been released.
Early in 1973, Pham Van Tiep, a farmer in Vietnam was diving in the river near the crash site when he discovered a shirt with some bones in it. Tiep buried these remains at the crash site on the river bank.
The family did not lose faith, hoping for the safe return of Ricky. A freedom tree in his honor was planted June 18, 1974.
Along with the tree planting was a ceremony that was attended by approximately 500 people. Mayor M.C. Dipple gave a welcome address and recalled his last visit with Ricky.
Rev. Lauren Youngdale gave the invocation and Dennis Sobolik spoke of the hope Americans should have for Ricky and other young men yet unaccounted for a year after the end of America’s involvement in Vietnam.
Robert C. Nelson also spoke of Ricky’s determination as a boy.
Ricky’s mother unveiled the plaque by the tree that reads “The Freedom Tree with the Vision of Universal Freedom, for all Mankind. This Tree is Dedicated to WO1 Richard Knutson, and all Prisoners of War, and Missing in Action, 1974.”
In 1979, Knutson was presumed dead, body not recovered. But the family still wondered. In a 1995 Grand Forks Herald story, Ricky’s sister, Cindy Sobolik was quoted “I would have felt really bad writing Ricky off for my own comfort.”
With very poor information about the incident and where his remains could possibly be, there was still that uncertainty.
In 1981, Vietnam farmer Tiep, who had been watching over the crash site, moved the remains he’d found to a grave in the village cemetery.
It wasn’t until August 1993 that a US/Socialist Republic of Vietnam Joint Investigation Team interviewed witnesses of the 1973 helicopter crash. These witnesses reported that the wreckage had been scavenged and witnesses also provided information on the burial of several bodies near the crash site. Another witness stated that four bodies had been exhumed by North Vietnamese military officials in 1981 and that three of them were wearing two piece uniforms, indicating they were not part of the aircraft crew and one was believed to be Major Deane who had been on the aircraft. But their team’s investigation of the crash site came up with nothing.
Again in January of 1994, another team interviewed additional witnesses, one of whom was Tiep. He led the team to the cemetery where he had buried the remains he had found.
The military used these remains and dental records of Ricky’s to make a determination that it was him that had been found.
His mother, Ruby was notified in May of 1995 but final confirmation did not come until October.
A funeral for Ricky was finally held November 18, 1995, 22 years after his helicopter was shot down.
While many services of remembrance have been held in Ricky’s honor, the Memorial Day service held in Hallock this year focused on his sacrifices for his country and the people he loved dearly.
Ricky’s family was presented a box with all of Ricky’s medals. They included: Purple Heart, Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal w/ 1 Bronze Star, Republic Of Vietnam Campaign Ribbon w/ Device (1960), Expert Badge w/Auto Rifle Bar, Marksman Badge w/ Auto Rifle Bar, Army Aviation Badge. He was also awarded the Republican Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Palm Unit Citation.
Ricky was not the only Knutson honored on this Memorial day though. His father, Gerald A. Knutson, who served as a medical officer from April 19, 1943 to April 3, 1946 and was a Lieutenant Commander in the US?Naval Service was awarded the American Theatre Model and the World War II Victory Medal.
Memorial Day is to remember those who gave their lives fighting for their country. But maybe it is as much for the families of those that gave their lives to see the gratitude and love of those in the communities that watched these men grow up and give more than they were expected to give.