Wisconsin Army National Guard Maj. Matthew McDonald on Monday challenged Baraboo students to thank the nation’s military veterans by serving their community and exercising their freedoms.

McDonald, an active member of the National Guard and Iraq War veteran, made the remarks during the annual Veterans Day ceremony at Jack Young Middle School. Because many United States citizens aren’t capable of serving in the military due to physical, academic and other requirements, he encouraged students to find alternative forms of service.

“I believe the best way to honor those who have served our country overseas is by embracing your own service and defining what service means to you,” he said. “Give back to your community by being an upstanding citizen, helping those less fortunate and keeping your parks and your communities clean.”

“In my opinion, these are the things we can do to thank and honor our veterans, who put themselves in danger in faraway lands to defend our opportunity to enjoy freedom here.”

The assembly included additional speeches from students, teachers and past and present armed services members. Jack Young Middle School Principal John Gunnell said the ceremony was intended to thank the nation’s veterans and recognize the sacrifices they have made, and continue to make.

“Of all the assemblies we do at Jack Young Middle School, none holds a dearer place in my heart than our annual Veterans Day assembly,” he said. “The focus of today’s assembly is service, and today we’d like to recognize the many ways in which our servicemen and women make our communities safe and strong.”

The assembly continued with patriotic compositions performed by the middle school band and choir, followed by special recognition of Jack Young Middle School faculty and staff who served in the nation’s armed forces. Students also read “In Flanders Fields,” a poem written by Canadian physician Lt. Col. John McCrae during World War I.

Following the reading, Baraboo High School social studies teacher Steve Argo shared a combat story he had been told by a local World War II veteran. The story articulated the fine line between life and death faced by soldiers in combat. Argo challenged students to recognize the level of self-sacrifice veterans underwent in laying down their lives for the country and its ideals.

“A veteran is someone who says, ‘I will go anywhere, I will go any place, I will do anything for any duration of time, I’ll do whatever is necessary when asked by my government to defend the idea of liberty,’” he said. “That’s a big idea.”

“Service above self is the trademark by which veterans hold onto.”

The observance concluded with a 21-gun salute conducted by Greenwood Memorial VFW post 987, followed by the playing of “Taps” by student musicians.

Follow Jake Prinsen on Twitter @prinsenjake

Baraboo News Republic Reporter