Oskaloosa Stops To Remember Those Who Served

World War I Veterans on Parade, 1919 Oskaloosa, Iowa Photo courtesy Chuck Russell

Where did Veterans Day Start

On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, an armistice was signed between the Allied nations and Germany. It would not be until June 28, of 1919 that the Treaty of Versailles was signed officially ending the “The Great War.” So November 11 became the marking point of those recognized as the end of “the war to end all wars.”

In November 1919, Then President Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day with the following words: “To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…”

The original concept for the celebration was for a day observed with parades and public meetings and a brief suspension of business beginning at 11:00 am.

On Monday, Oskaloosa will stop to remember it’s own who have served.

Some area eating establishments will be offering free meals to veterans. A ceremony will begin at 10 am at the American Legion. A ceremony hosted by the Oskaloosa Student Council will take place at 1 pm inside the high school gymnasium.

Jason Reed (right) with his wife Marti.

What Veterans Day Means To Me – Jason Reed

For Army Veteran Jason Reed, the meaning of Veterans Day means celebrating “the past veterans, the fallen veterans.”

For Reed, honoring those veterans who lost their lives in the line of duty is special to him.

During his service to the United States, Reed last served in mortuary affairs in Iraq and Afghanistan. “I took care of all fallen soldiers. I made sure they got home.”

Reed tried to enlist when he was in high school, but a knee injury prevented that. When he was cleared, he headed to the Army recruiter to sign up. “It didn’t matter to me what job they gave me. I just wanted in the military. My grandfather served in World War Two. I’ve listened to his stories, and I just had such a desire to enlist that I was going to go no matter what.”

Initially, Reed was a combat engineer and demolitions with the Texas National Guard. “When I moved back to Iowa, I was with the 3654 Maintenance out of Knoxville as a machinist and welder.”

Reed then went active duty as a combat engineer returning home when his first son was born, “We didn’t want to be bounced around base to base. We wanted him to get to know his grandparents and have stable friends.”

Eventually, Reed and his wife missed the military in active duty service.

That move back to full-time active duty came with a choice. Either go down in rank or take the job of ammunition specialist or mortuary affairs.

“I spent two tours in Irag doing mortuary affairs.”

There, Reed helped to prepare the bodies of fallen soldiers for their return back home, enabling families to have closure.

When asked if Reed would do it all over again, “I would do it in a heartbeat. I’d go back right now if they’d let me.”

Reed pays the price for his service. “I still see faces every night. When I go to bed, the people I’ve worked on, soldiers I’ve sent home. I’ve learned to live with them and cope with it.”

Reed credits the VA for helping him. “The VA has done a lot to help that, and just talking with other soldiers has helped.”

His wife Marti is someone he thanks the most for her support.

When asked what message Reed would give folks that maybe don’t fully understand what Veterans Day is, he answered, “Veterans Day is a day that you can thank somebody for sacrificing their life, their family, and their health. To make sure everybody here is free and has the freedoms that they do.”

Reed says that people approach him wanting to know stories, and that kids often ask the toughest questions, such as, have you ever shot anybody. “Some soldiers say, yeah, I have. Others will say, I’d rather not speak of that. I’m proud to speak of what I did, because I know I gave so many families closure to get their son or daughter home. It’s not the way they [families] wanted it, but they’re home.”

If you are curious and searching for the information a veteran has about their service, Reed has some advice.

“Let the veteran tell you.”

“If they want to elaborate, then that’s the best way for them,” added Reed, who said that talking about his experiences helps him work through a lot of the issues.

“To me, if people want to celebrate veterans, go to the cemetery and celebrate veterans there too. People need to get out and celebrate the fallen veterans as well,” says Reed. “Whether you know the person or not, go to a veterans grave and just say thank you.”

Julie Wells (front) fires during a 21-gun salute at the 2014 Memorial Day Service at Forest Cemetery.

What Veterans Day Means To Me – Julie Wells

You will most often find Julie Wells cooking breakfast and welcoming her customers into Julie’s Hometown Cafe.

On Saturday night, one could find her volunteering at the local VFW steak night, where her husband Trevor is the post commander.

Wells is a Veteran of the first gulf war or Desert Storm.

On why Veterans Day is important for her, “I think because of the veterans in my family. Veterans before me, the veterans who served with me, the veterans after. I feel like veterans should always be appreciated. They have done so much for this country. So much sacrifice. For me, it’s honoring them and what they did. It’s important that we don’t forget that.”

Wells is proud of being a veteran during Desert Storm, but she’s proud of being a part of the local veterans groups. “It’s an honor to get to know some of these veterans that I know, to serve with them in ways, continue serving now.”

Wells is part of the Veterans Affairs Board, “and I’m just so privileged to be able to do that.”

“I don’t even know how to put it into words, because it’s very meaningful to me to take care of veterans,” added Wells. “I just don’t want any of them to be forgotten. There’s so many battles that they face and so many sacrifices that they made, and I just want to make sure they are continually cared for.”

For Reed, remembering those who gave the ultimate sacrifice is most important. So I don’t believe I do deserve the thanks, as much as the fallen once did.”

When it comes to ceremonies like those to be held at the Oskaloosa High School, Wells is proud of OHS and their response to the holiday. “Because that’s what the day is intended for. For us to take time and remember veterans that have served and are still serving. “It’s an honor that they do that.”

“It’s very important that we don’t forget to teach our children pride in America, pride in the flag,” said Wells of what appears to be a very divided country right now. “That makes me sad.”

Wells says that she believes you come out of military service with pride in your flag and country.

Wells is one of the few female veterans in Mahaska County, but says there is a really outstanding group that treats her very well. “I can’t say enough good things.”

Wells connects with other female veterans through social media and is aware of some of the struggles those individuals face.

An example of the everyday lack of recognition for female veterans was when Wells went to purchase veteran license plates for her vehicle. When the individual at the counter was talking, she kept looking at Wells’ husband.

“I just think it’s a mindset that is going to have to change because there’s so many women veterans out there now.”

Other times, when Wells is wearing her hat for the American Legion and VFW, which indicates she is a Desert Storm veteran, people ask if she’s a veteran. They will then thank her for her service. Unlike with her husband, who people will automatically come up and shake his hand and say thank you for your service.

Wells isn’t angry; it’s just a part of society that is an ingrained vision of a veteran.

Being asked if she would do it all over again, Wells said she would, but admits that she was scared when first notified she was going into a combat zone.

“I came back okay, but when I went over there I was probably like every other person that’s ever went, deep down inside, you’re scared to death because you know that you might not ever come home. You don’t know for sure what you’re facing.”

Oskaloosa School Superintendent Paula Wright thanks a veteran for their service after Monday's assembly.

Oskaloosa School Superintendent Paula Wright thanks a veteran for their service after Monday’s assembly. (file photo)

Accepting Gratitude

For a country that now shows its appreciation for the sacrifice made by military members, that moment someone says ‘Thank You’ can be wonderful and awkward all at the same time.

For Reed, “At first it was hard to accept it because I was doing my job. I was defending this country and the people in it. And to me, it’s an honor for me to serve. So when somebody says thank you for your service, I tell them it was my honor.”

Reed says that it still can cause some uneasiness, “Because I’m getting thanked for something I was honored to do.”

When someone approaches Wells and thanks her for her service, “It makes me feel good. A little humble and almost embarrassed a little bit. I feel like I just have so much love for the country, and if need be, I will defend her again today. I will do whatever it takes.”

“My favorite thing is thanking veterans for their service that they’ve done.”

DAR member Connie Van Polen presents Kenneth Mortensen with a book and certificate at Saturday's 'A Salute To Vietnam Veterans'

DAR member Connie Van Polen presents Kenneth Mortensen with a book and certificate at  ‘A Salute To Vietnam Veterans’ (file photo)

Showing Appreciation Now Versus How Vietnam Vets Were Treated

I am glad they respect the veterans more,” says Reed of the general public’s welcome of all veterans. “It breaks my heart to see the way the ones in Vietnam were treated because they were doing their job.”

“They were essentially defending the country and the people in it. And the people took what the bad media sent back and ran with that, instead of the good things they were doing over there.”

Wells’ group was welcomed back to the United States as heroes, with parades and other recognition.

Wells is “thrilled” that the public’s reaction has changed on recognizing soldiers from the days of Vietnam.

Wells says she wasn’t old enough to remember when the Vietnam veterans came home but remembers talks with her brother, who was a Vietnam veteran. “In talking to him and learning more and more, even like a personal level of it, “It was very eye-opening for me of the stark difference in the treatment.”

“It saddens me that Vietnam veterans even had to go through that,” said Wells. “I know that you can’t turn back the clock and that you can’t change that.”

“It was probably hard for them to be, a hard pill to swallow, being spit on when they came back, and they spent years in the bush.”

Since those days, the American society has turned the corner on honoring its veterans.

“Hopefully it keeps a light on the subject of struggles that veterans face on return, like PTSD, amputees,” and other long term health problems like Gulf War Syndrome.

PTSD is one of those struggles many veterans face alone all of the time.

For Wells, issues like PTSD is important to keep on the forefront. It is important for government funding to ensure programs are in place to take care of the needs of the veterans.

Readers Remember Veterans On Veterans Day

Cathy Angle – “I grew up in Oskaloosa. My Dad, Lawrence Dykstra did also. He was a WW 2 vet. I remember him playing taps for Memorial Day and Veterans day programs, for many years. He passed on Veterans Day 1998. He was proud of being a vet, and I’m sure he would have been honored knowing that.”

Dan Behrens – “I often think of the Vietnam veterans, when they got home from Nam. They totally got no respect. Some people looked at them with disgust and avoided them. And all they did was do what their country asked of them. And it took years to finally give them the Welcome Home and the respect that they deserved. I’ll never will understand why this ever happen. SO a Big Welcome Home to our Vietnam Veterans.”

Karen Reeves – “My father, Fred Bridges, served in the Navy from 1950-1972. We moved several times and ended up back in Oskaloosa. I did not know the extent of his service to this country until his recent passing. Makes me even more proud of the man I always looked up to.”

Crystal Black-Hanna – “I think of my grandfather. He went through some really rough things in the Korean War (we found out 50 years later). My grandmother said when he got off the train she knew something was different about him but back then they didn’t have the help they do now. So they just went on with their lives of working hard & raising their 3 boys (keeping the effects of the war on my grandfather quite from the rest of the world). 50 years later, they decided to get my grandfather the help that he needed when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s & PTSD. The Parkinson’s brought out the PTSD in awful ways (especially during the night time). It was at that point that our family got my grandfather back. He wasn’t just a “yes, ma’am“ man to his wife & people around him. He started to have an opinion & opened up with the VA staff. We learned that to avoid confrontation that he would never let my grandmother know that he didn’t like chocolate frosting on her homemade chocolate cake. When he finally decided to speak up, she started laughing & was frustrated because for 50 years she had been putting on chocolate frosting because she thought he liked it. Come to find out for 50 years, they were both eating chocolate cake with frosting & neither of them liked the frosting. The communication was just that broken because of his PTSD & he didn’t want any more conflict in his life. We learned so much about my grandfather’s likes, dislikes in the last 20+ years of his life. RIP Gary of the US Army during the Korean War.”

Becke Cutler Arnold – “My husband Steve Cutler, U.S. Army, spent 1965-67 serving. He was a CO so he trained as a Medic..all companies before and after his, were deployed to Vietnam. He went to Badkruzenak, Ger. and served as a Clerk Typist. His family and I prayed for his life to be spared. God answered our prayers. We were married, in Sept 1968. A truly wonderful man. 1945-1992.”

Marylee Vogt – “Vetrans Day means family to me as every generation in my family has served in a branch of the military. Some navy, some Army and others Airforce. but All served with honor for the freedom of our country.”

Cindy Bridges – “My husband Fred Bridges served 22 years in the Navy. He was very proud to have served his country and Veterans Day always was a special day for him.”

Posted by on Nov 10 2019. Filed under Local News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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