Ceramony at PHS a tribute to military personnel, Vets

Color guard members Ssg. Terence Paquette, Pfc. Christopher Shepherd, Pvt. Anthony Foley and Pvt. Vincent Simon march forward with flags during the ceremony at Princeton High School.

Speeches, including one from a wounded veteran of the war in Aghanistan, singing of the National Anthem by Princeton High School choir members and a color guard presentation were part of Princeton High School’s observance last Friday of the Nov. 11 Veterans Day.

A group of active-duty U.S. army personnel and veterans, mostly from the Cambridge-Isanti area, were the main participants.

Army Sgt. Brian Webb, from the army recruiting center in Cambridge, read a poem called “Soldier,” following it with the statement: “Remember as we go forth today, our soldiers, now and in the future, are soldiers for life. They are strong and resilient, creative and determined. I am confident this generation of soldiers we are recruiting will join the remarkable generations of men and women who wore this uniform and left an enduring mark on this nation.

“The army is the strength of the nation and our soldiers are the strength of the army. The future soldiers who will stand with us in the formation will carry on the same traditions.”

Webb then thanked veterans for their “hard work, dedication and the great job you do or have done.”

Dan Grotte, past commander of the Isanti VFW post, mentioned the formation of the five branches of the U.S. military, with the army being the first. But while they are all different, their members, as a whole, are military, he said, adding: “We fight together, play together and love together.”

Grotte, who served 22 years in the army, was in duty stations across the globe and served as a military sniper, called military personnel a close-knit group. They are “like brothers and sisters,” sometimes fighting among themselves, but who have a “heartfelt need to be together” and remain “military for life,” Grotte said.

Military members will continue to serve beyond their time in the service, such as in veterans organizations and volunteering, he added.

Army Capt. Thomas Billig’s speech delved into why people serve in the military. He began by noting that he was an Army Ranger stationed at Ft. Benning, Ga., when the terrorist attacks on the U.S. occurred on Sept. 11, 2011. He said that he and about a dozen other Rangers took in the news while crowded around a tiny portable TV in a wilderness area where the Rangers were training. He remembers watching as the second plane crashed into the second Twin Trade Tower in New York City.

The thought that he and his fellow army Rangers were going to war and put their military skills into action, was “exciting,” he said. But that was slowly replaced, he continued, by the reality that “silently crept in,” the fact that he was about to “embark on the most dangerous and uncertain period of my life.”

Billig said he had joined the army for selfish reasons, in that he had run out of money and couldn’t continue college and didn’t like being a line cook for a living. “I didn’t realize then that the army would bring meaning to my life in the way that it did,” he said.

Billig ended up serving four times in Afghanistan, and completed more than 200 combat missions, during which he was in more than 100 firefights, he said, “in some of the worst places in Afghanistan…” He said he was wounded three times in combat and received valorous awards for his action, but also lost many friends and soldiers.

“Some say the wounds that cut the deepest are the ones you cannot see,” he said.

As Billig talked about why soldiers serve, he said that “individual achievement was not the cornerstone of this profession.” Leaders, he explained, stress teamwork and cooperation, and that it those qualities that are necessary in an organization.

Delving further into the reasons for serving in the military, Billig said: “If you were to ask any veteran one reason why they serve, he or she would tell you that they serve because of the soldier to the right or left… They serve because they want to be amongst the most honorable people they have ever met. It is the people in this profession that keeps us in this uniform.

“And through this camaraderie, service members realize they are part of something much greater than themselves. Through this realization and the bonds forged during difficult training and combat, soldiers are proud to be serving a higher purpose.

“They are proud to wear this uniform which demonstrates a commitment to excellence and a commitment to the nation. It demonstrates a commitment to protect freedom, our way of life, and our fellow citizens. It takes a profound strength to wear this nation’s uniform.

“Though one day we remove this uniform, no amount of time, nor strife can sever the golden thread uniting veterans in a unique and everlasting bond.”

Billig later stated that soldiers and veterans don’t see themselves as being brave or special. “We just say that we are doing our jobs,” he explained.

But veterans do appreciate the simple recognition of their service, he said, urging his audience to thank a veteran or soldier in uniform.

PHS Principal Pete Olson, who was a school band director earlier in his career, played “Taps” on trumpet during the closing of the ceremony.