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Spearfish man to be recognized at Buffalo Chip Freedom Celebration today

August 11, 2018

SPEARFISH — While honoring the military has long been a Buffalo Chip tradition, Thursday of Rally Week is known as the day set aside there to celebrate the nation’s freedom and those who stand ready to give their lives in defense of ours. Today, several veterans will be honored during the 27th annual Buffalo Chip Freedom Celebration, and among them is Vietnam veteran Wayne Mundt, of Spearfish.

“I’m extremely humbled, honored, obviously – very honored, but very humbled,” Mundt said of learning that he is among the 2018 Bob Hanson Distinguished Service Honorees.

Mundt, a combat medic in the U.S. Army, served in Vietnam with the Fourth Infantry Division and 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, and 101st Airborne Division in 1970 and 1971. According to a prepared statement from the Buffalo Chip, Mundt, during some of the most intense encounters occurring during spring 1971, was wounded three separate times but never left his comrades in the field. He was awarded the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star, and the Silver Star, the third-highest personal decoration for valor in combat.

Mundt described that his service was long ago and that there are many young people serving in the military today who are very deserving – and he feels honored that he will be among a group of them tonight.

“It’s something I embrace: I’m extremely proud to be a veteran, extremely proud to be an Army veteran, and a veteran of the 101st Airborne, is pretty special for me,” Mundt said. “And then within that, I was a combat medic, and so that’s another defining portion of my life.”

He pointed to how he was doing the job he was trained to do – and needed to do – for which he was awarded the medals he received.

“You get put into situations, as a combat medic, that when you’re doing your job, it sometimes seems a greater effort in valor than not, but it’s something that you train for, and it’s something, quite frankly, that your men are dependent upon,” Mundt said.

Originally from Grand Island, Neb., Mundt graduated from high school in 1962 and moved to Spearfish to attend college at Black Hills State College (now University). He studied education, hoping to become a coach, but he returned to the U.S. from Vietnam in November, well after teaching jobs had been filled for the year, so he and his family moved to Rapid City for a time before moving to Pierre for about five years — but the Black Hills continued to call him home, so the Mundt family returned to Spearfish, and Wayne retired about four years ago.

He and his wife, Patti, have four grown, married sons, who have blessed them with five grandchildren, and they enjoy traveling. Wayne loves to hunt, and he also enjoys riding his Harley-Davidson Motorcycles. He bought his first Harley in 1996, and it is complete with the license plate, “MUNSTR.” Another of his Harleys bears a Silver Star license plate.

“I don’t have much hair left, but it’s fun feeling the wind blow through it, whatever’s there!” he joked about riding his motorcycle. “It’s a feeling of freedom. It’s like skydiving; it’s like jumping out of an airplane.”

He’s ridden over to Sturgis a few times this week, including a stop at the Buffalo Chip to get his bearings. He had a chance to speak to the coordinator of the Freedom Celebration, and he voiced his appreciation for all of the work put into it.

During the event, the honorees get to go backstage and meet Kid Rock, and Mundt plans to take a Wounded Warrior Outdoors flag with him. This organization provides wounded servicemen and women with therapeutic outdoor adventures across North America, and Mundt is a member and has gone on several hunts with the organization. He plans to have Kid Rock sign the flag, as well as the other honorees present, and he will then fly it at his home as a memento of the occasion.

Mundt pointed out that most of the honorees are veterans from the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, and that most have been injured and have several combat awards for valor. He spoke of his admiration for these veterans and the fact that he will be standing on the same stage with them.

“I’ve very humbled by the whole thing,” he said.

Two of Mundt’s sons are coming to the Freedom Celebration, as well as several of his friends, and he continued to voice how humbled he felt by the honor, as well as how grateful he is for the blessings in his life.

“Life is good,” he said, adding, “It’s been kind of a fun ride, but very humbling.”

The Bob Hanson Distinguished Service Awards will be presented at 10 p.m. today at the Wolfman Jack Stage. Honorees include Mundt; Ian Freeman, Sergeant First Class, U.S. Army (Ret.); Nick Gaines, U.S. Army Special Forces; P.O. 2 Marc Lee, Navy SEAL, U.S. Navy; Keith Helfrich, Special Forces Operation Sergeant; Mat Best, Sergeant, 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, U.S. Army; and Evan Hafer, Sergeant First Class, 19th Special Forces, U.S. Army (Ret).

The Bob Hanson Distinguished Patriot Award will also be presented to Mark Halvorson and Mandy Walden, and two wounded veterans will be honored at the Wolfman Jack Stage at 8 p.m. today. U.S. Marine Corps veteran Tyler Southern, a 2015 Bob Hanson Distinguished Service Award recipient, will receive a specially modified trike on the Buffalo Chip Main Stage, and a yet-to-be-named South Dakota veteran will also be presented with a specially trained emotional support dog during the event. The training the dog has received is designed to enable the recipient to reengage with their environment, family, and self.

In addition, a special veterans’ charity auction takes place at the Buffalo Chip’s CrossRoads beginning at 4 p.m. today.

More information is available at buffalochip.com/freedomcelebration.

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