Ten SHHS students participate; Niemi places second at district

The Sweet Home Veterans of Foreign Wars post presented awards to three high school students on Feb. 17 at the VFW Hall for their Voice of Democracy speeches.

Paige Niemi placed first, receiving a check for $100. William Stedman placed second and received a $75 check. Robert Callagan placed third and received a $50 check. Niemi’s speech also placed second at the district level, for which she received a $75 check.

Seven other students participated and received certificates for their participation. They included Chris Farris, Quinn Baxter, Larisa Cole, Sam Macklin, Blake Roberts, Conna Erickson and McKenna Burnett.

After the awards presentation and speeches given by Niemi and Callagan, the students, their families and VFW members enjoyed cake. Stedman did not attend the ceremony.

Created in 1947, the Voice of Democracy (VOD) scholarship program is an audio-essay contest for high school students in grades 9-12 that annually provides more than $3 million in scholarships. The first-place winner, who competes with all the first-place VFW Department winners, receives a $30,000 scholarship that is paid directly to the recipient’s American university, college or vocational/technical school.

Besides competing for the top scholarship prize, as well as other national scholarships ranging from $1,000 to $16,000, each Department’s first-place winner receives an all-expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C., sponsored by Target.

The VOD program is endorsed by the National Association of Secondary School Principals’ contest criteria€¯and is designed to foster patriotism by allowing students the opportunity to voice their opinion in a three to five minute essay based on an annual theme.

By Paige Niemi

It was a rainy, foggy, cold morning as the boy started at his great-grandfather’s grave. He was bored and upset that his parents and grandpa had made him come with them. The rain fell down around him, and he couldn’t figure out why he was here. He was honoring some man he had never even met. What was the big deal? As he was thinking these words, his grandfather began to speak.

“Here we go again,” the boy thought.

Too often, the youth of America think those same exact thoughts. What’s the big deal? They are just men who were unfortunate in war. They didn’t do anything spectacular. Although these men may not have their names written down in history books, they truly are heroes.

Because of their service and sacrifice, America’s youth and future generations are granted the gift of freedom €“ freedom of speech, religion and press. They can listen to what they want and watch what they want on TV. They can read any kind of book. Any kind of freedom the youth have was accomplished by the VFWs who fought for the freedom of America.

Those men didn’t deserve to die or be wounded. Some may not have even been given the option to say no. However, they still fought hard because of their pride. They were proud to be Americans and were willing to do whatever it took in order to preserve freedom and rights even if it meant giving up their lives.

Hadewijch of Antwerp once said, “Make your service of love a beautiful thing; want nothing else, fear nothing else and let love be free to become what love truly is.”

These men had true love for our country.

The service of VFWs also gives youth the comfort of security. Because of their sacrifices, youth can feel safe in their homeland. They don’t have to worry about being watched 24/7 or being attacked by foreign adversaries. They can feel secure and free from harm. The American youth also have the comfort of knowing that if there ever is a dispute, the United Nations will attempt to intervene since its establishment after World War II.

Along with war comes many new advances. Technological and medicinal are just a few to name. The VFWs were faced with hardships every day, how to communicate with each other, get from place to place, defend against new weapons, prevent diseases and lower the number of casualties.

With all of these problems occurring, something had to be done. Many wars brought new advances. Humvees and troop trains came to life. Telephones, radio and RADAR took form; and new vaccines, medicine and surgeries were put to use. During World War I, we saw the use of blood transfusions occur, and penicillin was used during World War II. From the Korean War, we saw emergency helicopters being used.

With these advances and a new way of thinking, the average death rates from wounds decreased from 42 percent to 10 percent. In World War I, more men died from disease than action. When World War II occurred, new medicinal advances decreased the death from disease, but there were still a whopping 1,078,162 soldiers who were killed.

By the time the Vietnam War ended, surgery was quicker, medicine better and travel time faster, which accounted for the huge decrease in U.S. casualties. Only 214,074 men died in Vietnam compared to the large numbers from the previous war.

The VFWs showed the world what was possible, and now we have all of these advances that help protect our nation. The teenager who uses their cell phone as they walk home probably doesn’t realize that the availability of cell phones was made possible by the people who needed a lesser form of communication during war.

The child who screams while getting a vaccine probably doesn’t understand that years ago, many men and women were dying from the disease that is now being prevented. They took these things for granted without seeing the true sacrifice and service that was put in, in order to make these things possible.

It is so easy for people to get caught up in the fast-paced world and completely disregard the respect that our VFWs deserve. They fought so that we could be secure in our homeland and be given the ultimate gift: freedom. Along with freedom and security, advances were made in medicine and technology. Everything was made possible because of our VFWs.

As the boy stared at his grandpa, he couldn’t believe the story that he had just been told. How could he have been so selfish? His great grandfather and his fellow comrades deserved so much more than one day of respect.

They deserved many for how gracious they had been. They gave up everything in order to fight for their country, and they did it with pride. Their service and sacrifice shaped the country we have today. The rain kept falling as they boy tilted his head up, closed his eyes and quietly whispered, “Thank you.”