By Paul Downer
Delano Public Schools
The annual Veterans Day ceremony at Delano High School included a variety of unique elements this year, including a presentation of the Sgt. Dillon Semolina memorial plaque, a donation to the Delano American Legion by Charter Spectrum and HISTORY (The History Channel), and remarks from keynote speaker Sen. Bruce Anderson.
Another highlight was recognition of Mackenzie Oswell, Lauren Kantrovich and Hannah Kreisch for winning an essay contest focusing on why it is important to recognize veterans. Oswell, the overall winner, read her essay following the announcement of the winners. Her essay explained that veterans were worthy of honor because they choose to serve, because they leave their lives and loved ones behind without a guarantee that they will return safely, and that those who do return may suffer from physical and mental wounds.
“They chose to fight, they said goodbye to their families, and they fought with all they had, even if it meant returning a different person,” Oswell wrote. “None of us will ever understand what they went through, but we can look to them and say, ‘Thank you for serving.’”
Anderson, himself a retired service member who spent time in the Navy, Minnesota Air National Guard, and Air Force Reserve, also spoke about the unique experience of veterans.
“Often, veterans feel isolated because their sacrifice is impossible to understand for those who have not endured it themselves,” Anderson said. “That’s why today is especially important. Recognizing them and thanking them for their service is your impactful gesture, and goes a long way toward making those patriots feel part of the community, the community of Delano.”
In other aspects of the ceremony, Oswell and Caitlyn Bekkala were recognized for participating in Girls State, the Legion baseball team was recognized, and the DHS wind ensemble performed.
Eric Gafkjen and US Marine Corporal Jack Gafkjen presented a memorial plaque to Michael and Lisa De La Cruz in honor of Sgt. Dillon Semolina, a 2010 DHS graduate who was killed along with 11 other Marines when two helicopters collided during nighttime training maneuvers near Hawaii in 2016.
“Dillon walked the hallways each of you walk each day,” Eric Gafkjen told the listening students. “He was a proud member of the Delano football team and played on the same field, for the same coach, as many of you.”
After briefly recounting Semolina’s service history, Gafkjen said, “Dillon served for our freedoms, for our opportunities, for our future.” He concluded by asking students to remember Semolina’s sacrifice and service, and to take the time to thank other veterans when they have the opportunity.
Following the presentation of the plaque, Michael De La Cruz addressed the gathering.
“I just wanted to extend my family our greatest appreciation for everything that the school is doing, everybody that’s here, all of my brothers and sisters that serve. . . I thoroughly appreciate what’s going on here, recognizing this valuable day,” he said.
Minnesota Sen. Bruce Anderson (R District 29) spent over 30 years in the military, but spoke little of his own experiences during his address.
“The memories of friends I made and lost during my time in the service are a little more vivid to me each day that I am allowed to live here on this earth,” he said.
Instead, Anderson spoke of the service of his father, a World War II veteran, and other family members and acquaintances. He shared the history of Veterans Day and its origins in the armistice that ended World War I, and he emphasized the importance of recognizing the sacrifice of those who serve.
“We go about our daily lives mowing our yards, running our errands, doing our homework,” Anderson said. “We enjoy so many freedoms that others around the world can’t even imagine. And most of the time, we don’t even give them a second thought.”
Anderson challenged those present to make the most of the opportunities they have as a result of the sacrifice of others.
“Today, I encourage you to take a moment to reflect on your freedoms, the privilege it is to enjoy your education, dream for your future, and look forward to all that will one day make this world a better place for all of us to live,” he said. “Be wise with the gifts that you’ve been given. Do not squander your freedom. But rather, channel the strength of the men and women who have served and given their lives for you.
“I have hope in your generation that you will recognize what we have to lose and continue to fight for it, so that all that has been done before you will not be in vain. . . . Freedom is not just a word, but a sacrificial treasure given to each one of us this day.”