By Jennifer Von Ohlen
DASSEL, COKATO, MN When President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed Nov. 11, 1919 as the first Armistice (or Veterans) Day, he stated, “To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations . . . ”
Dassel-Cokato High School and Middle School students and staff were reminded of these words as they were joined by area veterans and fellow community members for its annual Veterans Day Program Nov. 10.
Middle School Principal Alisa Johnson opened the program with the afore mentioned words of President Wilson by reminding attendees, “We are here to recognize the importance of duty, honor, service, and freedom. We are here to celebrate the lives of those who served and those that paid the ultimate sacrifice,” as well as their friends and families.
High school and middle school students showed their thanks to local veterans including members of the Dassel American Legion Post 364 and Cokato American Legion Post 209 through a selection instrumental and vocal tributes, such as the “Star Spangled Banner,” “My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” and “Song for Unsung Heroes.”
Students: ‘What Veterans Day means to me’
Dassel and Cokato elementary students were also given the chance to share what Veterans Day means to them in a video presentation put together by high school media specialist Justin Larson. Many of the featured students agreed that Veterans Day is a day to celebrate the people who served, fought, and protected America. Several of the students also shared that they have family members who either have served, or are actively serving in the military.
The video also featured a special interview with 2016 DC alumni Alexis Dutra, who is currently serving in the United States Air Force.
Before she joined the military, Dutra always associated Veterans Day with appreciating her dad’s and other family members’ military achievements.
“But now, I feel like it’s a day to just appreciate everyone I work with and how much they do for me and do for each other,” she stated.
Alexis’ sister, Victoria, a sophomore, shared that their dad just recently returned home after a six-month deployment, and that while it’s scary having them so far away, she’s proud of what her father and sister do.
“It’s tough being away from family,” Alexis added, “but it’s very rewarding when you get to see them again.”
“What I want to say to veterans is thank you for all the freedom that we have and everything we can do,” Victoria commented.
Freshman Emma Thomas and fifth grader Elias Schimmel also shared essays describing what Veterans Day means to them.
Schimmel stated, “If veterans never served, we wouldn’t have the freedom of speech. We wouldn’t have the right to show our support or disapproval of elected officials and their proposals. We wouldn’t have the freedom of religion and the right to continue what our nation was founded on.” He also challenged audience members to imagine if they were not able to celebrate a birthday or Christmas with a loved one because of deployment.
Thomas stated that “whether [a veteran’s] sacrifices are big or small, [they never] deserve to go unnoticed.”
She continued, “Having the courage to fight for our freedom requires a certain type of person. That is why we should be grateful for those that do; because a lot of people, including myself, would be terrified to fight in a war.”
Thomas also described the physical and mental conditions that can result from the trauma experienced by active military personnel, explaining that her grandpa suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
“We will never know what horrible things have happened to these veterans coming home to us,” she stated, “and most of us will never have to face what they’ve seen. For these and many other reasons, we need to support them,” and Veterans Day is “the perfect” opportunity to do that.
Part of a team
Another way to demonstrate appreciation and support for the US military is listening to the stories of its servicemen and women.
Stepping up to the podium, willing to share her testimony, was keynote speaker Michelle (Herman) Ailie.
Having grown up within the DC community, Ailie said she learned at a young age what it means to be part of a team. It wasn’t until the third year of her college nursing career, however, that she started to seriously long for that sense of membership.
When Ailie learned that two girls from her freshmen dorm joined the Reserve Officer Training Corps program, she became interested.
“When I questioned them about this, I learned they were getting their entire four years of private school paid for,” Ailie stated. “I had to check it out. I had nothing to lose and was up for the challenge.
I may not have known all there was to know about the US Army, but I did know that I was going to finish this nursing program and the ROTC program, and I was going to have a guaranteed job after college.”
Ailie completed her next two years of college with the ROTC program, and learned along the way what it means to be a leader and member of the US military.
That knowledge was put to the test when President Bill Clinton tried downsizing the US military and offered nursing students (who had completed their course work and ROTC program requirements) the chance to walk away from their contracted active duty obligations and still have their college tuition paid. One of the two girls who inspired Ailie to enlist accepted Clinton’s offer.
“I had a choice to make,” admitted Ailie. “Was I going to [walk away] as well? Or was I going to honor my country and complete my service obligation as stated in my contract?”
In thinking about her parents, who raised her to always finish the game and never quit, Ailie carried out her service.
“I felt pride, honor, and loyalty to our nation and the commitment I had made,” she explained, and told students their lives were going to be filled with choices, too.
She stated, “I would like to encourage you to be proud of your choices, stand strong in your choices. Don’t allow anyone to steer you down the wrong path. Set goals and finish what you start. Be proud of your accomplishment.
“I wish you all the best in making the right choices for you.”