Mission of Honor

RED WING, Mn. – With every paddle stroke, Jim Crigler moves further away from where he’s been and a little closer to where he is headed.

Crigler is canoeing 2,300 miles down the Mississippi River to honor Gold Star families. But his journey began 45 years ago in Vietnam.

“I was flying with the 129th assault helicopter company with my roommate, First Lieutenant Thomas Shaw, and believe me, all hell broke loose in early April,” Crigler said.

The year was 1972 and the U.S. was withdrawing military forces from Vietnam. Crigler and Shaw were flying resupply missions in Huey helicopters to the remaining U.S. troops as the North Vietnamese army increased their assaults.

Watch the story on Channel 3000:

“You know when you get the feeling your number is up. You know when the bullets are missing you and they are so close and death is so close,” Crigler said. “Tom and I made a pact between us that if one of us were killed in combat, the other would do their best to be the burial escort officer and comfort the family when they escorted the body back.”

The day after making that pact, Tom died when his helicopter was shot down.

“Forty-five years ago, you remember.  I remember being upstairs doing my homework with my brother, Kevin, and we heard two car doors slam,” said Dave Shaw, Tom’s brother. “We looked and walking up our walkway was a priest and a military officer, and we looked at each other, and we knew.”

Crigler honored his promise to Tom by comforting the family. He sat and talked with the family and shared stories about Tom. But what he didn’t do, because as a burial escort officer he was not allowed to, was mourn the loss of his friend.

“That was really my mission of honor, but it was also the toughest mission I had in the war,” Crigler said.
After the funeral, Crigler returned to Vietnam.

“We never saw Jim again and never heard from him again, until 40 years later,” Shaw said.

When the war ended, Crigler came home to Winona, Minnesota. But like many combat veterans, the war never really left him.

“You know, the horrors of war, they never leave you.  They are always with you,” Crigler said.

Four decades after the Vietnam War ended, Crigler reconnected with Tom Shaw’s family. He also decided to do something for all of the other families who lost servicemen and women to war.

To draw attention to the sacrifice made by Gold Star families, he is canoeing from the headwaters of the Mississippi River in northern Minnesota to New Orleans. Along the way, when he meets Gold Star families, he is presenting them with a Gold Star as a way of saying thank you.

“That’s really why I’m going down the river. I want to start a movement to fix a problem. This is simply finding a Gold Star family from Vietnam, getting a stamp and an envelope, a piece of paper and writing a thank-you note. Thank them for that great sacrifice and service that their family has been through,” Crigler said.

Crigler is also the author of a book, “Mission of Honor.” The book chronicles his experiences in Vietnam.

The proceeds from the book and other donations will be going to a non-profit, American Huey 369. That organization supports veterans and preserves the history of Vietnam War helicopter pilots.

Mission of Honor on WCCO News

Mission of Honor was featured on WCCO News in Minneapolis recently – we are sharing the article here (see below). The full article and video clip can also be found on the WCCO website.

Vietnam Vet Canoeing Entire Mississippi River To Honor Gold Star Families

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A Minnesota man is making his way on a solo canoe trip across the entire Mississippi River to honor the families of fallen Vietnam vets.

Jim Crigler, a Vietnam Huey pilot began his trip at the headwaters on Earth Day. The 67-year-old made a stop in the Twin Cities at Boom Island Monday.

Two weeks after he left Itasca, he already has 500 miles under his belt, with more than 1,700 miles to go. He’s hoping to raise money through his trip for families of fallen Vietnam Vets.

Jim Crigler flew over 2,000 missions as a Huey pilot in Vietnam, and now he’s on another one — rowing the entire 2,300 miles of the Mississippi.

“Imagine being on a rowing machine for five or six hours,” he said. “I’ve lost 5 pounds already.”

Crigler says it wasn’t on his bucket list — he’s doing it to bring awareness to a wrong he wants to right for Vietnam Vets and their families.

“A lot of Americans don’t know what a gold star family is,” he said. “It’s a family that has lost a loved one in combat, in service to their country, protecting our freedoms.”

That’s why Crigler is hoping his journey down the Mighty Mississippi helps start a movement

“I want normal American citizens to look up a gold star family in their community. I want them to get a 49-cent stamp, and an envelope and a piece of paper, and write them a thank you note for the sacrifice they’ve made to our country,” he said.

He’s well equipped, with a custom-made Wenona Canoe, GPS, a support team and a specialized EZ-Row system to help make better time.

“It allows me to row facing forward,” he said. “The past several days I’ve been averaging about 7 to 8 miles an hour, which is twice as fast as I could in a canoe.”

The “American Huey 369” on his canoe represents a Huey flying museum. Crigler gives honor flights to veterans and gold stars families.

“If you could see the faces of these families, and talk to them and see the honor they feel they’ve been given after we do these flights, you know why I’m so passionate about raising money,” he said.

And with an average of about 50 miles a day, he plans on making it to New Orleans the last week of June.

For more information on Crigler and his mission, visit his website or Facebook page.

Molly Rosenblatt

Winona Daily News: Paddling with a Purpose

Winona Daily new gave us some media exposure:

Jim Crigler was given a week to rest and recuperate during his yearlong tour as a helicopter pilot in Vietnam — time he spent burying his wartime friend and roommate in Fond du Lac, Wis.

He says that was the first time he met a Gold Star family and sensed the magnitude of their loss. It was also his first opportunity, he said, to express his gratitude to the family of a fallen soldier, a gesture he wishes more people would make.  Read more


Latch Island Beach Send Off with VFW Commanders Sam Sasser & Jim Lukeazewski

Sam Sasser, commander Winona American Legion (left) and Jim Lukeazewski, Winona VFW Commander (right)

see me off at Latch Island beach on Tuesday morning.

Sam Sasser, commander Winona American Legion (left) and Jim Lukeazewski, Winona VFW Commander (right)see me off at Latch Island beach on Tuesday morning.

Posted by Mission of Honor – Mississippi Gold Star Paddle on Wednesday, May 17, 2017