Minnesota honors veterans with annual Veterans Day ceremony

‘It’s hard to find that in daily life’


By Tim Engstrom, The Minnesota Legionnaire

INVER GROVE HEIGHTS — With Todd Kemery of the Paralyzed Veterans of America as master of ceremonies and the 34th Infantry Division Band providing music, the State of Minnesota Veterans Day Event gave veterans, their families and their supporters a chance to hear state and federal leaders speak on veteran issues.

The Star Tribune reported 250 people in attendance.

Capt. Hickory Smith, operations chaplain for the Minnesota National Guard, gives the benediction. Tim Engstrom/The Legionnaire

Tim Walz

The governor of Minnesota, former 1st District congressman and former command sergeant major in the Army National Guard noted the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Bulge coming in December and the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima coming in February.

He recognized service of veterans in major conflicts in Korea, Southeast Asia, Afghanistan and Iraq and how they did not fight for glory or personal gain but for freedom.

But Walz also noted the challenging times. Many veterans, he said, experienced camaraderie and a single-minded purpose for a greater good while in the military.

“Many of us know that, afterward, it’s hard to find that in daily life,” the governor said.

He said less than 1 percent of the American population today serves in the armed forces, and he urged the audience to think of Minnesotans serving far away during the coming holidays.

He said “the next greatest generation” already exists: “It’s the folks who raised their hands after 9/11.”

The 34th Infantry Division Band played the “Armed Forces Medley.”


John Jensen

The adjutant general of the Minnesota National Guard described how Armistice Day became Veterans Day in the 1950s under President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

He thanked veterans and present-day service members for their “willingness to sacrifice their personal safety for the greater good.”

He said 380,000 veterans live in Minnesota. There are 13,000 in the Minnesota National Guard, 5,000 in the Reserves and 500 in active-duty roles.

“On Veterans Day, I ask that you think of your veterans,” said Jensen, a major general who advises the governor.

He quoted President Calvin Coolidge, “The nation that forgets its defenders will itself be forgotten.”

Larry Herke

The commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs said entering the armed forces “was a brave and selfless act.” Veterans, he said, have given their all to serve the nation “and now it’s time to fight for them.”

He mentioned his agency, among other things, works to house homeless veterans and is doing it at a rate of 40 per month.

It also is wrestling with the issue of veteran suicide, and Herke said Minnesota loses 90-100 veterans to suicide a year.

“I know the rest of you have made sacrifices that the rest of society does not understand,” he said.

Minnesota American Legion Commander Mark Dvorak stands during the playing of the Air Force song on Nov. 11 during the state’s official Veterans Day program in Inver Grove Heights. Standing behind him is Adjutant Mike Maxa. Tim Engstrom/Legionnaire

George Tourville

The mayor of Inver Grove Heights, himself a veteran and Legionnaire, said his city is honored to host the official state Veterans Day program and has no plans to give it up. People, he said, appreciate seeing the gigantic American flag the city’s firefighters fly outside the annual event.

“Veterans Day should be every day in the United States of America,” Tourville said.

He called on people to reach out to veterans and work to avoid the unfortunate situation of suicides.

Tina Smith

The junior senator from Minnesota brought up 2019 as the 154th anniversary of the end of the Civil War and said when the war broke out Minnesota was the newest state and first to volunteer. It promptly sent 24,000 citizen soldiers, roughly 13 percent of the Minnesota population.

She said today that sense of service prevails, and Smith recognized the efforts borne by spouses, children and parents.

Betty McCollum

The 4th District congresswoman noted 2019 as the 75th anniversary of D-Day.

She said she had returned from another country where people wore poppies for Armistice Day, and she said Americans tend to forget that European allies celebrate Nov. 11 as the same holiday.

She encouraged veterans young and old to share their stories for the sake of history.

“You represent not only the stories of the past but the stories of the future to be written,” McCollum said.

She also encouraged reaching out.

“It’s important for veterans to not be afraid to ask for help,” she said.

The U.S. and Minnesota colors are presented on Veterans Day 2019 at Veterans Memorial Community Center in Inver Grove Heights. Tim Engstrom/Legionnaire

Dean Phillips

The 3rd District congressman said he is familiar with what government can share and can take.

“We find the resources to go to war and lack them when you come home,” Phillips said.

He said he lost his father in the Vietnam War, killed in action in 1969.

He remains hopeful for how America treats its veterans.

“Optimism is just as contagious as fear.”

Angie Craig

As the mother of four sons, there will never be a harder question to face than whether to send them off to war, the 2nd District congresswoman said.

She said the government needs to make sure veterans have jobs when they return home and the proper medical care. She said she has approached Mayo Clinic about veterans having difficulty getting seen, and she said the burn pits of wars in the Mideast are “the next Agent Orange.”

On the right, Todd Kemery of the Paralyzed Veterans of America and chairman of the Minnesota Commanders’ Task Force welcomes people to Inver Grove Heights. On the left, Inver Grove Heights Mayor George Tourville and National Guard Chaplain Hickory Smith listen. Tim Engstrom/Legionnaire

Tom Emmer, the 6th District congressman, was unable to join but recorded a video, where he encouraged everyone to thank a veteran. Amy Klobuchar, the senior senator from Minnesota, left a letter for people to read in the lobby.

Veterans and anyone who came with them enjoyed a free breakfast prior to the program. The Veterans Day gathering was sponsored by the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs and the Minnesota Commanders’ Task Force, which comprises the various veterans service organizations. Kemery is the chairman this year.

The Minnesota Legionnaire is a monthly newspaper read by veterans across the state.

Veterans from across the region, along with friends and family, enjoy a free breakfast Nov. 11 at the Veterans Memorial Community Center in Inver Grove Heights. Tim Engstrom/Legionnaire