Supporting, valuing our veterans
Themes of support, reverence and appreciation rang through Memorial Hall in Rugby on Tuesday, as about 150 people attended the Veterans Day Program hosted by American Legion Clarence Larson Post 23.
The program opened and closed with the advancing and retiring of colors by Legion Color Guard members Larry Fjellanger, Ray Norsby, Don Abrahamson and Ron Torgerson.
Invocation and benediction were given by Rev. Jason Wood, Calvary Evangelical Free Church. Wood encouraged those in attendance to comfort the families of veterans “who didn’t come home or those who came home very differently.”
The Rugby High School band, directed by Kari Hill, performed “The Star-Spangled Banner” and other musical selections, and Tilman Hovland performed “Taps”.
Legion Commander Kirk Seaver delivered the introduction of guests with opening remarks.
Honored guests included World War II?and Korean War veteran Duane Baillie, Korean War veteran Richard Bickler, Vietnam War veteran Johnnie Sander, Gulf War veteran Bruce Seaver, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom veteran Josh Siegler, Army National Guard veterans Chuck Teigen and Jason Wood, Air National Guard veteran John Gustafson, American Legion Auxiliary President Tootie Fueller and Veterans Service Officer Larry Fjellanger.
“We can never fully repay our debt of gratitude to the more than 650,000 American servicemembers who died in battle or the 1.4 million who were wounded,” Seaver said in his opening remarks. “We can, however, recognize and thank the 25 million veterans still living today.
“… Today, we celebrate America’s veterans for keeping this nation, the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
The Veterans Day address was delivered by Gustafson, who focused on the role of female veterans. Gustafson, who also served in the U.S. Navy and Navy Reserves, said women are underappreciated in the military despite playing key roles going back to the Revolutionary War.
He briefly shared histories of women like Deborah Samson and Anne Bailey, who disguised themselves as men to fight the British.
He detailed accomplishments of women in all American wars, including Civil War surgeon Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, the only woman to ever receive the Medal of Honor – the country’s highest military honor.
“The Civil War tested the theory that a woman’s place was in the home,” Gustafson said. “Women were closer to the front than ever before. … Please remember these individuals. They represent mothers, daughters, sisters and wives.”
Before closing, Gustafson read a poem titled “It is the Veteran.”
Seaver then delivered the Commander’s Address, calling on everyone to “remember veterans are defending us 365 days a year. The heroism that has been demonstrated time and again by veterans from the American Revolution to the Global War on Terrorism is sometimes unnoticed by those of us who enjoy the security that their sacrifice has provided.”
Seaver shared the story of Amry Staff. Sgt. Clinton Romesha, who received the Medal of Honor for his actions during the Battle of Kamdesh in Afghanistan in 2009.
He took out amachine gun team when 300 enemy fighters attacked Combat Outpost Keating. After suffering shrapnel wounds, he killed at least three other enemy fighters and directed air support to destroy 30 more enemies, Seaver said.
“After receiving the nation’s highest military medal, Staff Sgt. Romesha said he felt conflicted,” Seaver said.
Said Romesha: “The joy comes from recognition of us doing our jobs as soldiers on distant battlefields, but is countered by the constant reminder of the loss of our battle buddies, my battle buddies, my soldiers, my friends.”
Seaver discussed the difficulties facing families of deployed servicemembers and employment challenges when military members return.
“Too often today’s tattered citizen of the street was yesterday’s toast of the town in a crisp uniform with rows of shining medals,” Seaver said. “This is hardly the thanks of a grateful nation. We can do better. We must do better.”
Seaver also raised awareness to government shortcomings in providing for veterans.
“Fewer than 10 percent of Americans can claim the title veteran,” he said. “Far less than 1 percent of our population is currently defending us in the Global War on Terrorism. And yet many seem inent on trying to balance the federal budget by diminishing the quality-of-life programs designed for the families who have already disproportionately made these sacrifices.
“Veterans have given us freedom, security and the greatest nation on earth. It is impossible to put a price on that. We must remember them. We must appreciate them.”
A moment of silence followed as a tribute to those who died at war, prisoners of war (POW) and other missing in action (MIA).
Seaver, on behalf of the Legion, accepted an assembly of military insignia and honors, and a framed recent photo of Clarence Larson’s grave. Dale Niewoehner presented the gifts on behalf of Niewoehner Funeral Home.
Niewoehner shared a brief history of Clarence Larson, a Tunbridge native who died in a raid of American trenches in March of 1918. Larson, who enlisted in the North Dakota National Guard one year earlier, is buried at St. Mihiel American Cemetery in Thiaucourt, France.
Clarence Larson Post 23 was installed in 1919.
“Near his grave is a monument,” Niewoehner said, “that reads: ‘Time will not dim the glory of their deeds’ and in French, ‘He sleeps far from his family in the gentle land of France.’
“In addition to the many others who gave their lives for Pierce County, Pvt. Larson was a real hero that we should not forget.”
George D. McClintock was the first commander of Post 23 and Clarence Oliver was the first adjutant with 100 names on the roll. The post was the 23rd installed in the state.
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