by James R. Tuorila, Ph.D. 12-15-02


The Inspiration
While attending graduate school at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, TX I started to work with a great bunch of Ex-POW's called the "Lost Battalion". Most of them were either captured on the island of Java (in Indonesia) or were survivors of the US Houston sinking but some were also captured on Bataan or somewhere in Europe. These were the ones who inspired me to learn more about the POW experience so I followed up with my doctoral dissertation on the effects of captivity.
1986 The American Ex-POW Chapter
When we moved to MN and I accepted my first job at the St Cloud, MN VAMC, I immediately got in contact with the local chapter of American Ex-POWs and began attending their meetings and talking about my research.
1987 The Quest For Truth
A year later I was asked to be on a local TV program during veterans day to talk about the emotional reaction a family would experience if their loved one finally came home after years as a POW. Robin Powers had her father listed as MIA during the Vietnam war and she told me an eye-opening story about lies the government told their family. She also spoke of how they finally found out the truth after years of denial by the Dept of Defense. I realized that if her family had been lied to then how many more families were seeking the truth. That afternoon, Robin asked me to help her find out more information about POWs left behind in Vietnam and I began my quest, which has continued for over 14 years.
1987 The Idea
That same year, my wife and I had been crewing for another local balloonist and Vietnam veteran by the name of Denn Evans. He encouraged me to start up a non-profit organization and a co-therapist, Bill Nohner who was also a Vietnam veteran mentioned that the VFW would certainly help if we received our non-profit status.
1988 The Formation
A year later with the support of MN Congressman Arlan Stangland and the Dept of Revenue, Freedom Flight received its 501-c-3 status as an educational, non-profit organization #41-1617166. Freedom Flight, Inc was formed, officers were elected, by-laws were written and fund raising began in earnest!
1988 The Board Members
I was elected President (for life some members said) and two other Vietnam veterans signed on as pilots and board members. With a significant donation from VFW #428 and VFW #4847 in St Cloud, and a loan approval with my guarantee, Freedom Flight I was designed and ordered.
1988 The Flight Training
I decided that I would also learn to fly hot air balloons so I began my ground school, FAA exam studying with Denn Evans and flight training with Denn and also with Dennis Nierengarten D.D.S., another local balloonist and USMC Vietnam vet. Denn loaned us his balloon trailer and extra basket until we purchased our first small, open trailer.

On Our Way!
We were on our way to our first flight and history in the making! In the next issue I will explain how our dedication ceremony went and how our first flight was organized and dedicated to not only those missing servicemen but also to the missing children in America.

It was decided that this balloon would represent missing soldiers not only from Vietnam but also those from WWII, Korea and any other war or action.

  Written by James R. Tuorila, Ph.D. (Big Jim or Tarzan as known by friends)
Founder, Past President, Pilot and Board Member, Freedom Flight, Inc.