A lifetime of service
Jeff Seeber enlisted in the U.S. Navy when he was 18 years old. As a Fleet Marine Force Corpsman, his job was to provide medical aid for marines. That was nearly 40 years ago. Now the Woodbury resident and Vietnam veteran is providing aid to fellow military members in a different way.
Seeber, along with help from some of his buddies at the Minneapolis Veterans Medical Center, has been spending quite a bit of his time in the last few years on the Military Salute Project, an organization he founded that aims to honor military members who have served or are currently serving their country.
Seeber actually began the project as a video tribute in 2003 to honor three friends and fellow FMF corpsman he saw die in the Great Lakes Naval Hospital in 1970. Seeber was severely wounded during his service and, as a result, spent many months fighting for his life in the hospital. He survived, but not without a lifetime of physical ailments and emotional scars that come from enduring a war zone.
"I spent a whole lot of my life being bitter," Seeber said, recalling the cultural climate that greeted military members who returned from Vietnam. "It wasn't hard to be that way for a lot of us who came back. There's a lot of us who still are bitter after all these years."
That changed for Seeber shortly after the current crop of military members began coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan.
"It's decades later and all the sudden these men and women are coming back and they're getting a real welcome home," Seeber said. "And you know what was the first thing a lot of them said? It was, 'This is nice, but it's too bad the Vietnam vets didn't get the welcome home like this.' That's when I began to find a real connection with a lot of these newest veterans."
Seeber began finding ways to publicly support the troops coming home. He joined an organization called the Patriot Guard Riders, a group of veterans and civilians who provide support for families of fallen military members. He also began developing several different projects for the Military Salute Project website, including literary initiatives for vets and an e-mail exchange for recently returned military members and those currently serving overseas.
The latest venture for the group is the Honor and Remember Ride to Washington, which will kick off June 14. The motorcycle trip will honor military members all the way to the nation's capitol. Ongoing physical ailments will not allow Seeber to use a motorcycle, so he will make the trip by van.
One of the fellow riders is Jim Benson, a Vietnam era vet who will be leading the trip by motorcycle.
Benson said he originally intended find a couple friends to ride with him to visit the Vietnam Memorial, but after talking with Seeber, the ride grew in its proportions and scope.
"I'm sort of in awe with how this whole thing has come together," Benson said. "Jeff did a lot of work and we don't know how many people will be riding with us. It could be 40 people or hundreds."
During the ride, Seeber said the group will be joined along the way by several motorcycle clubs from around the country who will help them pay tribute to men and women currently serving in the military and to those who lost their lives during service in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"We're doing this so that the families of those who are serving now, and especially the families who have lost their loved ones, know there are complete strangers out there who care about the sacrifice they've made," Seeber said.
One of the stops on the ride will be Arlington National Cemetery. There the group will visit the grave sites of fallen military members from Minnesota. One of the graves will be that of Sgt. Michael Carlson, who died in 2005 while serving in Iraq.
Carlson's mother Merrilee, who belongs to the military support group Families United, has met Seeber and said she's touched by efforts he's made to show support for military families who have lost loved ones.
"The whole Military Salute Project is simply amazing," said Merrilee Carlson. "For these veterans to continue to bring attention to our heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice, that's so important. It helps all of us remember why they fought and served. It was to protect our freedom."
While in Washington, Seeber said he also plans to accomplish something he has wanted to do for a long time: touch the Vietnam Memorial.
"I've got some friends' names who I need to see," Seeber said. "That's something I've wanted to do for a long time, but I haven't been able to do it on my own. Now I'll have a crew that I know can get me there."
The Military Salute Project's "Honor and Remember Ride to Washington" will kick off Saturday, June 14 at the Harley Davidson in St. Paul. For more information, go to http://militarysalute.proboards45.com