‘You guys are my heroes’

Published 4:51 pm Monday, November 12, 2012

American Legion member Albert Allen stands during the Army theme song "The Caissons Go Rolling Along" with other Army veterans Monday at Veterans Day ceremonies at the Freeborn County Courthouse. -- Tim Engstrom/Albert Lea Tribune

A local Red Bulls leader on Monday called on community members to remember the area’s newest veterans who returned from Kuwait earlier this year.

“These people still need help,” said Sgt. Bryan Tlamka of the Owatonna unit of the Minnesota National Guard.

Albert Lea VFW Cmdr. Brian Tlamka, a sergeant in the Minnesota National Guard, looks at a U.S. flag while describing what military service means to him Monday during Veterans Day ceremonies at the Freeborn County Courthouse. -- Tim Engstrom/Albert Lea Tribune

Tlamka, who is also the commander of the Freemond Madson Post 447 of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, was the speaker at the annual Veterans Day ceremony at the Freeborn County Courthouse.

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He said the soldiers who returned with Albert Lea’s Delta Company in May still need assistance in moving forward with their lives. He encouraged people in attendance to work through the Beyond the Yellow Ribbon program to do so.

Tlamka, who has served in the National Guard for almost two decades, also spoke of his own service in the National Guard, which he said will soon be coming to an end because of health problems.

He recalled seeing his grandfather’s service in the U.S. Navy, which gave him a longing to follow in the same footsteps.

“I had a sense of responsibility to join the military,” Tlamka said. “I always thought that was the right thing to do.”

He noted he gets emotional thinking of all the soldiers who have served before him and all those who are still serving.

“Veterans here, you guys are my heroes,” he said.

The ceremony, under the direction of local VFW members, was held in the Commissioner’s Room of the Freeborn County Courthouse. About 65 people attended.

Dale Christopherson of the American Legion Post 56 Careyaires sings "The Star-Spangled Banner" on Monday at the Freeborn County Courthouse during Veterans Day ceremonies. -- Tim Engstrom/Albert Lea Tribune

Prior to the ceremony, members of the Leo Carey Post 56 American Legion Honor Guard and the VFW Color Guard marched through chilly temperatures and falling snow down Broadway Avenue from the Legion to the courthouse.

A brief outdoor ceremony that included raising of the colors was also held outside the courthouse near the Freeborn County Veterans Memorial — though earlier than scheduled because of the weather. Some people watched from their cars nearby.

The Careyaires also performed three musical selections during the indoor ceremony.

U.S. Coast Guard veteran Bob Yaw attended the indoor ceremony with his father-in-law, Clayton Hatleli. Yaw, who has lived in Albert Lea for 12 years, said he served 23 years in the Coast Guard and jumped out of helicopters into the ocean to save people.

“It’s not just a day off,” said Yaw, who now works at Minnesota Corrugated Box.

He said he decided to attend the ceremony to meet with his fellow veterans. He said he sees these veterans on a regular basis but often never knows what part of the military service they were in.

“They each have a story about why they defended,” he said. “You do what you can at the time America called for help.”

Military veterans Jim Hockinson, Dave Olson, Bill Goette, Corald Peterson and Dave Mullenbach raise hands together Monday during a singing of "God Bless America." -- Tim Engstrom/Albert Lea Tribune

He encouraged people to take the time to thank a veteran.

“A thank you is great,” Yaw said.

Following the ceremony, veterans gathered at the American Legion for lunch.

There were other ceremonies held throughout the day at Southwest Middle School and at St. John’s Lutheran Home.