Attending two back-to-back Veterans Day programs Friday was emotional for two prominent Brainerd residents, but at the same time rewarding to witness the support they saw in the community.
Brainerd Mayor James Wallin and Rep. John Ward, DFL-Brainerd, attended Veterans Day programs at the Brainerd High School and Riverside Elementary School.
Ward said, “I lost my dad this year, so this year’s Veterans Day is even more emotional and special for me. He was a Navy guy who fought in World War II. He was a very proud vet and Veterans Day has always been special to our family. We strongly
support the sacrifices the veterans have made and that they continue to make for our country.”
Wallin, a veteran himself, said he was proud to be a part of both Veterans Day programs. Wallin said it was great to see the response from the high school students who honored the veterans who stood up to be recognized in the school gymnasium. The high school students and around 30 community members, who attended the program, not only cheered for the veterans, but also gave them a standing ovation.
“It was astounding,” said Wallin. “It’s fantastic to see. I wish this was the type of response the Vietnam vets received when they got home. It’s too bad, none of us asked to go (to Vietnam) ... Times were different back then.
“I get emotional at these programs.”
Wallin said it was nice to see every branch of the military service present at the Riverside program and to see all the children there. Wallin agreed with what Don Bode said at the Riverside program, that it was rewarding to see the importance of the Veterans Day programs ingrained into these students, since they are the future.
Veterans and others at the Riverside program came to tears as Bode’s wife Marie read the “Symbols for the Folds of the Flag” as Don Bode folded the flag, with help from Don Pfeffer, director of Central Lakes College’s Veteran Resource Center. Tears also rolled down individual’s cheeks when veteran Jim Kunkel performed a war song on his guitar.
Riverside fourth-graders sang “America the Beautiful” and “This Land is Your Land” and read a poem entitled “You’re Our Heroes.”
The veterans, which included World War II veterans, who attended the high school’s Veterans Day program received an “absolutely fantastic” honor recognition, according to retired Sgt. Maj. Aubrey Fillbrandt.
“I’ve been to a lot of veterans programs over the years and I’ve never heard a response like I heard today,” Fillbrandt said of the standing ovation the veterans received honoring them. “This couldn’t have had them feel any better. It was absolutely fantastic.”
Fillbrandt, who’s lived in Brainerd for 20 years, said Veterans Day is a day to pay tribute to the service men and women for the sacrifices they’ve made to defend the country’s freedom. Fillbrandt said the soldiers had to fight a world of brutal terrorists and enemies to make sure America was secure.
“They made sacrifices for our freedom and unfortunately we take it four granted,” said Fillbrandt. “We should be indebted to the vets with their valor and dedication, they made the ultimate sacrifice for our benefit.”
Looking back, Fillbrandt said he wished he would have done more for the Vietnam soldiers when they came home. He said he wished they would have received the same great recognition, the veterans received from the high school students.
Fillbrandt was in the North Dakota National Guard from 1955-61 during the Korean War. He earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Mayville State University in Mayville, N.D., and his master’s from the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, N.D.
Fillbrandt said his message to the students is that they can all make a difference. Fillbrandt shared a story of a little girl who was on a beach after a terrible storm. He said there were thousands of starfish washed up at shore and she began tossing them back into the water. He said a man saw her do this and he told her “You can’t make a difference here.” The girl walked further, threw a starfish in the water and said, “I made a difference with that one.”
Fillbrandt told the students that they can make a difference in the lives of veterans or anyone they come in contact with. He also encouraged students to show regard for others for their efforts and in that good things will happen.
The BHS A Cappella Choir, Symphonic Band and Chamber Orchestra performed at the program. Musical pieces included “Frolicsome Finale,” “On the Banks of the River” and “Hymn for the Lost and Living.”
JENNIFER STOCKINGER may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5851.