Veteran Bill Ryan moved students to tears

This article submitted by Linda Stelling on 11/17/98.

The students within the Paynesville Area School District learned about different aspects of Veterans Day last week.

At the elementary school, the students learned about patriotism through a program on the American flag, entitled I Am the American Flag.

At the middle school and high school, Girl Staters Wendy Utsch and Megan Pelz read What is a Veteran.

Also at the middle school, Pelz and Bob Hemmesch presented a flag folding ceremony while Utsch read the meaning of each fold.

Members of the Paynesville American Legion Color Guard presented the colors (flags) at all three schools. Representing the Legion were: Carl Wagner, Roger Dengerud, Bob Hemmesch, Harold Morris, Pete Hoppe, and Ermie Albrecht.

Clarice Stumo led the audience at the elementary school in the singing of the Star Spangled Banner. Also at the elementary program, members of the community and school staff read I Am the American Flag, while fourth and fifth grade students formed a color guard.

Taking part in the reading were Jeff Thompson, city of Paynesville mayor and a veteran; Lowell Haagenson, a member of the school board and veteran; Doris Dodds, a member of the Paynesville American Legion Auxiliary; Senator Michelle Fischbach, R-District 14; Paynesville Police Officer Bruce Elfering; Superintendent Howard Caldwell, Barb Werlinger, fifth grade teacher; and Elementary Principal Gary Heineman.

Heineman announced that as the first graders learn to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, they will receive a Young American Award from the Paynesville American Legion Auxiliary.

At the high school program, Bill Ryan, a veteran and high school teacher, talked about gifts.

Ryan told the students they will receive many gifts in their lives and they wont all be wrapped in paper and ribbons.

I went into the Army at age 18 and while at Fort Poke, La., I met an African-American named Jesse. We shared many thoughts, hopes and expectations together, Ryan said. The country was in turmoil as the Vietnam War was not popular.

Ryan told of Jesse being sent to Vietnam and three months later he received his order to go to Chu-Chi, Vietnam, the same base Jesse had been assigned. I was scared and afraid, but I knew what I had to do, Ryan said.

Upon arriving in Vietnam, Ryan learned Jesse had been killed two weeks earlier....he had lost a friend. But he still had his gift of friendship.

My second gift came from a former grade school teacher whom Ill compare to Mother Teresa. When we graduated from eighth grade, she told us she was a nun, thus she had no money. However, she could give us the gift of prayers and the gift that we would make peace with God someday, Ryan explained.

Three months after arriving in Vietnam, my troop was blown up in an anti-tank mine field. I was paralyzed from the waist down, Ryan told the students. My thoughts were not of my family or girl friend...it was of Sister Mary Carlotta and her prayer that we make peace with God.

Ryan ended up in a Saigon hospital and later made the trip back to the United States. The American Red Cross provided us telephones so we could call home to our families, Ryan said. I broke the news to my mother about my paralysis. Mom said as long as God gave them life (mom and dad) they would carry me wherever I wanted to go. That was the gift of love.

Ryan went on to say there was another gift. A gift many people dont always appreciate..the gift of the American flag.

The flag represents the freedom for which our country was founded. I dont want to ever hear that any of you (the students) have disgraced or burned the flag. If you are asked to serve, do so with courage and dignity! Ryan stressed.

The gifts I mentioned have no wrapping paper. I believe in America and you young people are our future leaders. I urge you to always keep America directed toward democracy and freedom for all, Ryan added.

At the end of Ryans speech, the students gave him a standing ovation and many had tears in their eyes.

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