Retired Navy Commander thinking of nephew as Veterans Day approaches

Local News

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Veterans can be found in all sorts of places in KELOLAND. At Touchmark in Sioux Falls, dozens of former service members call the senior living center home. Many are getting ready for a special luncheon this upcoming Veterans Day.

When retired U.S. Navy Commander Gail Kristensen thinks of Veterans, his nephew, Erik, who made the ultimate sacrifice in 2005 in Afghanistan comes to mind. The Navy Seal died on a rescue mission. The whole ordeal is depicted in the 2013 movie, “Lone Survivor.”

“He leaped into a helicopter with the rest of his team to go rescue them. They came to the site, maneuvered into the wind, started to repel down and a guy put a grenade into the helicopter and he was killed,” Kristensen said.

“I mean tragic. Can’t begin to say tragic,” Kristensen said.

Erik is one of Kristensen’s 15 family members with ties to the military. The 80-year old Vietnam and Cold War Veteran, who was born in Brookings, spent much of his own career on a submarine on classified deployments.

“You’re out for 60 or 70 days on patrol. You go out from a port, reach deep water, submerge and you stay submerged to stay undetected,” Kristensen said.

His favorite part about serving?

“The homecoming. It is incredible,” Kristensen said.

He’s grateful to his wife Diane for raising their two daughters while he was gone. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s 17 years ago and is in the memory care unit here at Touchmark. Andi Husman with Touchmark says having Veterans and their families on board is an honor.

“They enrich this already very historic community. They bring a lot of love and stories and I think we all can learn something from the sacrifice that they made and also from their families that made the same sacrifices,” Husman said.

Kristensen is looking forward to Veterans Day and spending time with fellow service members.

“If you see a former military member. He’s wearing a jacket. He’s got a patch. He’s got a cap. Go up and say hello. Thank you for your service,” Kristensen said.

Kristensen may be retired but he still serves in other ways. He’s part of the Norse Glee Club, helps the elderly with tax counseling and is on the resident council at Touchmark. The center is hosting a Veterans Day luncheon. It’s open to the public but you need to RSVP.

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