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GUEST COLUMN: Forgotten heroes of World War I

On Nov. 11 our nation observes Veterans Day. It was established in 1919 as Armistice Day, a day to commemorate the end of the fighting in World War I, in 1918. It was a bloody and brutal combat, much of it fought in the trenches, where my dad said they sometimes climbed over the dead bodies of their comrades and waded in blood well over their ankles. My dad, a veteran of the “Great War,” fought in the major battles that led up to the Armistice. Those men were quiet heroes, largely unsung and today, scarcely remembered. They spoke little of “sacrifice” and more of duty for that was how they saw it. Many were the children of immigrants, as was my dad. They cherished here what most could not have in their previous country — the ability to own land to hold a handful of soil with the sweet knowledge this was theirs. The ability to go to church as they chose — or not. The ability to send their children to school not just the rich, but everyone. The ability to associate with whom they chose. The right to bear arms. The right to participate in government at every level. The right to read newspapers, projecting many opinions, and to form their own opinions. All this and more they held dear. It was, they knew, their duty to preserve it. Most of them came back to a life of hard work and little recompense, at least, as we measure today. Recompense was not what they fought for, rather the freedoms that brought their families to this beloved country.

I don’t know what my dad would think of America today but I believe he would love it as he always had, his focus on the essential freedoms. He would willingly nurture it with his blood and continues to nurture it with his sweat, his work, his faith. His heart would lift at the sight of our flag, flying high and he would hold that handful of soil — this is my land. His generation was not so much given opportunity as simply forging it because here in America they could. Veterans day was Armistice Day — 1918 — the day the fighting of the great war ended.

Lest we forget.

MARY KOEP is a member of the Brainerd City Council.