By Jennifer Von Ohlen
DASSEL, COKATO, MN “‘Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the president or any other public official, save exactly to the degree in which he himself stands by the country.
“‘It is patriotic to support him insofar as he efficiently serves the country. It is unpatriotic not to oppose him to the exact extent that by inefficiency or otherwise he fails in his duty to stand by the country. In either event, it is unpatriotic not to tell the truth, whether about the president or anyone else.”
Dassel-Cokato High School and Assisted Learning Center Principal Dean Jennissen used these words by Theodore Roosevelt to open the DC Veterans Day program Nov. 11, attended by high school and middle school students, as well as community members including the Dassel American Legion Post 364 and the Cokato American Legion Post 209.
In addition to musical tributes performed by DC band and choir students, the program included a video directed by high school media specialist Justin Larson. It focused on the question, “What does Veterans Day mean to you?”
Students from kindergarten through 12th grade were interviewed, as well as some staff members.
“A veteran, to me, is probably the most selfless person that we have in our country,” stated fifth-grade teacher Matthew Hogg. “They give up their time, their future plans and endeavors, and time spent with their family to protect our country and our rights, and all of us, who they don’t even know. To me, a veteran is a real-life superhero.”
In response to the same question, two students shared their answers in the form of personal essays during the program.
In his essay, Elijah Densmore, eighth-grade, spoke of his great-grandfather, who fought during the Vietnam War. In reflection, Densmore stated that “veterans put others before themselves,” and he thanked them “for everything [they] do.”
Caroline Cronk, a DC freshman, also acknowledged the sacrifice made by people in the military.
She explained that Americans’ rights are not guaranteed because “our Constitution says so,” but because of the men and women fighting (and who have fought) to keep it that way.
For Cronk, Veterans Day is not only for those who made the ultimate sacrifice, but for those “who are still with us today.”
One of those veterans still serving Americans, though in a different way, is Principal Jennissen, who was a sergeant in the US Army Reserves for eight years. He was also this year’s keynote speaker.
Jennissen began by sharing his life growing up as one of 12 siblings, and reminisced about some of the situations he and two of his brothers, Billy and Nick, would get into.
As they continued on life’s journey, Nick informed Jennissen during college that he had joined the army. Stunned by his brother’s sudden news, Jennissen told Nick he was an “idiot” for doing so.
Upon that comment, Nick began to chastise Jennissen, calling him a wimp, that he could never handle the army, and that the drill sergeant would eat him up and spit him out.
Being a competitive individual, Jennissen showed up at the recruiting station with three requests.
He said, “I want to join the army, I want to go wherever Nick’s going, but I want to get there two weeks before he does.”
Jennissen’s requests were met.
Being two weeks ahead of Nick, the two brothers did not see each other much during training at Fort Dix, NJ, though they wrote letters often.
The week before Jennissen was to graduate from training, the two brothers found each other again. Nick stated that he planned to be at Jennissen’s basic training graduation, even though he had his own commitments to fulfill.
He kept his word, though he lied to the drill sergeant to make it happen and paid for it later.
“So what does Veteran’s Day mean to me?” asked Jennissen, “Why do I talk about my brother, Nick, and all these stories? Well, I would say one thing Veterans Day means to me is loyalty. My brother was always loyal to me, always got my back. It didn’t matter if it was on the playground when we were in first grade, or when we were on the wrestling team in high school or college. And when I think about veterans, bottom line is, these people stick up for all of us.”
He continued by reading the oath every solider takes as he/she enters the service.
Jennissen’s second thought regarding Veterans Day is the soldiers’ fighting competitiveness.
“In order to be successful in defending our freedoms, they have to be prepared to fight and win. In its most real sense, the level of competitiveness that they have will be the difference between life and death.”
Lastly, Jennissen described veterans as being unifiers.
“I think about that individual competitiveness being a good thing, but also working together to be much more, and accomplish so much.”
In closing, Jennissen urged those in attendance to follow the veterans’ example of unifying America.
“Our current soldiers and veterans took that oath for all Americans,” stated Jennissen. “Not just some Americans, not just those that agree with them. Many bled and died for the greatest nation in the world. It’s time for us to put away those political signs and posters, and point our collective talents, collective competitiveness, collective energy, and turn towards the flag that unites us all. God bless our soldiers, God bless our veterans, and in the days ahead, may God bless America.”