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Photo by Rachelle Klemme A Freedom Flight hot air balloon used to raise awareness for prisoners of war and service members missing in action was displayed at the new Wadena-Deer Creek Middle/High School building Tuesday morning, during the flag raising ceremony.

Hot air balloon featured at Wadena-Deer Creek flag raising

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A hot air balloon used to raise awareness for Prisoners of War and Missing in Action (POW-MIA) military personnel was displayed at the new Wadena-Deer Creek Middle/High School, during Tuesday's flag raising ceremony.

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For Wadena resident Nelly Heern, the balloon made for a good photo to show her family.

Donna Trana, Heern's niece, said every year her aunt has a photo taken in unusual settings - such as on an elephant, on a motorcycle, and this year, a hot air balloon - for her annual Christmas card.

"It's always a surprise," Trana said. "She's very adventurous."

The inflated balloon was not flown Tuesday morning, but Heern got inside the basket and waved as it was carried across the field prior to deflation.

"They let an old lady ride," Heern said.

Trana said the event has significance to their family because her brother-in-law, James Wilde, was buried at the Camp Ripley cemetery later that day. While not POW-MIA, Wilde was a Vietnam War veteran.

Additionally, Trana's husband, Duane Trana, assisted Freedom Flight members with the balloon.

Brad Veenstra, vice president of Freedom Flight, Inc., said the Freedom Flight balloons are displayed all over the United States, and they have about 40-50 events every year, including the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta.

This is the first times one of the organization's three balloons has been to Wadena.

"The local VFW requested us to be there for the flag raising and the dedication of the high school," Veenstra said.

Jimmy White of the Wadena VFW said he contacted the founder of Freedom Flight, Dr. James Tuorila of St. Cloud VFW Post 428, about bringing the hot air balloon to Wadena. Tuorila has family in the Sebeka area, and agreed to help out.

"He's been very involved with the POW-MIA issue," White said.

According to a Freedom Flight information card provided by members at the Wadena event, POW-MIAs still missing include more than 74,000 from World War II, more than 8,000 from the Korean War, more than 1,600 from the Vietnam War, more than 100 from the Cold War and possibly two from Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation Enduring Freedom.

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