BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – Veteran’s Day is celebrated on Nov. 11th, the recognized end of World War I. But at Fort Madison High School they hold another celebration around the holidays as a gift to area veterans.
FMHS students and faculty put on an assembly honoring all veterans Thursday afternoon with performances from the high school band and choir, and Army Sgt. Carlos Ruiz.
Fort Madison High School Principal Greg Smith said the student government, which organizes the event, wanted to celebrate the veterans in December as a gift from the school to those who had given so much for them.
Command Sgt. Major Matt Doty of the Iowa National Guard gave an address to the assembly and said each year the country sets aside Veteran’s Day to pay tribute to all veterans for their devotion, patriotism and self-sacrifice on behalf of all Americans.
“It is a celebration of their service to our nation, state, and community. Just like police, fire, EMS, teachers, and countless other professions, our veterans make our world a better place to live,” Doty said.
“So today I ask you to make yourself better. Contribute to your community to make it better. Our nation’s veterans, throughout history, have kept us free, returned home, and continue to serve our nation in a multitude of ways. Today, we say thanks to them all.”
Doty said regardless of the branch veteran’s serve in, Army, Navy Air Force, Marines, or Coast Guard, Veteran’s Day belongs to them.
“Service members live by values including loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor integrity and personal encourage and excellence in all we do. They do not leave those values behind when they transition into personal life. They continue to serve by making positive contributions, building stronger futures and inspiring future generations.”
He said students are the future and will build and improve the country for years to coming.
“But always remember the foundation was secured and protected by those in front of you,” Doty said.
He told the story of Salvatore Guinta, the first living person since the Vietnam War to receive the country’s highest military honor, the Medal of Valor.
Guinta and his platoon were ambushed on the way back to their post after providing security cover for a mission in Afghanistan in 2007, his second tour. The sargeant walking point was hit by enemy fire in a hail of bullets and grenades from an ambush. Guinta ran straight into the enemy fire, as his platoon fired guns and launched grenades into the ambush. Guinta killed at least one Taliban fighter, and wounded several others before recovering a soldier that was being dragged away, and pulled him to cover.
The soldier would die the next day from his wounds, but those in Guinta’s platoon said with all the enemy fire happening, there’s no way he should be alive.
“What most amazes me about Staff Sgt. Guinta is his commitment to the the team and how humble he is,” Doty said.
“He said, ‘If I’m a hero, every man that stands around me, every woman in the military, everyone who goes into the unknown, is a hero.’,” Doty said.
Doty said he watched an interview with Guinta a few years ago where a reporter asked him what kind of soldier he is, and Guinta responded, “Average”.
“The reporter said, ‘you were just awarded the highest award that the military has, presented by the United States, and you are average? Yep, he said, ‘You should see the good ones,” Doty recalled.
Doty said not every veteran performs great acts of valor, but every veteran is truly a hero in their own right, simply because they served.
He said the U.S. has been at war for 18 years and the country has the largest population of young veterans since the Vietnam War. He said the Iowa National Guard has the largest number of veterans in their formation since World War II.
But he said less than 1% of Americans choose to serve in the military and 78% come from families that have already served.
“The contributions these veterans and their families make on behalf of our country are remarkable,” he said.
Military service isn’t for everyone, but every young person should consider whether it may be right for them. he said.
He said the country needs to broaden the appeal of service to include all fabrics of society, all socioeconomic groups and ethnic backgrounds.
“The pride and honor of military service should not be reserved for just those who hail from a tradition of military service.”
The FMHS Student Government presented the American Legion Auxiliary with a check for $350 at the end of the assembly.