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Guest speakers deliver powerful message at Nevis Veterans Day program

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Principal Brian Michaelson began Friday afternoon's Veterans Day ceremony at Nevis Schools by reminding the crowd of students, faculty, veterans and community members that the first Veterans Day was declared a national day of remembrance by President Woodrow Wilson in 1919.

"Today, people throughout the country will gather together to remember, to honor and to pay gratitude to those who have served our country," Michaelson said. "We stand amidst the patriots and the family and friends of those who have nobly served."

Star of the North U.S. Marine Corps League Honor Guard posted the colors before a small group of high school students sang the national anthem.

Paul Pfeiffer from the First Minnesota Reenactment Unit spoke to students about the Civil War while clad in clothing of the era clad with a sword, musket rifle and bayonet.

According to Pfeiffer, the average age of the Civil War soldier was actually the oldest age of any other war in American history, however some of the youngest soldiers were under the age of 10. He went on to explain, to the kids who were between the ages of 15 and 18 years old back then they would have been in a unit or close to being in one.

"At the time of the civil war there were about 30 million people living in America and about 3 million were involved in fighting," he said. "620,000 soldiers died. That means if you had lived back then you would have known somebody who died. These men did it because they loved their country."

"How many of you have been camping, how many of you have camped without a tent for a month and a half," Pfeiffer asked the students referring to the difficulties of war. "A lot of people paid a dear price so that we could all be free, because if only some of us are free then really none of us were free. In the end, that's the kind of thing I think about when I think about the Civil War."

According to Pfeiffer, First Minnesota Unit developed the reputation of being the best at shooting because at that time Minnesota was mostly a frontier land. Most of the men that volunteered were hunters, trappers, lumberjacks and farmers, making them really good shots on their own. "The Minnesota boys were not trained by the Army, they trained to shoot 600 yards and then they found out that they didn't need to because the Army only required them to shoot about 100 yards accurately," Pfeiffer said. "So Minnesota developed a reputation of being the best at shooting and the First Minnesota was known as one of the best units in the whole Army and they were called upon time and time again to do some really hard things."

The high school choir sang "Blades of Grass" before Marine Corp Colonel Geff Cooper spoke about a WWII veteran and an Iraqi Freedom veteran.

"Jack Lucas enlisted in the Marine Corps, he traveled around different bases going through training and in 1945 he found himself on the coast of Iwo Jima where they engaged in hand to hand battle with the Japanese," Cooper said.

According to Cooper, Lucas threw himself on a grenade during battle severely wounding him while his comrades were unharmed and sustained no injuries. His comrades continued to fight leaving Lucas behind, assuming he was dead. He was found by other marines and they called for a corpsman. Lucas was evacuated by stretcher and after 21 surgeries he was left with 200 pieces of metal in his body. On Oct. 5, 1945 three sailors and 10 other marines were presented the Medal of Honor by President Truman, including Jack Lucas.

According to Cooper, most people are not alive to receive the honor, and Lucas was lucky enough to be alive to receive his medal.

"He was 14 years old when he wanted to go and fight for his country and our way of life and protect our freedom," Cooper said about Lucas lying to the recruiter in order to enlist to fight.

Lucas died in 2008 and in September 2016 the United States Navy named one of their warships after him.

Cooper also spoke about Sergeant Scotty Montoya. "I was his commanding officer in Iraq in 2003. He was a reserve marine and a deputy sheriff in southern California. In 2002 he got a presidential recall. He was called to active duty and deployed to Kuwait with the anticipation to be deployed to Baghdad in March 2003," Cooper explained. "We headed north toward Baghdad and it was estimated that it would take five to six months to travel the 500 miles and that American forces would sustain 350 to 400 casualties each day."

"Don't ever underestimate the will of the American fighting soldier, marine, airman, sailor, coast guard. It only took us 21 days to make it to Baghdad and we only lost 23 marines," he said. "The experts had it all wrong. They cannot fathom what the American fighting machine is capable of doing."

According to Cooper, Sergeant Montoya was a scout sniper in the Battle of Baghdad when they came under heavy fire under enemy forces. Montoya immediately encouraged marines to return fire. Noticing a disabled civilian vehicle on the road in the line of fire, and with complete disregard for his own safety, Montoya rushed forward in a hailstorm of gunfire and dragged a wounded Iraqi civilian to safety. Observing a wounded marine in the same gunfire, he went out again and brought that marine to safety. Sergeant Montoya spotted another wounded marine, and ignoring the bullets, ran into the street a third time and then a fourth time to evacuate another marine.

Montoya sustained no injuries after he went out five times to retrieve wounded people. He ensured medical attention was given to all of the wounded. Montoya was awarded the Navy Cross, which is the second highest award for bravery in combat.

Colonel Cooper left the students with words of wisdom.

"Do well in school. Apply yourself, don't just settle for being average and just getting by, go the extra mile. Do the best you can at whatever assignment you're given," he said. "A lot of those things were taught to me in the military. When you go the extra mile and put in 110 percent in whatever you do people are going to recognize that, and that's going to carry on for the rest of your life."

"What do you want to be doing in five years? Set your standards high. Don't sell yourself short, you're capable of doing whatever you want to do," he added. "In this great country you can do whatever you want to do and be whoever you want to be. Set your goals and strive to achieve them."