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Welcome home, Col. Weaver

justine wettschreck/Daily Globe Col. Richard Weaver, a native of Heron Lake and former commander of Camp Ripley, was the featured speaker at the Windom Veterans Day program Thursday.2 / 2

WINDOM -- For 25 years, American Legion Post 206 of Windom has been hosting an annual Veterans Day program.

The guest speakers have included a man who was aboard a ship that went down during the Pearl Harbor attack, a soldier who had just returned from a tour of duty in Iraq, a former joint chief of staff, an F-16C fighter pilot, the governor of Minnesota, a national teacher of the year and the governor's wife.

"I'm honored to join such a wonderful list," said retired Col. Richard Weaver, this year's speaker. "Thank you for inviting me."

During the program, which took place at the Windom Area High School, there were featured songs by a mass choir of first through 12th grade students and comments by the girl and boy stater. Several veterans demonstrated the proper way to fold a flag, Post Commander Babe Crowell read off the names of 15 deceased members while the silent audience watched and the salute to each branch of the armed forces had toes tapping and hands clapping.

Master of Ceremonies Dave Adamson was happy to introduce Weaver, whom he referred to as "no stranger to southwest Minnesota."

Weaver, who served as the commander of Camp Ripley, a National Guard Training site near Little Falls, from 2003 to May 2010, was born "just down the road," he said, in Heron Lake. He graduated in 1979 from Brewster High School, then attended Winona State University. He enlisted in the Army National Guard in 1977, and spent 25 full-time years in the military.

"If I had to do it all over again, I would," he stated to a room full of people ranging in ages from pre-schoolers to senior citizens.

Serving in the military, Weaver said, taught him a great deal.

"Many people ask what it is like to be in the Army," he added. "I really loved it. There is such a sense of accomplishment."

The military, he explained, is good at training and leading and is the best at getting things accomplished.

"Once a commander decides on a course of action, everybody does what needs to be done," Weaver said. "Leadership is taught."

As Veterans Day approached, Weaver said he gave thought to the subject of patriotism. Is it about a flag? The Pledge of Allegiance? Taking off your hat during the National Anthem?

"It is those things, but there is much more to it than that," he said.

He spoke of loyalty to the American idealism, of a devotion that brings us together as one.

"Patriotism starts as a gut instinct -- it is a vitality," he stated passionately. "It outweighs imperfections. It is a belief that things can be made better."

Patriotic Americans, Weaver said, should "continue to insist that there is nothing we cannot do if we put our minds to it."

All Americans, he added, should express profound gratitude for those who fought for our flag and defended our liberties.

He cautioned against defining patriotism as a fear of something rather than a love of something, reminding his audience to respect the First Amendment and political power when it is used without oppression.

"You can disagree with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but still support the troops," he explained. "Be wary of anyone trying to use patriotism for political gain."

Weaver asked the students in the school gymnasium to make a point to thank a veteran, not only on Veterans Day, but every day. He asked them to take responsibility for their lives, to be good role models and to develop the habit of hanging out with others who are good role models.

"You can do something to make America a better place for future generations," he told the students. "Be willing to give something up on behalf of a better cause. There is nothing you can't do if you put your mind to it."