Saying Thank You - from The Messenger
The students at the Fort Dodge Senior High have a pretty good idea about how to honor and recognize the veterans who were their guests Friday during a Veterans Day program in the gym.
When veterans began filing in, the students stood up.
As the last vet entered and was seated, the students applauded.
L.J. Hartley, of Fort Dodge was one of those veterans. He served in the U.S. Navy.
His tour took him to many places, including Bikini Atoll.
“It was where they had tested the atomic bomb,” he said. “You had to wear a little blue tab. If you were overexposed, that little blue tab turned pink.”
He isn’t a man given to bragging.
“I’ve never felt like much of a hero,” he said. “We are deeply grateful for the honor you’ve paid us today. Most of us feel we were doing our duty. Veterans Day means honoring all those who accepted what they saw as their responsibility.”
Hartley brought along his old sea cap and put it on for the students.
“I’ve got the only part of my uniform that fits anymore,” he said.
Albert Habhab, a former Fort Dodge mayor who also served as chief judge of the Iowa Court of Appeals, was among the veterans in the audience. He was asked, as were all the veterans, to say a few words.
“I am a veteran of World War II,” he said. “It seems like yesterday when I was sitting in the bleachers awaiting my turn to enlist.”
He did that in January 1944, joining the Army.
“I’d never even fired a rifle before,” he said. “In November I was in Germany and France. I had just turned 19.”
“How many of you here have a lost a brother or sister?” he asked as a few hands rose among the veterans and audience. “My brother was killed in action. Those are the ones I want to pay special tribute to.”
After many of the veterans shared a bit — some just their names and branch of service, some with longer stories — Fort Dodge Community School District Superintendent Jesse Ulrich spoke.
Ulrich knows the price paid.
“One particular hero is a friend of mine,” he said. “His name is Nathan Field.”
“When his unit was called into Operation Enduring Freedom, he was sent to Iraq,” he said. “Nate didn’t argue because Nate loved his country. At his farewell social, we promised each other we weren’t going to say goodbye, but rather ‘See you later.’
“The next time I saw Nate was at his funeral,” he said. “I sat next to his fiance and family grieving the loss of their loved one who died for the country he loved.”
“Veterans Day can be bitter for me because I fear future generations of kids don’t understand war,” he continued. “War is not Fortnite, it’s not what you see in the movies. It’s the closest thing to Hell on Earth there is.”
Ulrich looked at the veterans in the audience.
“I’m thankful to you, as we all are, of the service you provided so we can be here to celebrate you today,” he said. “Truly, the only bitter part of Veterans Day for me is that it’s only one day a year.”
As the program ended and the veterans made their way out of the gym, the students once again knew what to do.
They stood to honor.