As we continued to adjust to a slightly more sedentary lifestyle (at least in respect to driving each day), Nate had the idea to pick up locals who looked like they needed a meal and head over to a benefit dinner for a former Hawley High School student. The idea was great and seemed simple enough, but execution proved to be slightly more difficult at first. “So should we just drive around town to find people?” Shane asked. Nate replied, “I guess that seems like the only way.” 

As we drove down Main Ave into Fargo we spotted a man with a sign on the corner of 2nd St. Shane turned to Nate and asked, “What about this guy?” Nate suggested we turn around to see what his sign said. After making another pass we noticed the sign read “VET NEEDS HELP GOD BLESS”. Realizing this intersection is probably one of the busier ones in the area, Shane turned around for another pass to park in a nearby lot. 

As we moved down the sidewalk something stood out about this man with a sign. He stood straight and calm with a modestly weathered face that indicated a life full of stories. Under an impressive handle-bar mustache was a smile that greeted anyone who passed regardless whether or not they noticed him. 

We struck up conversation immediately and without wasting much time at all Nate asked if he wanted to go grab something to eat, “It’s on us.” The man respectfully declined citing plans he had later that evening, but that he appreciated the offer. Instead of simply walking away, we ended up having a conversation with the man for nearly a half hour as he shared stories and life lessons gathered through the years. 

He introduced himself as Lance Corporal Don Tanner. LCpl Tanner served two tours of duty as a Marine in Vietnam where his life was forever changed. After returning home in 1969 he faced a similar welcome the other Vietnam veterans received, but what was surprising about LCpl Tanner was that his family turned on him. As a result, he left with a buddy to work in the deserts of Nevada for a company that produced napalm. The irony was definitely not lost on LCpl Tanner. 

Currently, LCpl Tanner receives assistance from the local VA for PTSD as a result from his time in Vietnam. He is living with a relative in the area and admits that the only thing keeping him going some days is Barb’s cooking (his relative’s wife), Skittles the parrot, and their dog Brandy. 

Before leaving we wished him well and Nate handed him some folded up cash saying, “Because we aren’t able to share a meal, I hope this can help.” LCpl Tanner was incredibly appreciative as he thanked us profusely. 

Weaved into all his stories LCpl Tanner continuously stressed how important it is for people to learn not only from their mistakes, but from the mistakes of others before them. He told us his stories not in pride or to gain our respect. He told us his stories in the hope that others can learn from them. LCpl Tanner – mission accomplished. 

To John P… On this day you gave to a very deserving veteran. Not only did he serve every one of us, but he lives right here at home. While we didn’t buy him Zingers, we can assure you that your money went to the right place. Your positive attitude is inspiring in itself, and you’re always pleasure to be around. Keep spreading that positive attitude. People build on that! Thanks for your support of this project and an even deeper thank you for helping a man named Don.

A story is only a lesson in disguise. ‪#‎ProjectWildness‬