In the 11th day: Anoka High School holds Veterans Day Assembly
By Ian Wreisner
Nov 16, 2022
In the eleventh day, in the eleventh month, students, staff, community members and veterans gathered in the Anoka High school gym just before classes began for a Veterans Day Assembly.
Anoka HS Principal Mike Farley, a U.S. Navy veteran himself, kicked off the ceremony at 7:40 a.m. Speakers included Farley, members of the Anoka Student Council and Retired Col. Lori Allert served as the morning’s honored speaker.
“What you will hear today is very important,” Farley told his students. “We do not want you to miss anything. It’s time to listen, focus, honor and to show the utmost respect.”
Farley also addressed the veterans in the crowd, specifically those who may have never been thanked for their service. He apologized on behalf of those who did not take the chance to show thanks, assuring them that Anoka High School would not forget their service.
“Today, know this: ‘We are forever grateful for your protection, service, sacrifices and things you’ve done to protect our freedoms,’” Farley said.
The Anoka High School music department, who flanked all sides of the stage with a symphony, concert band and choir, gave a rendition of “America the Beautiful” before National Honors Society President and Student Council President Courtney Graves gave a short speech on proper etiquette on the American flag and national anthem. Student Council Vice President Erin Neises also gave attendees a short history of Veterans Day, being celebrated on what was once the commemoration of the end of World War I, Armistice Day.
Allert then took the stage. The veteran most recently served as the Chief Nurse for the 5th Medical Brigade in Birmingham, Alabama. She has had more than 30 years of civilian, active and reserve military medical experience and served in Operations Desert Shield, Desert Storm and Enduring Freedom.
Allert focused on Anoka’s deep military history in her speech, including one of the very first Civil War Veterans, Aaron Greenwald of Anoka; Edward B. Cutter, American Legion namesake and World War I air corps Service Cross recipient. She also mentioned a fellow Army nurse and Spanish-American War veteran Theresa Erickson, who co-founded the Minnesota Nurses Association and Fort Snelling National Cemetery.
Allert also brought up AHS’s “Sammy Backers Club,” a former student organization that was formed on Oct. 3, 1917 to send packages to “Uncle Sam’s Soldiers,” thus the name, from Anoka county.
“Then as now, getting a package from home really brightens your day,” Allert told the students of AHS. “Be proud of your history of military support.”
Allert described some of her own military service, with two particularly imprinted memories being gearing for combat casualties and mobilizing troops to COVID-19 hotspots in the early days of the pandemic. She also highlighted the dangers outside of combat, describing when a forward resuscitative surgery team was packing up training equipment and a soldier was struck and killed by lightning. Despite the hardships, Allert would never wish differently.
“(My time in the service) was the best decision I could have made,” Allert said. “It was not always easy but the rewards exceeded the challenge.”
Allert continues to look back proudly on her service in retirement and is enjoying the freedoms she served to protect. While she’s happy to be home, there’s one aspect of life state-side that she didn’t particularly miss, but it reminds her of the reasons she enlisted in the first place.
“One thing I didn’t miss while deployed was political ads on TV,” Allert said. “As annoying as they can be, freedom to debate and hold political opinions is a privilege we have in this country. In some countries that is a death sentence. This country may not be perfect, but neither is anyone in actuality… Despite the imperfections we have so much to be thankful for in this country.”
The Veterans Day Assembly took time after Allert’s speech to recognize Anoka High School’s veterans as far back as World War I during a video slideshow, and Anoka staff stood to be recognized for their service.
Farley was recognized for his time in the Navy, as well as teacher Patrick Budnick and secretary Donna Spiczka for their service in the Army. The music department also performed the “Armed Forces Medley,” inviting veterans in attendance to stand during their respective branch’s song.
As the assembly ended and students filed off to their first hour classes, Allert closed with a message she hoped would ring in the ears of all of those in attendance on Friday morning.
“I leave you with a challenge,” Allert said. “What will you do to preserve freedom and make this country a better place?”