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Bemidji elementary schools remember those who served

Vietnam War veteran Vince Beyl was introduced Thursday morning by his grandson Joshua Peterson, a K-1 student at J.W. Smith Elementary School. The school held a program honoring veterans and active-duty military. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper1 / 3
Veteran Donald Abbott hugs his granddaughter Kelli Gray during a Veterans Day program at Lincoln Elementary School early Thursday morning. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper2 / 3
From left, J.W. Smith Elementary School fifth-graders Julianna Weigle, Lucy Laituri and Sunny Werlein sing a famous 1941 wartime song during a Veterans Day Program honoring all veterans. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper3 / 3

Dick Clemens, 85, a World War II veteran from Bemidji, sat Thursday morning with his wife, Doris, in the lobby of Lincoln Elementary School.

He held a framed photo of a ship he knew well - the USS Storm King, a troop and cargo carrier of the United States Navy. He served as a petty officer on the ship as it cruised the South Pacific Ocean and engaged in several notable military missions.

As Clemens waited to see his great-grandchildren, who were walking with their classes into the auditorium for an all-school Veterans Day program, Clemens recalled his days of service from 1943 to 1945.

"See how the ship was camouflaged?" Clemens asked. "Those were scary times. Those days, when you heard the battle call, you'd get up and run toward your battle station with no lights."

Clemens said his great-grandchildren, Kenzie Christiansen, 9, and Kolby Christiansen, 7, asked him to come to Lincoln Elementary for the Veterans Day program.

"I never usually go," Clemens said, referring to Veterans Day programs. "Had they not asked, I probably would have stayed home."

Lincoln Elementary and J.W. Smith Elementary were two schools in the area that honored family members, friends and community members who have served in the military.

Before Lincoln Elementary Principal Kathy Van Wert gave her opening address to students and their guests, the Bemidji State University Veterans Club Honor Guard presented the colors.

BSU students Robin Mattson, Lucas Schmitz, Gabe Wakanabo and Nicholas Andringa presented the colors. Each of them received a carnation from the school honoring them for their service, as did each of the guest veterans.

Students stood to say the pledge of allegiance. The song, "America the Beautiful" was sung by the Lincoln Elementary school choir. Then the names of students and their guest veterans were announced and each received a round of applause by the audience.

After the program ended, veterans lined the hallway from the gymnasium to the entry doors where students shook hands, gave high-fives and said "thank you" to many.

Van Wert said she saw one student walk up to one of the veterans, shake his hand and ask him his name.

"It was very touching," she said.

This is Van Wert's first year as principal of Lincoln, but she has previously served as an administrator at several other schools. She said the Veterans Day program at Lincoln was very meaningful.

"I really could not believe the turnout," she said. "There were a lot more veterans than I thought we would have. The kids want their family members celebrated."

Van Wert said having a Veterans Day program in schools is important because it allows students to meet people firsthand rather than reading about military veterans in books.

"Not every student knows someone who served in the military, so this is an opportunity for all students to see people, shake their hands and get to meet them," Van Wert said. "It's nice to see."

Amanda Anderson, a Title 1 teacher at Lincoln, said some of the teachers at the school have talked to students about what Veterans Day means.

"This year in particular, it seems there are a lot of kids who have stood up and said they have family serving the armed forces," Anderson said. "A lot of them know what Veteran's Day means because they have family or friends that are serving overseas somewhere."

As people cleared out of the gymnasium, Van Wert said some of the veterans gave her "a little bit of trivia" on Veterans Day. She said the school would "absolutely" be putting on another program next year.