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In this, its 28th year hosting a local Veterans Day program, the Windom American Legion Post 206 and Ladies Legion Auxiliary invited Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson to deliver the keynote address. Swanson was part of a program that included musical selections such as "God Bless America," and featured performances by the mass elementary choir, high school band and mass choir (grades 1-12).
The special day to honor American military was born 95 years ago, when the Armistice was signed on Nov. 11, 1918, ending World War I.
"Ever since, this has been a special day in our country -- a special day to honor those who have worn the military uniform," Swanson told the hundreds of people in attendance. She commended Windom for keeping the Veterans Day program tradition going, when "many schools around Minnesota don't have celebrations like this."
"A nation says a lot about its character by the people for whom it chooses to pay tribute," Swanson said. "Today we gather together to say thanks to our veterans for their unwavering service to our nation."
In Minnesota, 385,000 residents have worn the military uniform for the United States of America, Swanson said. They are mothers, fathers, grandfathers and others who have served in the Navy, Air Force, Army, Marines, Coast Guard or Reserves.
"Our veterans come from different generations and every walk of life," she said. "Some interrupted jobs or education to serve our nation. Others spent most of their career in the military. Others left family behind while taking up the call of duty. Some saw combat on the battlefields, on the seas or in the air in Vietnam, Korean War, World War II, the Gulf War, Iraq or Afghanistan. Others served in times of peace, ready to take up arms at a moment's notice.
"Some returned home bearing wounds of battle and some, who are not here today, paid the ultimate price," she added.
Several years ago, Swanson visited Omaha Beach, the site of a U.S. military invasion during World War II, and she recalled how the soldiers who stormed the beach were not much older than the high school students seated in the gymnasium Monday. She said their valor, courage and selflessness impacted "our very way of life as Americans."
In quoting a former director of the U.S. Office of War Information, Swanson said, "This nation will remain the land of the free, only so long as it remains the home of the brave."
"The bravery and the service of our veterans have safeguarded this country's core freedoms for over two centuries now," she said. "Because of the service and sacrifice of our veterans, we Americans continue to have the basic freedoms that we cherish -- the freedom of speech ... the freedom of press ... the freedom of religion ... the freedom of assembly. ... In so many ways, our veterans are good examples of what it means to be a good citizen, a good American."
As Attorney General, Swanson has worked on behalf of Minnesota veterans to make it easier for soldiers who are deployed to active duty. One of her achievements is getting a law written to allow soldiers to cancel long-term contracts and cell phone agreements due to deployment. Prior to the law, cell phone companies and businesses selling memberships charged early termination fees to soldiers.
"We're also helping family members back here at home," Swanson said, adding that her office has provided one-on-one assistance to families as needed.
Swanson volunteered to speak at Windom's Veterans Day program last January, when Windom American Legion Post 206 Commander Babe Crowell visited her at her office in St. Paul. The idea arose after Crowell, noticing a photo of former Minnesota Attorney General Mike Hatch in Swanson's office, mentioned that Hatch had spoken at Windom's Veterans Day program about a decade ago.
Monday's event also included an appearance by Minnesota National Guard Honor Guard members SP4 Ryan Burs and SP4 Nick Petersen, who presented a flag-folding ceremony. In addition, there was a salute to the Armed Forces, during which veterans were asked to rise and be recognized as the Windom Area High School band played the song for each branch of the military.