On a frigid Veterans Day morning, warmth was felt in the handshakes, hugs and hands at hearts at the Wadena-Deer Creek Middle/High School gym.
Songs of appreciation, words of gratitude and claps of respect could be heard. Bright red poppies crafted by Mrs. Danielson's elementary art class, veteran's hats and red, white and blue clothing could be seen. The smell of pancakes served up to a hungry group of veterans was still in the air.
In so many words from students, a great amount of respect was shared to the visiting veterans of the room. On numerous occasions the men and women who have served America were asked to rise. Over and over they were applauded for their service.
Students like Ava Hall spoke of the privilege of being an American and the importance of the pledge of allegiance.
"I used to feel that the pledge was just something that teachers required us to do, but now that I understand the true meaning, I can take those moments and remember that it is not an expectation, it is a privilege. I am proud to be an a American," Hall said.
Caleb Hagen shared why he says the pledge of allegiance.
"As citizens we are proud to put our hand on our heart and say the pledge," Hagen said. "We are thanking the people that served our country."
James Seelhammer considered the flag a symbol of freedom and thanked those who fought for that freedom.
"Military men and women have kept our country safe," Seelhammer said. "The military also protects our right to be free. Freedom gives me the right to create my own future."
Following student readings, the keynote speaker for the event, Lieutenant Colonel (retired) David J. Goetze shared some history with the group. Goetze was joined by his "Ranger buddy" Holly, a service dog that helps him with his PTSD. He spoke of the veterans that have served and of the great sacrifice they gave.
"Today we still fight in the deserts and cities of the Middle East, the mountains of Afghanistan," Goetze said. "And we are keeping the fight over there, so it does not come over here again."
Currently, Lt. Col. Goetze is training National Guard brigades before deployment. He expressed to those in attendance how great this area is compared to so many other areas of the world. He, like many others, felt the urge to leave and travel the country. He was able to do so, but was also pleased to return to what he considers a wonderful area to live and raise a family.
Goetze enlisted in the United States Army Reserves and later transferred to the Minnesota National Guard. He has served in multiple leadership and instructor positions throughout his career, including Platoon Leader in Hawaii and Haiti, Company Commander with the First Infantry Division, Observer Controller at Fort Irwin, Calif.; Reserve Officers Training Course instructor at St. John’s and St. Cloud state universities; Advisor for the Saudi Arabian National Guard in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; Operations Officer for 2nd Battalion 16th Infantry Battalion for 34 months, including 14 months in Baghdad, Iraq; Operations Officer for Battle Command Training Program at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas; Commander Security Force Assistance Team, 101st Airborne Division Afghanistan; and Tactics Instructor.
Also during the program, veteran Tom Malone was honored with a Quilt of Valor from the Homespun Quilters Club. Malone served America including serving in the Korean War up to the point of the Armistice signing, July 27, 1953. Malone continued to serve the area as a civilian, serving as a township board member, church board member, Legion Honor Guard and he continues to serve on the Wadena VFW Honor Guard.