Veterans honored at high school

Rep. Bob Dettmer urged communities to support veterans and students to thank them for their service.
Rep. Bob Dettmer urged communities to support veterans and students to thank them for their service.

The Forest Lake High School Veterans Ceremony began with a slideshow.

A large screen over the speakers platform showed images of people in military service. Those pictured were identified by name, military branch and conflict. Each one was somehow connected to the school.

Some were FLHS graduates. Some were current or former teachers. The others were someone’s parents, grandparents, siblings, uncles, cousins and  friends.

The slideshow was like a history lesson, marching through World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Grenada, Afghanistan and Iraq. The Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard were represented. The superintendent’s father was in the Merchant Marines. Someone’s mother was a lieutenant colonel. A Vietnam vet died from Agent Orange-related leukemia.

These connections to students were fitting, as the ceremony was student-led. Senior Mariah Daninger was master of ceremonies, and senior Jarod Bowers spoke. The band, orchestra and choir performed. The VFW and Legion color guard and keynote speaker Bob Dettmer completed the program.

Teresa Mahnke and Kelsey Sarver sang “Unsung Hero.”
Teresa Mahnke and Kelsey Sarver sang “Unsung Hero.”

Daninger said this was the ninth year of the ceremony, which began as a flag dedication to replace the battered flag in front of the high school.

Bowers, reading his VFW Voice of Democracy essay, talked about how he has changed since entering junior high at Century.

“My only loves were food, my mama and ‘Star Wars,’” he said. “The first couple weeks were not fun. My mom was in the running to be my best friend.”

Since that rough beginning, Bowers said, he has made friends, learned how to ask someone on a date (“without fainting, barfing or crying”) and become optimistic about the future.

At Forest Lake, he said, he sees great potential when he watches students on the football team, students running campaigns to end use of the word “retarded” and students working toward a gay-straight alliance.

“I see a bunch of really cool kids getting ready to go out into this world and make a difference,” Bowers said.

The keynote speaker was veteran Bob Dettmer, who taught and coached at the high school for 30 years. Dettmer is serving his fourth term in the Minnesota House.

“Serving your country in the military is a family affair,” he said, and pointed to his children, including two West Point graduates who have done multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, one JAG lawyer and one spouse of a National Guard sergeant.

When he asked students to stand if they had relatives in military service, most were on their feet.

Dettmer called the nation’s all-volunteer force our strongest defense against our enemies.

They are versatile and skilled in countless areas, he said, including disaster relief. In the Philippines, where more than 10,000 are presumed dead after Typhoon Haiyan, U.S. Marines are on the ground beginning relief efforts.

But when veterans return home, he said, they face financial and health problems, including joblessness and homelessness. Community efforts are needed to help veterans build careers. Students should learn veterans’ history, pay them respect and thank them for their service, he said.

Dettmer quoted President George Washington, who said, “The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive veterans of early wars were treated and appreciated by our nation.”

He also recited part of a 1970 poem by Charles Michael Province about the contribution veterans make to American life (see box).