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Paynesville Press - November 10, 2004

Community remembers Veteran's Day

By Michael Jacobson

Students should treasure the opportunity to learn on Veteran's Day, and they should remember that America's veterans provided them with the privilege of attending school. That was the message of both speakers at the Veteran's Day programs at school last week.

Education, former teacher and Vietnam veteran Bill Ryan told the middle school students at their program, is a gift from America's veterans every single day.

pledge There's no greater honor than to address American patriots and future veterans, Master Sergeant Mark Leyendecker told the high school student body.

Second graders from Paynesville Area Elementary School salute the American flag while saying the Pledge of Allegiance during their patriotic program for Veteran's Day.

Freedom, said Leyendecker, quoting a dictionary, is: To possess the power to determine ones' own actions. "You as young people have the power to make a difference. You have the right to choose what you want to do and where you want to go. Please take advantage of the opportunities that come your way. As you decide what you are going to do, never forget it is a veteran that has given you that right to choose," Leyendecker said.

Leyendecker, a 1978 PHS grad, served in Iraq and Kuwait as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. "The Iraqi people do not know how to be free. They have been oppressed for so long they don't know what it is like to be free. They have the will and desire, but do not know how to fend for themselves," he explained.

The media, according to Leyendecker, are not reporting the successes in Iraq: democratic local governments, restored electrical power, sewage treatment plants, and a new money system, according to Leyendecker. "But one of the biggest things is establishing a school system where students are allowed to learn about anything they want. The people of Iraq are eager to learn and experience things they were never allowed to before. Something you all have the privilege of enjoying every day," he told the high school students. "When you see a country that has endured what the Iraqis have, you have a greater appreciation for how well off we are in America."

"Today, on Veteran's Day, we pause to honor our veterans past, present and future…those who served, those who are serving, and those who are preparing to serve the nation in the days ahead," said Leyendecker.

sing "Our past warriors served in places like the hedgerows of Normandy, the hilltops of the 38th parallel, and the jungles of Vietnam. They distinguished themselves through the flak above Berlin and in the dangerous skies of Mig Alley. With determination and valor, they devastated the enemy's fleets in the Solomon Slots and at Midway. On the beaches of Guadalcanal and at Inchon, they withstood hellish fire to secure a foothold for liberty and democracy," he continued.

Second graders from Paynesville Area Elementary School presented the patriotic program, "Freedom: A Musical Celebration," on Wednesday, Nov. 10, to the public in the auditorium and then again to the students at the elementary school on Thursday, Nov. 11 (Veteran's Day).

"Today's soldier," said Leyen-decker, "is serving in the mountainous terrain of Afghanistan and burning sands of Iraq. Like their predecessors, they are facing challenges on a daily basis. And once again, they are displaying both the warrior spirit and the compassion so typical of the American soldier."

American soldiers do not march or fight for conquest, Leyendecker said, but they fight for the simple idea that all people, all nations have a right to live in freedom.

Nearly 275,000 American soldiers are currently serving in 120 countries worldwide, and veterans are making contributions in America everyday, too, from skilled surgeons to pilots who learned to fly in the military. "And it is not just job skills they bring to our communities," said Leyendecker of America's veteran. "They also bring their commitment, their work ethic, their sense of fair play, and their willingness to act as members of a team. It is these values - the core values of anyone who wears a uniform - that continues to refresh American society."

singing Ryan gave his "gifts" talk to the middle schoolers. His gifts, he explained, don't come wrapped nor in boxes with ribbons and bows. He talked about three gifts that everyone has but that they don't always take the time to appreciate.

Members of the high school choirs sand a patriotic song during the high school program on Veteran's Day.

His three most valued gifts are friendship, faith, and love.

Friendship he learned from his basic-training buddy in the Army, an African-American from the South, who had a vastly different background than Ryan but who had similar thoughts on family and dreams about life. When Ryan got his orders for Vietnam, "I was scared to death," he said, "but if there was any ray of hope it was the thought of seeing my friend Jesse."

Unfortunately, his friend had been killed in Vietnam days before Ryan arrived.

The gift of faith Ryan remembers receiving from one of the nuns that taught him in grade school. Her promise to pray for him might not have meant much when she made it, but when he landed on terra firma again in Vietnam - after a land mine destroyed the armored personnel carrier he was riding on, vaulting him 50 feet in the air, crushing several vertebrae in his back - he remembered her faith, he said.

Then, when he returned to the United States, still paralyzed, and finally got to talk with his parents, who were confused and alarmed by an incoherent stream of telegrams from the Army, they showed him the gift of love. During his first call with his mother, Ryan told her he was paralyzed, and she responded: "As long as God gives us life, your father and I will carry you where you want to go."

America believes in its youth, said Ryan, who are the future of the country. And if the students are ever called to defend the flag and the country, they should do it with honor, courage, dignity, and with "every ounce of strength" in their body, said Ryan, who retired last summer after receiving full disability for his war wounds.

(Editor's Note: These Veteran's Day programs will be rebroadcast on the local cable channel. See the schedule on page 7.)

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