Russ Burgess, a Laporte School graduate, who served in the Army Special Forces Airborne during Vietnam.

by Otto Ringle

Last summer, my friend Alice and I drove up to Cass Lake to take in the Grand Opening of the grand and glorious, new Cedar Lakes Casino. If you haven’t been there yet, you should check it out.

The new venue is first-class in every respec. For the gambler, there are slots, poker, blackjack, roulette and even television sports-betting. For the diner there are four restaurants, and for entertainment there is a huge event center and an outdoor staging that resembles and parallels Moondance.

The grounds are gorgeous with beautiful, luscious plantings surrounded by attractive, newly-layed sod and the traffic control is easily navigable with well-laid and well-marked entries and exits.

Before we left for Cass Lake, to take in the grand opening of the new casino, we saw a little old man with a long, white beard and sun-glasses, reading every word on the bronze plaques below each of the bronze statues in the Circle of Time that stands in front of the Cass County Museum.

When we arrived at the casino in Cass Lake, we were having dinner in one of the four restaurants and that same little guy with the long white beard and sun-glasses walked past our table. I noticed he was wearing a cap with the words, “Special Forces Airborne,” so I stopped him and said, “Sir, we saw you at the Circle of Time in Walker, Thank you for your service in ‘Nam!”

“Are you from Walker?” he asked. “I graduated from Laporte and my aunt and uncle used to own Smitty’s Sunset Resort on Kabekona Lake.”

I immediately recalled the days when Dad and I fished Kabekona in an effort to catch crappies and sunnies that were prevelant in the small lake, adjacent to Lake Benedict, Kabekona Bay and the big waters of Leech. We oftentimes stopped in Smitty’s for a beer for Dad and a coke for me.

Smitty Burgess and his wife Doris, who also worked at Ah-Gwah-Ching, were always good hosts.

“So, is your name Burgess?” I asked. “Yup, Russ Burgess. After graduating from Laporte I joined the Army and was selected to go to Ranger School in Fort Benning, Ga. I graduated Special Forces Airborne and sent to Nam!”

There was an obvious sign of pleasure and pride in his eyes when he said that, but then he paused, and then he continued sadly and solemnly, and the pride turned to fire in his eyes,

“When I was discharged, all hell broke loose!”

I knew exactly what Russ meant, but I asked him anyway.

Russ took off his sun-glasses, revealed his war-torn, glassy-eyed facade and told us about the tactical use and the herbicidal warfare of Agent Orange, leaving Russ and about a million other veterans with health problems — the most common of which is Hodgkins lymphoma.

My friend Alice entered the conversation when she said, “I can relate to that. I had Hodgkins also!”

The remainder of the conversation was between Alice and Russ, while I just sat and listened. Russ’ disheartening and discouraging story of the perils of the Vietnam War of the ‘60s and the perils, threats and menace our veterans faced when they returned home, ended about the same time our dinner ended, and we left the table and moved on to the Moondance atmosphere of a Tribute to the Beatles, who belted out songs of the same era as that terrible war.

Although much older than the four young rockers from Liverpool, the four mimics wore the same black suits, the same black sun-glasses, had the same mop-top, black hair and even sounded much like John, Paul, Ringo and George.

When they sang one of our favorites, “Do you want to know a secret? Do you promise not to tell? Let me whisper in your ear, say the words you long to hear,” we had the urge to get up and jitterbug like we did 50 years ago, but no one did — we just sat, listened and enjoyed!

The tribute to the Beatles very appropriately ended with another of our favorite songs and the words seemed to summarize and epitomize the theme of the entire evening — that horrific, horrifying and horrible war, and the aftermath and byproduct that still exists today, yet masked and concealed by the beautiful music of the same times:

“Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away. Now it looks as though they’re here to stay. Oh, I believe in yesterday.”

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