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Becker County Veterans' Service Officer to step down on June 30

It's been 20 years since Dennis Warling first stepped through the doors of the Becker County Veterans' Services office as its new leader.

And on June 30, he'll be headed back out that door, into retirement.

"It's time to move on, I guess," he says. "I'm 62 years old... I'm at an age now where I feel I can retire. It's time for a change."

Part of the reason behind that change was undoubtedly his health. Warling suffered a heart attack in December that resulted in the need for a quintuple heart bypass -- that's five bypasses in one surgery.

In other words, Warling feels very fortunate to still be among the living, and he plans to take full advantage of that fact.

"I want to work in my woodworking shop, and do some motorcycle riding, maybe a little traveling," he says. "It's going to be a different thing, not coming to work every day... I have many good memories."

And a few bittersweet ones as well. During his tenure as VSO, Warling has seen 2,022 of the veterans he has worked with pass away.

"Every day, approximately 1,800 veterans pass away, nationwide," Warling says. "That averages out to about 100 a year for us. There are no World War I veterans left."

And the number of World War II veterans is fast dwindling as well.

"I encourage people to get out there and talk with the remaining World War II veterans about what they did, what they went through... in a few years, there aren't going to be many left," Warling says. "They all have interesting stories to tell... only they're not stories, they're real experiences."

A Lake Park native, Warling entered the U.S. Air Force after graduating from high school in 1962, and served a brief, 90-day tour of duty at Tan Son Nhut Air Force Base in Saigon, Vietnam, during his four years of active service.

Warling has also held various offices in both the area American Legion and VFW organizations. His work with youth programs in the Lake Park American Legion helped them to earn the local club's first Star Award. He remains involved with VFW and Legion activities to this day.

Prior to his stint with Becker County, Warling served with the North Dakota Air National Guard for 24 years, including stints as an industrial x-ray technician,an administrative clerk, and worked for the U.S. Postal Service for 15 years as well.

Because of his experiences, Warling not only empathizes with the veterans he serves, he has a unique understanding of their perspective.

In September 2002, Warling was honored by the White Earth Tribal Council for his work on behalf of American Indian veterans living on the White Earth Reservation.

It was in part through Warling's efforts that the first satellite Veterans' Service Office was established on the reservation, and he also helped them to get a Vietnam Veterans' Memorial established at Shooting Star Casino in Mahnomen.

Since coming to work for Becker County, Warling said he is most proud of two projects that he helped to initiate: the establishment of the Avenue of Flags at Detroit Lakes' Oak Grove Cemetery, and in 1999, bringing the "Moving Wall" -- the traveling exhibit that features a replica of the Vietnam Wall in Washington, D.C., where the names of deceased Vietnam veterans are inscribed -- to DL.

His office also helped the 3,295 veterans it currently serves to access over $11 million in benefits during 2005.

But Warling gives full credit to the staff of the Veterans Service Office and Becker County in general, as well as widespread community support, for making those projects happen.

"This community has made it a good job, a fun job and an interesting one for me," he says. "I've worked with good people, and gotten a lot of support.

"I would like to thank everyone who has worked with us (the VSO) and helped us out -- without them, this job wouldn't have been any fun," Warling says.

Warling and his wife of 20 years, Joyce, make their home in his native Lake Park. He has five children, and eight grandchildren.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454