Pawlenty, others mark Veterans Day

Published 9:45 am Thursday, November 12, 2009

Throughout Wednesday’s state Veterans Day ceremony, Mary Viers clutched a service flag with five blue stars. Each represents a family member in the military.

Viers’ husband is an Army reservist. Her son is in the Army, too, for now stationed domestically. Her son-in-law is part of an Army unit that left a month ago for Iraq, a war front her brother-in-law returned from in May. Her nephew is an Army Ranger headed to Afghanistan this month, his second deployment there.

“It seems like somebody’s always gone or getting ready to go,” Viers said. “Every day is Veterans Day for me.”

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Hundreds of Minnesota military veterans and family members like Viers filled a community center gymnasium to hear words of thanks from state political leaders. The ceremony drew veterans ranging from young enlisted soldiers all the way up to retired generals.

“The title of veteran deserves great respect in America,” Gov. Tim Pawlenty said. “Veteran stands for a life dedication to our nation’s greatest cause — the cause of freedom.”

Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar and Rep. Betty McCollum also extended their gratitude. The trio traveled Tuesday to Texas for the memorial service for the 13 people killed in last week’s Fort Hood shooting rampage.

Among the dead was Pfc. Kham Xiong of St. Paul. He was mentioned in several speeches Wednesday and singled out for recognition during the invocation.

Officials also offered well wishes to the 2,200 Minnesota residents currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, an estimate conveyed by Maj. Gen. Larry Shellito, the head of the state National Guard.

Retired Army Gen. Ken Penttila, whose deployments spanned from the Vietnam War to the Bosnian conflict, stood at military attention — arms straight by his side and heels together — as flags moved passed him and again as Taps played near the end of the ceremony.

He said he can’t overstate the significance of the Veterans Day events on him, describing them as an important public reminder of sacrifices and service by members of the military.

“Just to see those colors up on the podium to a veteran means something special, especially those of us who have been overseas,” Penttila said. “That flag at one time or another was all that we had of America right in front of us. The flag was America.”