On June 5, volunteer boat captains for Camp American Legion took 30 veterans on five boats for the first “Minocqua boat cruise” of the season.

“Awesome trip and many memories made,” read the Camp American Legion Facebook post, which showed a video of the boats going under the bridge on Thoroughfare Road.  “This is the Northwoods experience!”

On June 18, a special “Minocqua boat cruise” tribute camp staff is calling “Welcome home — the Northwoods is calling” is planned for a larger group of veterans made up primarily from the Vietnam War along with two from the Korean conflict. 

One of those boat captains is Mike Handrick, who in the past year or so has become pretty heavily involved in helping out Camp American Legion. 

He said the boat rides for veterans at the camp, usually on Wednesdays, began last summer. 

This special boat trip into Minocqua, though, will be held on a Tuesday with Wednesday, June 19 as a rain date. 

“We wanted to do something special for the Vietnam and Korean War vets,” Handrick said. “Almost everyone who’s going to be at camp that week.”

He said he’s arranged for a number of things for the veterans, but there is one way for sure the public can be involved. 

“Probably around 11:45 in the morning is when we’ll be coming from the east out of the channel between Minocqua and Lake Tomahawk,” Handrick said. “When we get to Jossart Island, we’re asking people who want to welcome these Vietnam and Korean War veterans to the Northwoods (to show up).”

What people will see, he said, is a flotilla of eight pontoon boats carrying the veterans with support staff — a total of 70 people. 

“Between there (Jossart Island) and the (U.S. Highway 51) bridge, just kind of line up and wave and beep your horn,” Handrick said. “Just give ‘em some Northwoods love. Anyone can line up their boat along there and make them feel welcome.”

The destination is The Boathouse. 

“Bill Fricke at The Boathouse is gonna take care of their lunch and then we’re gonna turn ‘em loose on downtown Minocqua for a couple hours, get back on the boats and then head for camp,” Handrick said. 

The pontoon boat trip to Minocqua from Camp American Legion will be the usual — with the exception of one or two things. 

“The downtown business association has created special veterans coupons,” Handrick said. “Actually, we’re handing those out to all veterans who visit camp this summer. And we’re gonna have a big upgrade on the pontoon boats. We’ve had a bunch of the locals with some really nice boats step up and come tell us ‘Yeah, I’ll do that for those guys.’”

Handrick said there may be a few other “tidbits” he can’t share that are to be a special surprise for the veterans. 

“It’s meant to be a special day for these guys,” he said. 

Brian Jopek may be reached via email at bjopek@lakelandtimes.com.