Veterans’ Day 11 a.m. ceremony at Veteran’s Memorial Park
Good morning ladies and gentlemen, fellow veterans, and Veterans’ Vigil patriots,
Today there is, and perhaps there will always be, conflict in the world. But the United States of America fortunately enjoys peace and freedom within its borders and has for the last 150 years. Imagine, for example, if we had lost WW II, where would we be? Like other things of great value, this security did not come without great cost. That cost, that price has been paid and is being paid by Americans who have answered the call to military duty when their country has needed them. They served in 12 wars from the Revolution in 1775 to the War on Terrorism which continues today. In serving in these 12 wars, men and women earned the special distinction, Veteran. So we’re here today as we faithfully are every 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month to honor those who are serving and have served the greatest nation on earth.
The purpose of the Vigil is threefold, 1) Keep the torch burning, to educate the young and remind the rest of us of the high cost of freedom, 2) To honor veterans for their sacrifice - during our time in the service, Uncle Sam owned us 24/7, and 3) to enhance camaraderie among veterans.
This is the 20th year of the Veterans’ Vigil. Today’s program’s focus is about recognizing and celebrating this accomplishment and honoring those who have fleshed out the Vigil. For 20 straight years now, Winona area veterans, their families and friends have stood a total, as of midnight tonight, 480 hours right here under our nation’s colors in silent tribute to veterans of the United States Armed Forces. The Vigil has always been inclusive, welcoming all under our tent, so to speak. The Vigil does not take sides politically - just like our military. The Armed Forces takes its marching orders from the political leadership of the country. The fact that many of our citizens blamed individual veterans of the Vietnam War upon their return is one of the great shames of our time. You Vietnam veterans listen up: it’s about time we take pride in our service to country. I, for one, honor your service for I saw you in battle; you were tenacious and courageous warriors, at the same time humane and ethical in following the rules of engagement. Yes, there were renegades but we have renegade football players, teachers, businessmen, clergy, coaches. Every category of people has them. Vietnam renegades have gotten too much attention by the media. As a matter of fact, there have been many loser wannabes who claim to be Vietnam vets to get society’s sympathy. Do some research on the average Vietnam Veteran. You’ll find them on a par with the greatest generation, for being successful, contributing members of our society. Vietnam Vets: raise your arm. Rest of you look around at these men. Ok, everyone say with me “welcome home” - ready 1-2-3 WELCOME HOME!
Back to the Vigil: the Vigil would not have been the success it’s been without those who flesh out the Vigil, our faithful “watch standers.” Our watch standers have braved every kind of weather condition imaginable from balmy Indian summer weather to frozen tundra winter like conditions. One year we had our general purpose tent blow over (point) right over there. That’s why we went to the ‘bunker’ - the area under the band shell - to get out of the elements before and after standing watch. Speaking of the bunker: for anyone who has not been to our bunker, right after the ceremony here, just go and check it out. Sign our visitor’s log, jot down your feelings in the log of remembrance. And you just might be able to get a cup of coffee if you play your cards right.
I want to thank the VFW and American Legion clubs, (Diane Cada and Nancy Berger especially) for going above and beyond the call; they have supported our efforts from day one. I want to especially thank the auxiliaries of these clubs and the former DAV auxiliary too, for they are the ones who provided the hot drinks and chili to warm our bellies. Other groups have been loyal for many years to the Vigil namely, Winona Police and Fire Department color guards, Hiawatha Valley Marines, Trempealeau VFW, and Pickwick Volunteer Fire Department. I want to recognize people by name - those who have been loyal and faithful to the Vigil over the years. I am bound to leave someone out and for that I apologize in advance. If you’re one of them, please let me know later and I’ll make it up to you. These (hold up logs) are all the rosters and sign up sheets for the last 20 years. Every person who has stood watch is in this stack. We’ve done some research and have come up with a list of people who have only missed due to an unavoidable conflict or sickness. Some of the names I’ll be reading are now deceased but while alive were consistently loyal to the Vigil for many consecutive years. This list is in no particular order: Don Peterson, Mel Bailey, Don and Margaret Elliot, Stu Clemence, Dave Lueck, Norris Abts, John Sweet, Jon Grossardt, Gerry Engler, “Skip” Kuhlmann, John Meyerhoff, Bruce “Doc” and Linda Reed, Jeff Kirkey, Brad Peterson, Richard Adank, Greg Ahrensfeldt, Mel Bailey, Jim Bambenek, Dick Berry, Don Blake, Leon Bowman, Ed Burkhalter, Len Cross, Pat Cuminsky, Ken Dickson, Leland Doebbert, Bob Drieslein, Wes Eckblad, Jim Eddy, Jack Ehlers, Kim Erickson, Greg Erickson, Del Frahm, Eldon Fritz, LaVerne Fritz, Ted Gierok, Jon Grossardt, Wayne Hamernick, Gordie Nelson, Dick Holdorf, Jason Huber, Lawrence Indra, John Jacobson, Richard Johnsgard, Dennis Johnson, Al King, Frank Kinsie, Gerry Krage, Skip Kuhlman, Lefty Lee, Jeff Lueck, Paul Lueck, Adam Lueck, Dennis Luedtke, Jim Lukaszieski, Daryl McDaniel, Jerry Obieglo, Dick Otto, Roger and Wayne Papenfuss, John Reinhardt, Roger Reitmaier, John Rybarczyk, Bob Schultz, Jim Schultz, Bob Smith, Stan Teske, Brian Tomashek, Augie Verdick, Ken Wenger, Dick Will. Approximately, 297 people signed in as watch standers; another 50 at least stood but did not sign in. So about 350 people have stood watch in honor of Veterans since 1993.
I would be remiss if I left out those who provided the impetus, encouragement and support to start the Vigil 20 years ago, namely, Stephanie Kirkey, Major General Dave Lueck, Ernie Buehler, MaryAnn McMillan, Don Peterson, Francis Stoltz, Gerry Krage, Lawrence Indra, Dennie Maloney, Stu Clemence, John Meyerhoff, Steve Johnson and other members of the Military Affairs Committee of the Chamber of Commerce. Gerry Krage, in particular, played a vital leadership role. His passion for the Vigil in the early years and in making this beautiful Veterans’ Memorial Park a reality was an inspiration to all.
There’s one person who is in a category all by himself, that’s Jon Grossardt. Jon is not a veteran but he has a special passion for the Vigil. He’s a military history buff. Jon is loyal, dependable, creative, and hard working. Every year he provides displays of uniforms, equipment and weapons from different wars to attempt to make history real. This is not to glorify war but to bring history to life to highlight the sacrifice of our veterans in order to educate the young, remind the old.
I’ll finish with the definition of a veteran. (Where’s Doc Reed? He’s been waiting for the word “finished.”) A veteran, from a two-year draftee to a 30-year career retired, is someone who, at one point in his or her life, wrote a blank check made payable to “The United States of America” for an amount ‘up to and including my life.‘ That is honor - there are way too many people in this country who no longer understand it.
Thanks for coming - braving the elements. God bless each of you and God bless America.