Students honor veterans

Ron Burtz

After last year’s experiment with an outdoor program at the Veterans Memorial because of COVID-19, the Custer School District Veterans Day program was moved back into the warmth and shelter of the Armory on a cold and windy Thursday. Several hundred veterans, other community members and students were in attendance for the 27th annual program presented by students of Custer schools.
Following a prelude by the high school band, the 2 p.m. program began with a welcome by student body president Kellyn Kortemeyer followed by the presentation of colors by the Civil Air Patrol Color Guard.
The National Anthem was played by the band, Custer American Legion Post #46 chaplain Paul Larson gave an invocation and student Holly Nielsen led the Pledge of Allegiance.
The proceedings also included the POW/MIA Empty Chair ceremony led by students Kelley Wicks and Eva Studt, the dramatic reading “I Am A Veteran” performed by Ella Allen, Mical Grace and Remington Miklos and musical selections performed by the Jr./Sr. High School choirs and the elementary students. While the high school singers were present in person, the grade school songs were presented in a video recorded earlier in the elementary gym. No explanation was given for the absence of the elementary students or the jr./sr. high students not directly involved in the program.
High school senior Preston Drew introduced the guest speaker for the event, Major Dean Suelflow of the South Dakota National Guard. The Custer resident was introduced as having served in both the marines and the army and as the father of two Custer  students.
“Today all across the country in town halls and squares, parades and places such as this,” Suelflow began, “we celebrate and honor America’s veterans for their devotion, patriotism, selfless service and sacrifice on behalf of all of us. We join hands in the name of peace and freedom to pay them proper tribute and say thanks for their loyalty to the country and their own great courage that made us what we are today.”
Noting that President Calvin Coolidge had said a nation that forgets its defenders will itself soon be forgotten, Suelflow pledged not to forget veterans and their families and encouraged the audience members to remember their sacrifices as well.
Suelflow gave a brief history of the origins of Veterans Day, noting it began as an observance of Armistice Day, November 11, 1919 which brought about the end of World War I. He said since that time Americans have fought another world war and many other conflicts around the globe.
“At times of great peril our veterans have kept the faith,” Suelflow said. “They have kept us free and enabled America to keep faith with the rest of the world. That’s why I am so pleased to be with you today to honor their faithful service and renew, reaffirm and rededicate our commitment to keeping faith with each of you.”
Suelflow said the nation owes its veterans the duty of making sure they and their families are taken care of and that job opportunities are always open to veterans. He highlighted the talents and experience gained from their military experience, saying they bring the skills and training they received back to the community and continue to serve the community in many ways.
Suelflow said there is a saying in the army, “Soldiers are not in the army. They are the army.”
“Those soldiers, airmen, sailors and marines are a direct reflection of what’s best about America,” he said. “In fact they are America!”
Suelflow encouraged the audience to interact with veterans and not only thank them for their service but ask them their stories.
“You won’t be disappointed,” he promised.
To the students in the audience Suelflow said, “I challenge you today, take up some kind of service to your country.”
He said it doesn’t have to be military service but he encouraged them to give some time to some kind of service.
“The skills you will develop having to work with individuals from all across this great nation,” he said, “will only make you a better individual and a better student.”  
Suelflow said his military career had taken him to 43 of the 50 states and seven countries around the world, which was often at the expense of time with his family. He expressed his gratitude to his wife, Nancy for her support, saying the families of military members are owed a debt of gratitude as well because they keep things going at home while their loved ones are serving their country.
In a closing challenge to the audience, Suelflow urged them to “take time to visit with these special individuals before you. Take time to serve your country in some way or another. Even if you don’t go into the military, contribute to your community. Work for the betterment of society. Make this nation a better place to be each and every day.”
Suelflow received a standing ovation at the end of his remarks and was presented with a gift from the American Legion Post by first vice commander Glen Talley.
Veterans from the various branches of the armed forces stood as their branch’s march was played by the band. They later stood again as their names were called out from the platform. At that time a red rose was presented to each veteran by Boy Scouts and other students.
Following a video tribute to local veterans who have died in the last year, students Ava Hohn and Zayden LaPlaca played TAPS.
As the band played “Stars and Stripes Forever,” the audience was dismissed and veterans went into the concession area to enjoy refreshments provided by local Democrats and Republicans.


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