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JOHN EGGERS COLUMN: Do you know a veteran?

John Eggers

As I recently sat with a group of 20 or 30 Red Lake veterans, I was thinking about what I would say when it came to my turn to tell who I was and under what branch of the military I served. When my turn came I said I had served in the Peace Corps but my soon to be 101-year-old dad had served in the army during WWII.

Although serving in the Peace Corps is not like serving in the military, where you agree to put your life on the line for your country, I took some pride in knowing that I served my country overseas in a different capacity. The Vietnam War hadn't really kicked in yet, but it was about to, and most young men were worried about what their draft rating would be.

Remember the draft? President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940, which created the country's first peacetime draft. All young men had to register for the draft and you were given a draft card with a rating. If you were 1-A, that meant you were immediately ready to serve. In the 1960s, most guys did not want a 1-A because that often meant Vietnam.

The Vietnam War was very much different than WWII and the Korean War. Young men and women felt it was their duty to serve in wars that were just. For many, Vietnam was too controversial. Weren't we engaged in someone's civil war? There were lots of mixed emotions. Still thousands of men and women enlisted and served and died.

In 1967, when the Vietnam War was really heating up, I had just returned from my two-year Peace Corps service and sure enough, I received my "Greetings" letter from Uncle Sam.

Because I only had one year of college remaining to complete, I went to my local draft board to appeal my case. Every county had a draft board whose duty it was to select those who were qualified to serve. I asked my draft board to hold off on my enlistment until I finished my last year of college and because I had just served two years overseas in the Peace Corps.

This made sense to them and they granted me a deferment. I completed my college work and I also obtained a job teaching in the inner city after graduation. Because inner city teaching jobs were very much needed, the superintendent of schools wrote to my draft board and I secured an occupational deferment.

I have my father's WWII uniform in a chest. Occasionally I will take it out and look at it. I feel his heavy khaki green trousers, his caps, and his jacket, size 40, my size. I am hesitant to try it on. I feel I don't have the right. I wouldn't feel right wearing a uniform that was meant to be worn by people ready to die for their country.

The idea is somewhat similar to when Mankato State College's nickname was the Indians, and every year at homecoming elaborate celebrations were held. Homecoming king and queen candidates would adorn themselves in full Indian headdresses meant to be worn by chiefs who had earned the right to wear them. I am happy to say that my alma mater was one of the first colleges in the United States to realize the inappropriateness of this ritual, did away with it and changed their name to Mavericks.

As I listened to the veterans discuss their activities, I could not have been more proud to sit among such a distinguished group. They talked about the need to have representations at the funerals of veterans, for honor guards for powwows and graduations, parades and other functions. They reminded me that veterans aren't just about honoring the past and helping others to remember that our country is what it is largely due to the service of our military, but it is also about serving others.

From 1948 until 1973, during both peacetime and periods of conflict, men were drafted to fill vacancies in the armed forces, which could not be filled through voluntary means. The draft ended in 1973, and the U.S. converted to an all-volunteer military. There are currently about 21 million veterans in the United States, with 360,000 living in Minnesota.

I was glad to have had the opportunity to sit and meet these men and women who served all over the world, who left their homes and families for long periods of time to risk their lives, but who then came home only to continue to serve their fallen comrades and all of us as well.

Riddle: Why was the baby ant so confused? Because all his uncles were ants! There should be no confusion when it comes to recognizing the value of our veterans. We salute them.

100 percent graduation rate

A local movement is underway to ensure the area has a 100 percent high school graduation rate. Here's some tips on how you can help us achieve that goal:

1. Remind young people that one good reason for earning a high school diploma is that they will need one to enter the military.

2. When young people get involved in school, they are much more likely to graduate. Encourage kids to go out for sports, join the band, and other school activities.

John R. Eggers of Bemidji is a former university professor and area principal. He also is a writer and public speaker. 

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