A masked crowd gathered Wednesday, Nov. 11, outside the Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center to show their support for veterans.
“Regardless of how one feels about policies that lead to war, there can be no doubt that veterans served with honor,” said Troy Magnuson, post adjutant of the Richard I. Bong American Legion Post 435.
His Veterans Day address honored those who answered the call to serve, from the cold winters of Germany and Korea to the swamps of Vietnam and the sandstorms of the Middle East.
Some are still battling. A recent Army report showed a 40% increase in suicide rates among veterans. More than 20 veterans a day take their own lives.
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“It’s up to us to ensure that every veteran feels that his or her service to this country is appreciated by their fellow Americans,” said Magnuson, who served in the U.S. Navy.
It can be as simple as saying “Thank you for your service” or gathering on Veterans Day. Support can come in the form of a letter to a congressman or a picture hung with care.
“While many veterans are humble, there is no such thing as insignificant military service. Veterans Day is an important but symbolic way of saying thank you,” Magnuson said.
A Heroes Tree is on display at the Bong Center for the holidays. Family and friends can create an ornament featuring their service member’s picture and name, and hang it on the branches for visitors to see. Just bring the picture in; blank paper ornaments are available. The Lake Superior Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution sets up the tree every year to provide another way for community members to thank veterans.
A few veterans took time to tour the center after the ceremony, including Matt Frericks of Virginia, Minnesota, and his son Mathias, 15. A U.S. Marine Corps veteran who served from 1995-99, Frericks has visited the center before.
"We like it; it's always fun to come back and take a second look at things that you didn't notice the first time," he said, looking over the new trench art exhibit. "There's so much. It's overwhelming. You can't take it in in one day."
The Virginia man doesn't make a big display of his service.
"They talk about the humble veteran and that's me to a tee, I just don't talk much about it," said Frericks, who was stationed in the Pacific, Japan and California. "Obviously I wasn't in during a time of conflict, but it's just something I did happily. I talk about it from time to time, but nothing that I put on display a lot."
The pair said they enjoyed the outdoor ceremony.
"I thought it was a sight to see," said Mathias Frericks.
The event included three volleys of shots, the raising of the U.S. and Canadian flags, a rendition of taps and a display of all six service flags — Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard and the new Space Force flag. Members said the American Legion post just got their Space Force flag this week.
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Support for veterans
The Douglas County Veterans Service Office has a Soldiers and Sailors Relief Fund to help veterans with rent, utilities, hotel stays and other needs.
“A lot of veterans don’t know we have that,” said Erick Hudson, Douglas County Veterans Service officer. “We’ve actually got a decent amount of funds right now, so if veterans need that — if they need any help — get a hold of us.”
The office administers a number of programs to help veterans, he said, and they currently have additional funds due to an influx of federal coronavirus relief dollars.
Area veterans can face many challenges.
“There’s just a multitude of issues of veterans still looking for housing resources, still needing some assistance, getting into medical care,” said Carissa Skifstad, veterans benefits specialist.
The pandemic, however, has added a new challenge.
Hudson said the office is exploring the possibility of setting up apartments or tiny homes for homeless veterans in the area.
“We’re trying to get the word out about that, just to see if anyone in the community has resources we can use to help get that going,” he said.
Without a house or a permanent place to stay it's hard to get a job or an education, so that's the first thing they focus on. There aren’t a large number of homeless veterans in the area, Hudson said, but officials have seen an uptick recently. Those who are couch surfing or staying with friends in the area can also be considered homeless.
“They think if they’ve got someplace to stay, even if they’re changing every month, they’re not eligible for programs, but that’s not the case,” Hudson said. “If they don’t have a home they can call their own, we can help them.”
Contact the Douglas County Veterans Service Office at 715-395-1331 or email email@example.com for more information about programs available to veterans or to donate to the Soldiers and Sailors Relief Fund. For services in Duluth, contact MACV at 1-833-222-6228 or visit www.mac-v.org.