Rep. Michele Bachmann and Sen. Amy Klobuchar sat in agreement. Secretary of State Mark Ritchie took a break from the upcoming gubernatorial election recount.
For a few hours Monday in the city of Ramsey, political wars were put on hold so community leaders could offer military veterans a big piece of the welcome home they've waited years to receive.
After nearly 10 years of plans, protests and politics, veterans from World War II to Iraq joined dozens of politicians at the groundbreaking for a state-of-the-art clinic that will serve veterans in the northwestern suburbs. The community-based outpatient clinic will offer an alternative in many cases to VA hospitals in Minneapolis and St. Cloud.
For several minutes after the politicians posed with those initial shovels of dirt, dozens of veterans kept digging and digging the turf they fought so hard to protect.
"You can't appreciate what this means," said Jim Gross, 63, of Ham Lake, a Vietnam veteran who says he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, hearing loss and injuries to his back and shoulder from an encounter with a land mine.
"Vietnam vets didn't get much when we got out, other than maybe get spit on. But for the VA to build this clinic and offer this kind of convenience for when you need your hearing aid adjusted or need a shot is just fantastic."
The 21,000-square-foot clinic will serve veterans from western Hennepin, Anoka, Sherburne, Wright, Isanti and Mille Lacs counties.
"Hallelujah," said Al Sannerud, 86, a World War II Army vet from Ham Lake who struggled to get to the hospital in St. Cloud, more than an hour away.
"To care for him who shall have borne the battle," Klobuchar said, quoting Lincoln's second inaugural address. Looking at the dozens of veterans in the standing-room-only crowd, Klobuchar added, "We need to show them the dignity they deserve."
Closer to their treatment
Former Marine Wayne Buchholz, 59, a Vietnam veteran from Ramsey, will be two minutes away from treatment for the hepatitis C that he says he got from a blood transfusion.
Marvin Hagen, 77, a former Marine from Blaine, will be closer to treatment for the atomic-warhead radiation that has plagued him.
Vietnam veteran Roger Wangren, 61, a former soldier from Oak Grove, will be closer to treatment for the prostate cancer that he blames on Agent Orange.
Dennis O'Connell, 76, an Army veteran from St. Francis, suffers from myasthenia-gravis, a neurological disorder. He said he will lop nearly 50 miles off of the drive to the doctor when the new clinic opens next fall.
"You can't believe what this will mean for the veterans community," O'Connell said.
Anoka County officials wonder what the new clinic will mean for Ramsey.
Mayor Bob Ramsey, a Gulf War veteran, hopes the city will have a Northstar commuter rail station to go with the clinic in Ramsey's vast and mostly undeveloped Center of Ramsey area. A train station would encourage more business, said city administrator Kurt Ulrich.
"Ramsey is a future-oriented community," said Bachmann, a 1974 Anoka High School graduate who talked about the marvel of having the clinic in her "own back yard."
To a group of fifth- and sixth-graders attending the ceremony, Bachmann said, "Some day, you may be here to take advantage of this wonderful clinic."
John Schlemmer, 62, an Army vet from Blaine, doesn't plan to wait that long.
"I won't be not doing something because of the distance to get to the doctor," he said.
"This will make my life so much easier."
Paul Levy • 612-673-4419.