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Vietnam veteran paddles Mississippi for Gold Star families

Jim Crigler is paddling the length of the Mississippi River beginning at Lake Itasca with his final destination being New Orleans. Submitted photo

In the middle of May, Hastings will see Jim Crigler pass down the Mississippi River on his canoe as part of his solo canoe trip paddling the entire length of the river. Crigler, a Winona resident and Vietnam War veteran, began his journey in Lake Itasca April 22 and will make his way to New Orleans with the hopes that it will only take him 67 days to finish.

"I'm going to start a movement to get normal American citizens to find a Gold Star family in their community ... and write them a thank you note," Crigler said.

In addition, Crigler will promote his new book "Mission of Honor," an autobiography about his experience as a helicopter pilot in Vietnam. He will also raise money for American Huey 369, a charitable organization that gives helicopter flights to veterans and their families. The flights are also offered to Gold Star families.

A Gold Star family is an immediate family of a member of the military who has been killed in battle fighting for the freedoms of Americans, Crigler said. During the Vietnam War, the vast majority of Gold Star families were not recognized or did not receive thanks for their sacrifice, but Crigler said that he wants to start a movement that will "correct a wrong" and recognize their sacrifice. He has plans to stop in every major and mid-sized city along his route and hopes to personally meet and thank many of these Gold Star families.

Crigler has hopes to finish his journey within 67 days."Every paddle stroke I make is in honor of those Gold Star families," Crigler said.

Crigler's first experience with a Gold Star family was during the Vietnam War. One of his friends was killed in combat and he helped escort his friend's remains back to Wisconsin. That was the first time he met a Gold Star family.

In 2012, Crigler began working with American Huey 369 and through his experiences with the organization he has been able to meet many more Gold Star families. All the proceeds he receives will go directly toward the restoration and maintenance of both Huey aircrafts and operation of the American Huey 369 museum located in Indiana. Crigler said that during the Vietnam War, the sound of the Huey meant that help was on its way. The experience of riding in the Huey again for some veterans and Gold Star families can be a healing experience.

"When you see these families fly in the same vehicle that took their loved one in and out of the battlefield...when they get in that bird and finish with that flight, it's really cathartic," Crigler said.

For more information about Crigler's book and journey on the Mississippi River, visit www.missionofhonor.org. For more information about American Huey 369, visit www.americanhuey369.com.

Michelle Wirth

Michelle Wirth graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in 2013 with a degree in journalism and web design. She worked as a web content editor for a trade association before coming to the Hastings Star Gazette in 2016.

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