COTTAGE GROVE - Our country's military veterans deserve more than just our thanks, DFL Sen. Amy Klobuchar told a capacity crowd in the Park High School gymnasium on Nov. 10.
The senator spoke at the Wolfpack Air Force JROTC Veterans Day Ceremony. It was held on the eve of the 100th anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I in November 1918.
"Your job and my job for those who don't serve in the military is really to have the backs of our veterans and our soldiers," she said. "When they signed up to serve, there wasn't a line ... But when they come home to America and they need a job, and they need health care, or they need to finish their education, there should never be a waiting line in the United States of America."
Klobuchar paid tribute to the First Minnesota Infantry Regiment, whose ferocious counter-charge at the Battle of Gettysburg helped hold the line for the Union Army.
"We are the state that actually had the highest rate of casualties of any unit at the Battle of Gettysburg," she said.
Klobuchar also remembered her friend and Vietnam veteran, Arizona Senator John McCain. McCain, who died in August, was a naval airman who suffered five and a half years of torture as a prisoner of war in the infamous Hoa Lo Prison in Vietnam.
"It is the place where he made the decision to allow other prisoners to be released before him," Klobuchar said. "His dad was a big leader in the military, so they were trying to embarrass the American military and our country to have McCain released first. He wouldn't do it. And he kept being beaten and tortured. That's patriotism."
The loudest applause of the day was afforded to Park High School Resource Officer Adam Pelton.
He enlisted in the Minnesota Army National Guard after graduating Park in 1997. He trained as a medic and deployed to Kosovo, Croatia and Iraq.
Pelton blinked back tears as he recalled the names of his "brothers" who were killed or wounded.
"James Jones was my platoon sergeant," he told the audience. "His leadership and mentorship of me, I credit with keeping me alive."
Pelton wears a bracelet inscribed with the name of Sgt. Nicholas Turcotte from Maple Grove. Sgt. Turcotte was killed Dec. 4, 2006.
"It was probably one of the worst days of my life," he said. "Every day I wear a bracelet since he died with his name on it and I carry him with me. And every Memorial Day I take my kids to visit him at Fort Snelling."
He signed off with an allusion to this year's theme, family.
"At the end of the day, it's not about the mission or all the other noise that comes with large-scale conflict, but it's about the men and women to the left and right of you. And to me, that's family."
The Air Force Junior ROTC also held a 12-hour vigil at the Park flagpole for the eighth year in a row. The cadets are commanded by U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Darrell Lockhart of Cottage Grove and Deborah McBride of Woodbury, a retired Air Force colonel and nurse.
In attendance were Vietnam veterans Doug Haseley, 73, and Lynn Hotaling, 72, and Steve Campos of Cottage Grove, a retired chief master sergeant with the Minnesota Air National Guard.
Vietnam veteran George Chavez, 72, of Cottage Grove took photos.
"I come here every year," Chavez said. "All my children graduated from here."