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Daughter surprises Minn father with medal ceremony

Published on NewsOK Modified: December 24, 2012 at 10:05 am •  Published: December 24, 2012

BEMIDJI, Minn. (AP) — Two years ago, while vacationing at Christmas time, someone broke into Arlin Melgaard's home.

The bandit made off with nearly everything he and his wife, Wanda, owned: a car parked in the garage, the 2001 retirement gift containing his military medals and badges, the longtime musician's electric guitars, even canned goods and coffee filters stored in the cupboard.

Over time, the couple had replaced most items, but one piece of his past couldn't be replaced easily — the shadow box commemorating Melgaard's Army and reservist career.

On Saturday, the 71-year-old Bemidji man, a 40-year veteran, received re-issued medals, badges and service stripes.

At his bedside at the Sanford Bemidji Medical Center, daughter Angie Kamin of Fargo presented him a replica of the retirement gift given to him nearly 12 years ago by the North Dakota Army National Guard unit in which he served.

"Those are all my medals," proclaimed Melgaard when his daughter surprised him with the shadow box.

"Of all the things I lost ... that was the worst," he said. "I wondered, 'Why the hell would anybody take medals that weren't even theirs?' It was devastating."

Last week, Kamin sprung into action to make it all come together.

"I'm just trying to give him things to remind him of the man he is," said Kamin, who relied on her father's friends to pull off the surprise. "The fact that it's Christmas is just a bonus."

First, she called Terry Bradley, the retired Bemidji High School band director who played in both the North Dakota 188th Army National Guard band and Rough Cut, a country-rock band made up of Melgaard, Bradley and other service members. The Bemidji men retired and were honored together at a 2001 ceremony.

Bradley pointed Kamin to Staff Sgt. Justen Reed, who joined the Army band in about 1996 and met Melgaard, who was a recruiter and retention non-commissioned officer.

"We have pretty close ties with everybody who has been here," said Reed, adding the unit presents a shadow box to retiring members who have 20 or more years of service.

"When we hear of something, we jump into action."

So, in about a day's time, Reed, who is based in Fargo, collected a copy of nearly every award Melgaard received during his military tenure. A few awards were difficult to track down, but Reed expects all will be replaced.

"He was always quick with a joke and had a laugh that was infectious," said Reed, who shrugs off his role in compiling the shadow box filled with awards. "I did what any other supply sergeant would have done."

Melgaard has had a distinguished career on more than one front.

Both he and Bradley joined the military in 1961.

Bradley was discharged from the Army in 1963, but re-enlisted in the Minnesota National Guard in 1981.

After 17 years in the Army, Melgaard joined Fargo's 188th Army Band in 1978 as a reservist, and convinced Bradley to join the 188th in 1986. Bradley became the band's enlisted bandmaster-conductor.

In January 2001, both men retired from the Army National Guard after their final drill with the 188th Army Band.

Melgaard, a Bottineau, N.D., native, received a two-year degree from the North Dakota School of Forestry before joining the Army, and served overseas during the Cuba Missile Crisis.

He served in several cities, including Bismarck, after his return, and eventually landed in Fargo, where he obtained a human resource management degree at North Dakota State University.

Melgaard then relocated in Bemidji, where he earned a master's degree in career and technical education from Bemidji State University, and continued serving in the 188th Army Band.

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