Cities across the country paused to reflect Monday on the service of 21.2 million military veterans. With about 60,000 of those living in North Dakota, Ward County's assistant veterans officer, Kathy Holte, reported there are around 5,600 veterans living in the county.
Among the ways the Minot community marked this year's frosty day of remembrance, a pair of formal flag raising ceremonies were held by the color guard of American Legion Post 26, in conjunction with Post 753 of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and their auxiliaries. Each year the color guards of the two veterans groups take turns holding ceremonial duties for major observances.
At the 11 a.m. ceremony, volunteers passed out "buddy poppies" to several hundred observers as they congregated at a conference room of the Grand Hotel to pay their respects to America's uniformed men and women. The red flowers gained their present significance following World War I, after Canadian Lt. Col. John McCrae's 1915 poem "In Flanders Fields" forever bound them to the memory of slain soldiers. Veterans Day itself dates back to the same war, the November 11 holiday marking the date in 1918 when hostilities were formally ended, with 11 a.m. the agreed-upon time for the general ceasefire to take effect.
Master of ceremonies and VFW Post 753 commander Bob Nyre salutes the American flag as the national anthem is sung during a Veterans Day program Monday morning. The vacant place setting at center is a ceremonial “Missing Man Table,” a visual reminder of military personnel still missing or held in captivity. According to the Defense Technical Information Center, there are still 83,329 soldiers unaccounted for from conflicts since World War II.
From left to right, Minot alderman Mark Jantzer, Rep. Kevin Cramer, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp and Lt. Governor Drew Wrigley offer tribute to the flag, as a member of the American Legion Post 26 color guard raises it at the North Dakota Medal of Honor Memorial, Monday afternoon.
Following some opening remarks and the placement of flags, the high school choir from Our Redeemer's Christian School lent their voices to the first verse of "The Star-Spangled Banner."
Delivering the address to those gathered was junior vice commander of the VFW Department of North Dakota, Wayne Paulson. "I would like to thank everyone that is here today," he said, sourly noting their number of 300 or 400. "We have less than one percent of our citizens in uniform protecting us, and we have less than one percent of the citizens of Minot here today."
Paulson saw the coincidence as fitting, if saddening. "We should have 99 times as many non-veterans as we have veterans here," he remarked to the group.
"It's easy to forget the importance of this day," though he was quick to add that importance should not be discounted. Every freedom Americans today might take for granted would not be here, he said, were it not for the veterans' service and their sacrifices made for the country.
"They deserve thanks for making it the greatest military," an effectiveness which Paulson intimated at several points was being undercut by politicians' decision-making. "Get the hell out of the way and let them do it," he said, one of several comments he made that were greeted by applause from the audience.
On that topic, Paulson stressed the importance of voting. Recalling a joke, he said "the only difference between a Democrat and Republican is one's in office," the other is not. Politicians do not do the right thing for the right reasons, he argued, "they do it because they're pushed by the voters."
"Educate yourself about the candidate or issue," being aware of political promises being made that may not be deliverable. In short, his message was that short-changing the troops would short-change the country as a whole, and people should vote accordingly.
Across the Souris River at 4 p.m., to mark this year's Veterans Day remembrances Minot Park District hosted a flag raising ceremony at the North Dakota Medal of Honor Memorial in Roosevelt Park. First dedicated in 2007, this will be the first ceremony held at the site since the necessary cleaning and rewiring work was completed, repairing damage done by the 2011 Souris River flood.
The American Legion color guard returned for the ceremony to escort and raise the flag. Among those attending the outdoor ceremony was Lt. Governor Drew Wrigley, Rep. Kevin Cramer, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, and Minot Park District director Ron Merritt. Representing the City of Minot was alderman Mark Jantzer, with Capt. Steve Bohl representing the North Dakota National Guard.
Each delivered remarks supportive of America's military, and especially of its veterans and the sacrifices they and their families have made for the country, expressing their thanks for that service.
"We gather of course in peace, in security," stated Wrigley, noting the crucial role that soldiers' efforts have had toward that end.
In contrast to the earlier ceremony's address, the afternoon's speakers wanted to make it clear that they in government were in the military's corner.
"You have two senators and a congressman you don't need to convince," Cramer told the crowd, when it came to backing policies that support veterans, soldiers, and their families. The first-term representative has been a strong supporter of H.R. 2189, a bill which would aim to improve the processing of disabilities claims with the Department of Veterans Affairs. Passing the House, the bill awaits consideration in the Senate.
"We cannot leave one veteran behind," said Heitkamp, citing the nation's commitments to housing, health care, and education made to those in uniform. "If we do not live up to this promise," she said, "then we are less for it. We owe them nothing less."
Already having a higher-than-national-average proportion of veterans in its population, because of its economic situation North Dakota will still be seeing more in coming years. "We're seeing veterans from all over the country coming to our state to work," Heitkamp said, stressing the importance of being able to meet their needs with the proper resources.
Among those recently-arrived veterans is Medal of Honor recipient Staff Sgt. Clinton Romesha, who came to deliver the closing address. Decorated this past February for his actions during an attack on a military outpost in Afghanistan in 2009, for him the experience has been humbling. Very seldom, he said, are heroes being honored for solitary action, rather being part of a team.
"As we reflect on the greatness of others honored on this memorial, think of their teammates," he said. During the action in which he had so distinguished himself, Romesha lost eight comrades in the fighting.
"It is often said that freedom isn't free. It is expensive. Terribly expensive," Romesha reminded the crowd.
"These are all truly great Americans," he said of his fellow veterans and active personnel. "We all simply but sincerely thank you today."
In the spirit of the day, for Americans everywhere: "Please thank them in any creative way," said Romesha. "Offer to buy them a beer or a cup of coffee," and hear what they have to say. "Before it is too late."