NASHWAUK — The Nashwauk American Legion, Pengilly VFW and Keewatin Legion joined in posting the colors. Chad Snider led the Nashwauk-Keewatin High School Band in playing the “Star Spangled Banner.” Then the Deer River Drum Group performed the “Flag Song.”
It was Friday morning when NKHS teacher Pat Tucci, the social studies department chair, followed the opening events of the school’s Veterans Day Program in the gymnasium.
“We come together to honor the men and women who have served and who are currently serving in the military,” Tucci said into the microphone while standing beside veterans and student musicians before the bleachers full of students, staff and guests.
The band played “America the Beautiful.” Then Wayne Patras, the junior vice commander of the Minnesota Disabled American Veterans Department of Minnesota, offered a history lesson on the meaning of Veterans Day.
On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, World War I ended when the Armistice was signed inside a train car in Forest Compiegne, France, Patras explained. In 1938, the anniversary of that signing became a holiday in honor of veterans known as Armistice Day in the United States. In 1954, Armistice Day became Veterans Day, and on Nov. 11 of every year since, all American veterans of all wars are celebrated and honored.
“We were all 17 and 18 years old sitting in your seats,” Patras told the students. “Now I ask, ‘Will you stand up?’ We did. There are many ways to serve, not just in the military.” He stressed the importance of voting and visiting veterans residing in nursing homes throughout Itasca County.
Patras somberly asked whether the students “will stand up” for all veterans, including the 18 percent of current veterans who committ suicide on a daily basis. “Since we’ve been here, 22 veterans have committed suicide,” he said.
Patras also read the poem, “A Marine Stationed in Okinawa, Japan” and recited lyrics from American country singer Lee Greenwood’s song, “God Bless the USA.”
NKHS cheerleading coach Cathe Bozich offered passed down anecdotes on her own father’s wartime experiences in WWII, relating how he learned how to depend on his fellow servicemen.
“If you have people you can depend on in your lifetime, it’s a blessing,” Bozich told the students. “I’m glad my dad had people he could depend on. Try to be that person that other people depend on.”
During last year's ceremony, Bozich's father, U.S. Army Veteran Roy Allen Gordon Bailey, who was 101 years old at the time and grew up on the Red Lake Reservation, was honored with a Native American blanket to symbolize the warmth the district feels in their hearts for past, present and future veterans.
From there, NKHS social studies teacher Nick Emanuel announced the winners of the Veterans Day art contest and various students and staff walked from the bleachers and onto the gym floor to speak into the microphone the names of veterans in their families.
The band then played “Armed Forces on Parade” and Snider asked guest veterans to stand accordingly as he called out the five names of military branches: U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard.
Lowana Greensky, the director of Indian Education in Greenway, Nashwauk and Keewatin, spoke on the prevalence of Native American veterans serving in the Armed Services.
“Despite the troubled relationship with the U.S government, Native Americans have played an important part of U.S. military history,” Greensky said.
Greensky said that “12,000 Native Americans fought during World War I; 44,000 thousands in World War II; one out of every four Indigenous people in the U.S. fought in the Vietnam War.” She echoed data from the U.S. Department of Defense showing 140,000 living Native Amerians veterans and 31,000 American Indian and Alaska Native men and women are currently serving in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere around the world. She added that at 18.6 percent, Native Americans served in the post-9/11 period in a higher percentage than veterans of other ethnicities.
Greensky described how the “military had realized the usefulness of Native American languages for code.” During World War I, the Choctaw language was used in the transmission of secret messages. As was the Navajo language in World War II. Greensky said the military used “over 30 other Native languages for code talking,” including the Ojibwe language, or Ojibwemowin, which is being taught at NHKS today.
The Deer River Drum Group performed an “Honor Song” before a moment of silence and the retiring of colors.