By Kristen Miller
DASSEL-COKATO, MN “Patriotism means to stand by your country. It doesn’t mean to stand by the president or any other public official,” was a quote from President Theodore Roosevelt shared by Dassel-Cokato High School Principal Dean Jennissen during the school’s Veterans Day program.
High school and middle school students, along with veterans and members of the community, gathered in the east gymnasium Tuesday to honor those who have fought for their country.
Jennissen continued by recognizing the American soldiers for the freedoms we enjoy today, such as the right to vote.
“So today we stand by our country, we stand by and with the soldier, those in active service, those retired, and most importantly, those who paid the full price in service and defense of our country,” Jennissen said.
He also acknowledged the families and friends who also sacrifice with them “in their defense of liberty, justice, and freedom.”
Sergeant Alex Hauck, a 2011 Dassel-Cokato High School graduate, also addressed the students and guests sharing the important history and meaning of Veterans Day.
Hauck explained that Veterans Day first started as Armistice Day, a holiday to mark the anniversary of the end of World War I.
In 1954, by an act of Congress, Armistice Day was amended to remember all veterans, not just those who died during World War I.
Hauck continued by asking, “So why is this a valued holiday?”
It’s a day “to remember, to honor, to pay gratitude to those who have served our country,” Hauck noted.
“We didn’t this so our children and grandchildren would not forget freedom is not free, but in fact, paid for by the courage and sacrifice of our past and present veterans,” Hauck continued.
He ended with a quote by English writer and philosopher, Gilbert Keith Chesterton:
“Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live, taking the form of a readiness to die.”
The program continued with short essays written and read by Brooklyn Jorgensen and Olivia Travis.
The keynote speaker was Bruce Cottington, a veteran from Litchfield who enlisted into the US Navy when he was just 15 years old, fulfilling a “patriotic calling.”
He was officially sworn in Jan. 23, 1943; the day after he turned 16.
Originally from Forest City, IA, Cottington went to boot camp in Idaho, where he trained as a radioman. He was later stationed at Camp Pendleton, CA, where he served with the Fourth Marine Division from December 1943 to August 1944.
He then went to Hawaii, where he trained in amphibious service and later, made three landings in the Philippine Islands and took part in the last battle of World War II in Okinawa in 1945.
After being discharged in 1946, he remained an active volunteer in the Naval Reserve, serving in the Korean War. His final discharge from the Navy was in August 1952.
Cottington received seven battle stars during World War II, and one during the Korean War.
During his presentation, Cottington shared his respect for the US military, calling it “an excellent organization,” and the best in the world.
He commended all who has served, calling them “liberators of America” who uphold the ideals of the country’s founders.
“Freedom isn’t cheap,” Cottington commented, adding that many people who have served in conflicts never returned home.
He recognized all the service men and women, “whatever uniform you’re wearing.”
Cottington told the students that all of our freedoms “we owe to veterans of the US” and to respect those in uniform.
He also instructed the students to thank a veteran that day in honor of Veterans Day. “They made it possible for you to be where you are today,” he said.