By Molly Miron
Special to the Pioneer
BEMIDJI — Over the years, the Bemidji community hasn’t celebrated with much fanfare Veterans Day - originally set to recognize the World War I armistice on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.
Members of the Bemidji Elks Lodge 1052 set out to change what they see as a lack of appreciation for veterans with applause, handshakes, free drinks, food and a patriotic program Saturday afternoon.
“One of the Elks’ missions is never to forget the veterans,” said Shirlee Walker, a lodge member.
“This is our first time doing something for the veterans in the community of Bemidji,” said Elks Exalted Ruler Mic McCrory, as he looked around the busy bar and buffet table. “And obviously it’s a success.”
McCrory individually thanked members of seven branches of the United States Armed Forces: the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard, Merchant Marines and Health Services.
“We have dedicated ourselves to bringing care and comfort to veterans,” he said.
The program by Veterans Service Officers Scotty Allison and Julie Harris focused on all those who have served, as well as veterans’ supporters and families. Allison quoted from an anonymous inscription that he said sums up the outlook of veterans and those who honor them: “Payable in full up the amount of my life, if necessary, to defend our way of life.”
Allison is a veteran of the U.S. Navy on the USS America, 1976-1979; Army Reserve, 1972-1982; and active Army duty, 1982-2010. Harris is a U.S. Navy veteran from 1972-1974. She traveled in administrative duties from Florida to South Carolina, finishing her career with the Chief of Naval Operations at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. She has served the Veterans Service Office for 28 years.
“Our primary job is advocacy for veterans,” Allison said. He added that military compensations and pensions go not only to veterans themselves, but also to their widows, widowers and children. “The veteran might be gone, but the family is not forgotten.”
Veterans applauded as guests Saturday included Ted Thorson, a U.S. Marine captain who showed a copy of his discharge paper from World War II. He served in war zones and as a flight instructor in the Pacific Theater from 1943-1946.
“I was on Okinawa getting ready for the invasion (of Japan),” he said.
Ken Brandt, a Coast Guard veteran who served from 1954-1958, pulled stateside duty, mostly on the Mississippi River patrolling in the 133-foot Coast Guard cutter White Pine from Cairo, Ill., to Cape Girardeau, Mo. He and his mates’ duties included keeping track of the shifting river channels and supplying the people along the river banks – “wickies” - with kerosene to maintain their night traffic lights.
Allison cited statistics – 21.5 million veterans in the United States, with 3,300 in Beltrami County. Several Bemidji restaurants are offering veterans free meals today, and the Bemidji Symphony Orchestra concert titled “Music of War” at 3 p.m. today at the Bemidji High School auditorium will provide free admission to veterans.
There are plenty of people to thank, he said.
“We who are veterans stood our watch,” he said.
Click here to watch video interviews with Bemidji area World War II veterans.