Presentation of Colors: From left, U.S. flag – Allen Buxengard of La Crescent, POW/MIA flag – Paul Wheaton of Houston, and rifleman — Jim Wilhelmson of Spring Grove.  PHOTO: Jan Lee Buxengard/Spring Grove Herald <br /><br /><!-- 1upcrlf2 -->
Presentation of Colors: From left, U.S. flag – Allen Buxengard of La Crescent, POW/MIA flag – Paul Wheaton of Houston, and rifleman — Jim Wilhelmson of Spring Grove. PHOTO: Jan Lee Buxengard/Spring Grove Herald

The 10th annual Military Ball, hosted by friends of the American Legion, honored spouses, children, parents, and various organizations who provide support and services to the military. Held April 12 at the Fest Building in Spring Grove, the 155 in attendance came from a wide range of the tri-state area.

Guest speaker was Colonel Edward Fontes of Cresco, Iowa, who served 20 years in the military.

He was born in El Paso, Texas, and raised in Los Angeles, Calif. While in high school he joined the National Guard. During his Army service career Fontes was in two wars, beginning during the Korean conflict in 1952 as a non-commissioned officer, and then in Vietnam, where he gained the status of youngest, highest-ranking officer. In 1965 he was appointed liaison to President Lyndon B. Johnson. He retired a full colonel in 1970.

Having a passion for fairer and equal government for all, over the years Fontes has served on many committees in the community. Currently he is First Vice Commander of American Legion Post 135 in Cresco, and enjoys being a school bus driver, and instructor of the driver improvement program at Northeast Iowa Community College.

Warriors

As the audience waited quietly, Maynard LaFleur and Gary Germanson entered the dining room, placed a pair of military combat boots on a cloth covered stool in the middle of the aisle, and saluted the boots.

"Today we are gathered here to celebrate and to remember our veterans; to honor and to give thanks to those men and women in all branches of service for their dedication in keeping the world free," Fontes began.

"Take a moment and put yourself in a warrior's boots," he continued. "What is a warrior thinking as his flight leaves American soil for the front lines? Is a warrior thinking, 'This is what I was trained for and I'm ready to do whatever I must do?' Or is a warrior thinking, 'I never thought it would come down to this. I may never hold my child again. I may never finish college. I may never play in or cheer at a football game again?'"

Fontes continued with the visual saying, "Imagine yourself in their boots and follow in their footsteps. Try to think their thoughts. Imagine their scenery in war, hear the sounds of gunfire, feel the earth rumble beneath their feet with every explosion, and feel their losses.

"This day is a reminder to me of all the men and women who gave their lives to keep America free, for us to worship and to make choices. And, we think of their families who suffered as well. We must never forget them!

"And, think of the hundreds of thousands who were wounded and returned home, facing new challenges as their lives changed forever. The majority of them continue to work and serve in our communities in spite of those challenges."

Many may volunteer hours to support warriors and their families through organizations such as: The American Legion, American Legion Auxiliary, Veterans of Foreign Wars, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the Wounded Warriors Project, and so on.

Others may volunteer hours to organize programs or activities like making Quilts of Valor, sending care packages to military personnel, writing letters to those who are serving around the world, etc.

Fontes gathered and assembled a wealth of information on these organizations, services, and benefits, etc. into a 13-page pamphlet that was available for ball attendees to take home for reference.

"Remember every day is Veteran's Day for us! Reach out to these organizations. Share your stories with family and friends, and don't forget the children, and grandchildren," Fontes encouraged, adding, "The need is great, and it takes the courage and strength of a warrior to ask for help! We are proud of all the warriors and their families who have given so much in service to our country."

Ceremony

Organized by John Geiwitz of Houston, the presentation of colors for the opening ceremony included riflemen Jim Wilhelmson of Spring Grove and Geiwitz; U.S. flag bearer Allen Buxengard of La Crescent, POW-MIA flag by Paul Wheaton of Houston. The service flags bearers were: Army - Cory Buxengard of Muskego, Wis., Marine - Earl Roberts of Houston, Navy - Gary Germanson of La Crosse, Coast Guard - Gary Buxengard (Navy) of Spring Grove, and Air Force - Roger Tollefsrud of Spring Grove.

Fordyce Brevig provided pre-ball vocal music and also led the audience in singing "The National Anthem" and "God Bless America".

Emcee for the evening was Lt. Cmdr. Christian Myrah of Spring Grove. Gene Wilder of LeRoy and Paul Wheaton of Houston led the POW-MIA ceremony "Remember."

Last call of vets in the county

At the final salute ceremony, Richard Snow of Houston read the roll call honoring the 41 veterans of Houston County who answered their last call in the last calendar year. Lowell Stephas of Fountain rang the bell twice after each name. Trumpet players from Cheers Big Band provided a military salute of echoed taps.

Special recognition

At one week shy of 93 years of age, Valborg Clauson of Spring Grove was honored as the oldest military supporter in attendance and was presented a cased U.S. flag.

Clauson's husband, Carlton, was a WWII veteran. Other family members who served in the military include a brother, son, sons-in-law, and grandsons.

For many years, she was very active in the American Legion Auxiliary and leader of the Junior Legion Auxiliary.

She has attended all 10 of the military balls that have been held at Spring Grove.

Retiring committee members

Toby Crossman announced that he and his family are retiring from the planning committee, after initiating and being involved with the event for all 10 years. In the beginning, there were 12 to 15 on the committee, but over the years, those numbers have faded to six to seven people, Crossman reported. He encouraged people to get involved.

Enjoyable evening

After the delicious meal, catered by Good Times Catering of Caledonia, the flags were retired, and Cheers Big Band from the La Crosse area played music for dancing and listening pleasure. The nine-piece ensemble was sponsored by Craig and Deborah Ellestad in memory of his parents, Mervin and Norma Ellestad.

Throughout the evening Kathrine Myrah of Spring Grove photographed each couple or attendee, with everyone getting a print to take home as a remembrance of the occasion.

Special, but silent, guests at the ball were two of Nancy Langen's mannequins from Hokah, who were dressed in Army and Navy attire. Also on display were Quilts of Valor and information about the local Piecemaker Quilt Guild project of providing quilts to veterans and wounded soldiers. On your computer Google "Military Ball Spring Grove" to see photos and information.

Next year's ball

At present, the date for next year's ball has not yet been determined.

The committee expresses appreciation and gratitude to everyone who has helped in any way to make the ball the special event that it is. The event is planned and carried out by a small committee of volunteers, who welcome more people to come aboard to help with this event. If you are interested, contact Gary and Jan Lee Buxengard at 507-498-3461, or email gnjlbux@springgrove.coop