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High school students hear message of remembrance

If it were 75 years earlier, many of the students sitting in the bleachers Tuesday at Brainerd High School (BHS) might have been asked to serve their country.

Brainerd American Legion Color Guard member Howard Cronquist salutes the flag during the opening ceremony of the Veteran’s Day program at Brainerd High School Tuesday. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls
Brainerd American Legion Color Guard member Howard Cronquist salutes the flag during the opening ceremony of the Veteran’s Day program at Brainerd High School Tuesday. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls

If it were 75 years earlier, many of the students sitting in the bleachers Tuesday at Brainerd High School (BHS) might have been asked to serve their country.

With World War II brewing, many students stepped up to the plate. It's because of their service, and the service of many before and after them, that students today have their freedom.

That was part of the message from retired Maj. Doug Bekke of Minneapolis at the annual Veterans Day program at BHS.

Bekke was in the Army from 1968-71, with service in the fifth special services group in the Vietnam War. He continued in the Army Reserves until 1989.

Bekke would continue on to get a degree in education, as well as be a creator and adviser in several war exhibits across the region.

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His message to students for Veterans Day was one of remembering.

World War I is often overlooked, he said, since World War II followed so close behind.

Veterans of World War I were present in the 1950s, but starting to fade away, Bekke said. Much like Vietnam veterans today.

"For most people today...veterans of World War I are too often just faces in old black and white photographs," he said. "But I knew many of them. They were real people. They were my uncles, my great uncles, they were my neighbors, friends and mentors. They were my teachers in school."

Visiting their graves, Bekke can still see their faces, hear their voices.

"My father told me stories of Civil War veterans.They came to speak at his school in the 1920s," he said.

Bekke had World War I veterans speak at his school when he was younger.

"Someday you may tell your grandchildren that in your youth, you met veterans of the Vietnam War, all of whom will have been long gone by then," he told the students.

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Bekke retold the history of World War I and how it started. He spoke about the impact it had on future conflicts and the world.

He spoke of the thousands of people who lost their lives fighting for what they believed in. Fighting for their country.

"It was a great tragedy for every family involved," he said.

Today World War I is forgotten by many, with conflicts like World War II and others more talked about, he said.

"But the effects of World War I dramatically shaped the 20th century and the 21st," he said.

Bekke encouraged the students to study history.

"It's fundamental in the study of us. You, me and us," he said.

Bekke added that each student should start learning about their family history and how it contributed to making them who they are today.

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He asked the group what they will do to honor those who served.

Get an education, be involved in the community, live a good life, be an informed voter, he suggested.

Andrea Rusk, BHS principal, added that it's important to recognize all veterans who served the country.

Rusk then asked veterans in attendance to stand as she named the wars. Finally, she asked students who were enlisting in the service to stand.

In closing, Rusk referenced a message shared by Veterans Day program speaker Brig. Gen. Mark Ness six years ago, noting that it has stuck with her since.

"He said five words can be so meaningful to a veteran," Rusk said.

Those words: "Thank you for your service."

She encouraged all students to thank a veteran for their service.

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