Every year I attend the Keewatin American Legion annual Veterans Day Spaghetti Feed with my grandfather, a Korean War-era Air Force vet and 50-year member of the post. I am a rather poor member of the Sons of the Legion, a condition of my attendance at this venerated custom.
It’s come to be an important tradition for us, not only for the chance to spend time with my grandpa, but for me to see and hear the great Minnesota Iron Range tradition of service, a tradition shared across the country but exemplified in the WWII years where Iron Range enlistment rates were higher per capita than anywhere else.
I always seem to notice, though, these two placards displayed in the Keewatin City Hall behind the row of colors displayed for the Legion event. They’re not here for this; they’re here all the time. They were placed there when the hall was built.
The first reads: “Education Makes Men Happiest in Themselves and also Most Serviceable to Others.”
The Keewatin City Hall also serves as a community education center and the walls of the place are papered equal parts between stories of local veterans, city meetings and classes on anything from workplace safety to Facebook to yoga.
100 years ago, education was the great uniter of cultures on the Iron Range at a time when native tongues numbered in the dozens. All the miners could agree — they wanted things better for their kids, and were willing to work in lousy conditions if that desire was accommodated. For decades, strikes were averted in just this manner. It is in this light that the plaque on the wall of city hall makes sense.
But the second plaque is also important. It reads, “They that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament.”
Think about what city’s put up on the walls when they build city halls nowadays. Some mushy mission statement. Some buzz words. We as a people have strolled a ways away from the concept of celebrating wisdom.
What I was struck with this weekend was the idea that young people in the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s were brought up in an environment where education and wisdom were the values. And when they went to war and gave their lives and best years away to this country, they did so for a reason. Today’s veterans, too, go for a reason.
Do most people know why?
Holidays like this can quickly become gushing attempts to deify veterans. Most of the veterans I meet, both at the Legion or my job as a community college teacher, shy away from such things. They want you to know that something big happened in our history, and that the heroes are the ones who died for lives of everyone else.
We live these lives in the shadow of traditions that include more than just service, but also education, wisdom and community pride. Thank a veteran, absolutely. But do not let slip away the reason why they served, and our shared responsibility to continue what really matters.
A picture of Abraham Lincoln also hangs in the Keewatin City Hall. Remember, “That we we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
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