Gentlemen of the Legion that attended the Veterans Day program included, front row: Donald Ellestad, Dale Buxengaard, Christian Myrah, Dean Johnson, and Jerome Ellingson. Back row: Glenn Kinneberg, Alan Johnson, Richard Storlie, Gary Buxengard, Burnell Roble, David Myrah, and Robert Karlsbroten.
Gentlemen of the Legion that attended the Veterans Day program included, front row: Donald Ellestad, Dale Buxengaard, Christian Myrah, Dean Johnson, and Jerome Ellingson. Back row: Glenn Kinneberg, Alan Johnson, Richard Storlie, Gary Buxengard, Burnell Roble, David Myrah, and Robert Karlsbroten.
"'Tis the star-spangled banner, O, long may it wave, O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave." The land of the free and home of the brave is something thought about often and with deep respect on days such as Veterans Days and should be remembered every day in this country of the free.

This line is not commonly known, but it is from the poem written by Francis Scott Key that became the United States National Anthem. This poem has four stanzas, however, only the first stanza is the one known as the song. At the Veterans Day program on Monday, the Spring Grove High School choir honorably sang the national anthem as the program began.

The audience of students, staff, and community members was asked to join in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Four students that attended Boys State and Girls State this summer then spoke about their experiences and the many lessons they learned at this week-long program.

Girls and Boys State speakers

Sammi Boyd thanked the Legion and Auxiliary for giving her the opportunity to attend Girls State. "The Girls State experience was something I'll always remember," she remarked. "I will always remember the bonds that I made with the other girls. I learned that when you go somewhere new you can make something of yourself; it might be work, but it is worth it. You can be who you want to be."

Jack Benson attended Boys State and was very thankful that he and the other three attendees all had the opportunity to attend as he learned that some Legions only send one boy and one girl. "To get out of a small town atmosphere and learn what it is like in a bigger city is a great experience. For juniors that are thinking about participating in Boys and Girls State - don't pass up the opportunity, you learn so much more than just government."

Caleb Happel was also very thankful for his experience at Boys State. He added, "You meet a ton of people and make many friends just within a week. We learned ideals to live by and how to become a better person. One lesson that really stuck out in my mind was about respect - respect of yourself, respect of your community, and respect of your flag."

Jayme Lenning thanked all those in the service now and in the past for what they are doing and have done. He began his week at Boys State with butterflies, not knowing what he was doing or where they were going, but by the end of the first night he felt like he was a part of a big family. "I learned many life-long lessons, but there were three that I found were really important - never give up on yourself and be honest, make yourself be wanted, and respect America."

Guest speaker

The guest speaker for the Veterans Day program was local resident and school board member, Christian Myrah. Christian is a 1988 Spring Grove High School graduate and a 1992 graduate of St. Olaf College.

In June 1995, he entered officer candidate school and was commissioned an ensign in the U.S. Navy in September 1995. He earned his Navy Wings of Gold in June 1998 and went on to fly the F-18 Hornet. He was deployed on the USS George Washington to the Mediterranean and Persian Gulf in support of Operation Southern Watch. He accumulated more than 1,600 tactical flight hours and more than 250 carrier landings, many of them at night.

In 2006, he left active duty and moved home to Spring Grove with his family, but he remains in the Navy Reserves. In January 2013, he was deployed to Afghanistan and returned in late September.

When Christian took the microphone, he remarked that he had done some math and realized that it had been 26 years since he gave his speech after attending Boys State. "Maybe I didn't do well as you can see, I'm back for a do over," he said in jest.

"My mom is a retired English teacher and she asked if I had a thesis statement. I said, well, not really a good one, but if I had one, it would be courage, compassion, freedom and peace."

There are currently about 22 million veterans in the United States. "Not all of these veterans have seen war, but they all have a common bond that they share - their willingness to die defending our nation against all enemies foreign and domestic.

"In Eastern Afghanistan I worked with the Army and Navy special forces. They were an outstanding group of guys - disciplined, extremely well-trained, and thoughtful."

Christian told about a book that he has recently read by Eric Greitens, who has a long list of accolades including being a U.S. Navy SEAL officer deployed four times with many achievement medals, a humanitarian volunteer, and researcher. In 2007, he returned from Iraq and donated his combat pay to found the organization, The Mission Continues - a national non-profit organization that challenges veterans to serve and inspire in communities across America.

Quoting Greitens book, "The Heart and the Fist," Christian read, "A good peace, a solid peace, a peace in which communities can flourish, can only be built when we ask ourselves and each other to be more than just good, and better than just strong. And a good life, a meaningful life, a life in which we can enjoy the world and live with purpose, can only be built if we do more than live for ourselves."

Christian clarified for the audience of mostly students as well as community members what the passage was saying - that we all need to not only be both good and strong, but also selfless. "Look out for one another and live by the Golden Rule. The heart of America is freedom and the price of freedom is high, but it is the prize of freedom and not the glory of war for which our service men and women fight."

He closed with words from Charles M. Province, which in part said, "It is the soldier, not the reporter who has given us Freedom of the Press. It is the soldier, not the poet who has given us Freedom of Speech. ... it is the soldier who salutes the flag, who serves the flag, and whose coffin is draped by the flag who allows the protester to burn the flag."

"There are many veterans in our country and right here in Spring Grove," Christian said. "They are courageous, compassionate, and have made sacrifices for our freedom. Honor them, respect them, thank them."