Haven't yet earned my stripes

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Veteran day shrunk.JPG

I was asked to give the Veteran's Day keynote to the Clinton-Beardsley-Graceville highschool program November 9 and to the VFW on November 11. I wondered if it was even really right for me to be the one to do this-- I'm no veteran. As I put together a speech my main point would be to make the high schoolers proud of where they came from-- where they are. Click below on "Continue reading..." to see my speech-- it's not a great work of oratory.

But here's the kicker-- in my speech I wrote about an incident a few days earlier where I was served lunch by a young guy, home on leave from the services and working in his family's restaurant on main street Clinton. Well-- here is that guy in the gym and carrying the flag for the ceremony. I was kinda choked up to see him-- cooking my california burger on Friday and Monday morning holding the flag. His family drove him to the Cities a couple days later so he could fly to his new post.

Regarding that lunch-- they gave me my pop for free-- why?. Because they are glad that we moved to town. They are glad that Mike brings our twins in for breakfast every once in a while. These honors and gifts are very much appreciated, even if yet unearned.

Veterans Day Speech 2007
Kathryn Draeger
Thank you for inviting me to help honor the veterans of our communities. It is important that we thank all of the men and women who have served this country with honor and great personal sacrifice and remember those who are protecting our way of life today stationed all over the world. The American Legion reminds us that our veterans need and deserve high quality medical care, support in finding employment, and access to housing. It is tragic that the men and women who allow us to be safe in our homes are often without homes themselves when they shed their uniforms.
23 percent of America’s homeless population are veterans.
89 percent of homeless veterans were honorably discharged. Of those homeless veterans nearly half served during the Vietnam war. Too often today’s tattered citizen of the street was yesterday’s respected soldier in a crisp uniform with rows of shining medals. This is hardly the “thanks of a grateful nation.? My own uncle was one of those returning Vietnam veterans who struggled with the demons of that war and returned to a nation scornful of his service and sacrifice. Over time he found solace and success as a farmer in southern Minnesota.
As Doug said, we recently moved from the St. Paul and I can tell you one thing that I’ve observed living here— we strive to honor, respect and remember our veterans. I was struck those first few weeks I lived here that is more obvious that our country is war. The war is more personal and more immediate. The people in Big Stone County remember their servicemen and women everyday. Because for many this war is not an abstract idea or soundbites on tv—it is a reality for our families. The first thing I see when I walk into the Clinton Elementary school is the pictures of the local boys and girls who grew up here and now serve our country. There is a display case just inside the front door to the left.
Last Friday I ate lunch in Joanie’s on main street Clinton. My meal was cooked by a young man who was working at the family cafe while on leave from the military. He was at home in between being stationed elsewhere. The other customers teasing him about his family making him work while on leave—but everyone was obviously so happy to see him and in their own ways thanking him and acknowledging his service to his country. This young guy cooked food for us that day. Imagine this—he is serving his country, supporting his family, and cooking my meal. In our gratitude as Americans we should be hosting feasts for him and for all of you who are, were, and will be defending our country.
Less than 10 percent of Americans can claim the title “veteran.? In 1789 George Washington said, "The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional as to how they perceive the veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their country." It is obvious to me that our veterans are appreciated and honored here. Take for example every single one of you sitting here today to honor the veterans in our community.
Honoring and continuing to thank those who serve are our country is one of the values that is held and taught in Greater Minnesota. Our family wanted to surround ourselves and our children with those sets of values—respect, self reliance, and independence to name a few-- that drew our family back to work and farm in Big Stone County. I looked up some data from the US Dept of Defense. While rural youth, like our farm families, make up about 8% of the population they make up nearly 12% of the recruits who join the armed service. That means that our rural youth are signing up at a much much higher rate than young people elsewhere in our country. When you looked at the data there was nearly direct relationship between the more rural communities and the higher rate of recruitment in the armed services. While there are probably many reasons for that, I’m certain that if our kids grow up seeing our veterans respected and honored they know that serving in the military is an honorable duty to our country.
Our nation’s capital is largely a monument to our country’s veterans. I was privileged to be in Washington DC last month with my 8 year old daughter Alma last month. We visited the war memorials for Vietnam, Korea and World War Two. The World War II memorial is the newest on the capital mall and it is appropriately awe inspiring and fits in beautifully at the end of the reflecting pool with the Lincoln memorial at the other end. There is an effort underway to ensure that all living WWII veterans have the opportunity to visit that memorial and I saw many of that generation there. It is a somber experience to be at those memorials surrounded by masses of veterans remembering their fallen comrades. There was a large group of Korean Conflict veterans there and I was stopped in my tracks when I realized the extent of that military action and the hundreds of thousands of military personnel who served there. Korea touched our family directly because Mike’s uncle, Charles Jorgenson, was one of the soldiers who died in Korea.
Alma and I spent part of a day at the Arlington Cemetery and had the profound experience of watching the changing of the guards. It is the most solemn of ceremonies. One straight and somber guard is relieved of duty and replaced by another crisply dressed and serious guard. What is so remarkable is that this is not a ceremony for a president, general, or admiral. It is the 24 hour a day watch for the unknown soldier. The tomb reads:
"Here Rests
In Honored Glory
An American Soldier
Known But To God"
I don’t mean to leave you with the impression that the respectfulness and sacrifices for our country is greater or different here than any American family whether rural or urban, rich or poor, or of any race.
And so I’ll close with the words spoken by a former president surrounded by the rows of white gravestones at Arlington cemetery on Veterans Day-- words which still ring true today.
“Let me say that as we meet the challenges of the future, our unity as a people will be as it has ever been, our greatest strength. The silent white rows of crosses that surround us mark the final resting place of men and women of all services, all ranks, all races, all religions. They stand as stunning evidence that our founders were right: We are all equal in the eyes of God. That is something we must continue to practice until we get it right. It is something we must teach our children… Our American veterans buried here came from different walks of life. They served our nation in different places and in different ways.
Yet, all were united by a love of country, belief in freedom, and opportunity, and responsibility, and their faith in America's future. As we commemorate this day of reverence and respect, let us also remember this unity of spirit that has guided our nation forward from its beginnings. No words can repay the debt of gratitude we owe to the men and women who have stood up for our freedom, but we can honor the memory of our veterans best by remaining the best kind of Americans we can be and keeping our nation strong and secure, one nation under God, to fulfill the vision of a better world that our veterans, gave so much to create. Thank you and God bless America.?

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This page contains a single entry by Kathryn Draeger published on November 19, 2007 7:50 PM.

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