By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — If each of us were to take a little time, we could all make our corner of the world a better place, and in doing so, make progress toward world peace.
That was part of the message delivered by Captain Paul Mommsen, the guest speaker for the Colfax school district’s Veterans Day program Friday, November 10.
Captain Mommsen, U.S. Army Reserve, is originally from Rice Lake. He is the company commander for Alpha Company 367th Engineer Battalion out of Brainerd, Minnesota.
Captain Mommsen also served as a platoon leader for A/367 EN BN Mechanical Area Mine Clearance platoon deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom from February 2004 to June of 2005. He was promoted to captain just two days before deploying for Afghanistan.
Captain Mommsen has earned five United States Army commendation medals, including the Afghanistan Campaign medal and the Global War on Terrorism Service medal (twice).
“Today is a great day for me to be here,” Captain Mommsen said.
November 10, he noted, was the birthday of the United States Marine Corps.
Several Marines were, in fact, among the audience that filled the Colfax High School gymnasium to standing room only.
“Veterans Day originated because of Armistice Day, which it was originally called, celebrated November 11, the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. This signified the end of World War I,” Captain Mommsen said.
“Armistice Day has evolved over the years to become known as Veterans Day. In 1938, there was a congressional resolution to recognize Armistice Day as a national holiday. One of the key points is it was a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace on Armistice Day. After having fought the war to end all wars, here was this wonderful day not to honor veterans, but to celebrate and honor world peace,” he said.
“A few years later, a World War II veteran named Raymond Weeks started to generate some momentum to have Armistice Day recognize all veterans. He started that out as a program in Alabama officially recognized in 1947. Afterwards, a congressional resolution was made for Armistice Day to officially become known as Veterans Day to formally recognize all veterans, and for a brief period of time, it was changed to the fourth Monday in October to be recognized after the ‘uniform Monday holiday act.’ In 1978, there was a return to November 11 for the official recognition of Armistice Day,” Captain Mommsen explained.
A few years ago, Captain Mommsen had a chance to see how other countries recognize veterans.
“I had an opportunity to travel for the company I worked for, and when I landed in England, I had the opportunity to come across what I thought was a Veterans Day celebration. But they referred to it as Remembrance Day. So in the United Kingdom, Remembrance Day is similar to how we recognize Memorial Day. Poppies are set on graves or worn on the lapel. There are parades. And as we see with Veterans Day, it is not just a vets holiday, but there are so many other people who sacrificed during World War I,” he said.
The poppies are given to honor and remember those who have given their lives, he noted.
Part of the Veterans Day program included fifth grade students reading essays they had written about what veterans mean to them.
“The oath taken by members of the military pledges to support the Constitution of the United States,” Captain Mommsen said.
“There was a young man who came up here a few minutes ago who talked about serving the greater good, serving an organization larger than oneself. That’s what we do as veterans. We serve the Constitution. We support and defend the Constitution,” he said.
“Another thing that all veterans have sworn an oath to do is to obey the orders of the president of the United States. We have a civilian, elected leadership in this country. And part of our obligation is to make sure we support that civilian chain of command. It is not political. We support that president, whomever that president happens to be,” he said.
“With each one of the military services, the Army, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the Air Force and the Coast Guard, we each have different terms that refer to (members of the branch of the military), but we all come together as one combined team to complete a mission. As we look at each one of the armed services, we have core sets of values. Honor and integrity and respect. I witnessed so many of you be respectful to listen to the guest speakers that were up here … please continue to do so,” Captain Mommsen said.
Part of Captain Mommsen’s presentation included slides of pictures taken in Afghanistan.
Members of the military, he said, are very good at planning for contingencies.
As students at school “you train for fire drills and tornado drills, and we hope those things never happen. But that’s what we do. We train for contingencies. We train and train. And when we are called, we go to serve,” Captain Mommsen said.
“Veterans honor and respect the fallen. Today is not Memorial Day, and tomorrow is not Memorial Day. We reserve Memorial Day to talk about our fallen comrades,” he said.
One of the slides Captain Mommsen showed was of a photo of a military person playing “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes.
“It was phenomenal, chilling and awe-inspiring,” he said.
The solider was playing “Amazing Grace” because two days earlier, a helicopter had gone down in Afghanistan, and 15 people were killed who were on the helicopter.
“This event was very special to me, because at this point in time in my deployment, we were coming to the end … and I was due to be on that helicopter. I wouldn’t be standing here today if I had made that decision to climb on that helicopter,” Captain Mommsen said.
“Armistice Day is about world peace and trying to make the world a better place. A day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace,” Captain Mommsen said.
The captain urged everyone attending the Veterans Day program at Colfax High School to do something to improve their own little corner of the world.
“Open the door for somebody. Say please and thank you. Volunteer to help someone. Don’t honk your horn at someone. Take a moment to make the world just a little bit better place, and we will be able to achieve the cause of world peace,” he concluded.
The program included Bill Yingst, district administrator, recognizing all of the veterans in attendance and also included musical performances by the middle school band, the high school band, the high school girls’ choir and boys’ choir and songs sung by Colfax Elementary students.
Military spouses were recognized as well with a rose presented to each of them by the elementary students.
When Yingst asked the people in the audience to stand up who had a family member who was a veteran, nearly everyone in the gymnasium rose to their feet.