On Veterans Day, UND honors those who served
Hundreds turn out at Gorecki Alumni Center to pay tribute to military veterans
U.S. Air Force Col. Timothy Curry, one of the speakers during the Veterans Day ceremony on UND’s campus last week at the Gorecki Alumni Center, tends to get emotional when talking about his father’s military service during World War II.
“He was and always will be one of my heroes,” said Curry, Vice Commander of the 319th Reconnaissance Wing at the Grand Forks Air Force Base. “He never talked about his service – ever. He simply demonstrated the core values I’ve grown to love as a serviceman: integrity first, service before self and excellence in all we do.”
Curry said he wished that his father and other veterans would speak more about their experiences.
“When I think about what my father and every veteran here today has provided for me and my family, I feel not only thankful, grateful, humility, honor and pride, but I also feel pain, confusion, remorse, anger and even horror, in some instances, for what they lived through, experienced, witnessed and considered – to press on in this life,” he offered.
Hundreds of veterans and members of the UND and greater Grand Forks community took part in the standing-room-only ceremony to honor those currently serving in the military, those who have served and those who gave their lives while serving.
Jenna Hogetvedt, a UND Army ROTC cadet from Felton, Minn., who served as the event’s master of ceremonies, said, “Once a year on November 11, we recognize our military veterans for their service and their sacrifice, and for their dedication and valor.
“But really, every day could be Veterans Day because the call to duty is every minute of every hour of every day,” she continued. “The job of defending the nation is too vital and too important to be anything but a round-the-clock job. Someone, somewhere is always on guard.”
The size of the crowd wasn’t lost on Curry, Grand Forks Mayor Brandon Bochenski and UND President Andy Armacost, a 30-year Air Force veteran who also spoke at the event.
“When you see the community turnout, this just reinforces what we already know,” Bochenski said. “North Dakota and Grand Forks are some of the most patriotic places in the nation. It’s so heartwarming to come to these events and see the veterans that come and support one another.”
Curry said, “I’ve been all across the globe and all across America. People really come together for those things that they value, really appreciate and ultimately love. This is one of those communities.”
Armacost was stunned but not surprised by the level of support shown by area residents.
“There are many examples of people from the community who have served with great honor,” he said. “What I’ve seen in my time in Grand Forks is people commit to one another. There’s that great sense of commitment to patriotism and love of those who have served in the military, and that’s what was epitomized today.”
In his Veterans Day remarks, Armacost cited examples of UND graduates who served in the military, including:
- Former UND President Tom Clifford from Langdon enlisted in the Marine Corps after Pearl Harbor. He advanced from the rank of private to major, commanding tanks on Guadalcanal, Saipan and Iwo Jima. Wounded in combat, he received the Purple Heart, Bronze Star and Silver Star.
- Carolyn Becraft graduated from UND in 1966 with a degree in foods and nutrition. She became a dietician in the U.S. Army. Later, she began advocating for women’s rights in the military. She became the second woman to hold the position of Assistant Secretary of the Navy for manpower and reserve affairs where she played a major role in the repeal of the combat exclusion laws.
- Lt. Col. Elton Ringsak was from Grafton and graduated from UND in 1937. He served in the U.S. Army during World War II, earning the Distinguished Service Cross and several Purple Hearts. He was a member of the North Dakota Legislature for 16 years and served as the Walsh County State’s Attorney.
- Denny Elbert, former dean of what was then simply known as the College of Business and Public Administration, served in the U.S. Army and saw combat in Vietnam and Cambodia where he was wounded. He earned the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star. Denny was an ROTC cadet here at UND who earned degrees from UND in business and marketing and was once the University’s longest serving dean. He rose in the U.S. Army Reserve to the rank of lieutenant colonel.
- Capt. Carl “Cully” Ekstrom from Minneapolis, graduated from UND with an education degree in 1941. He also won a national Golden Gloves featherweight championship while a student at the University. He joined the U.S. Army Air Force, became a fighter pilot and was tragically killed on his 51st mission over Nazi-occupied France.
- Kathryn “Kay” Lawrence grew up in Grand Forks and became the first woman graduate of UND to earn her pilot’s license through the College of Engineering’s Civil Aeronautics Authority program. And instead of staying in her job at Boeing in Seattle, she served in the Women Airforce Service program. Sadly, she died in a training accident in Texas at the young age of 23.
“On Veterans Day, it’s important that we, as a nation, honor our service member who have served during conflicts, as well as those who have served during peacetime,” Armacost said. “Our nation owes them a debt of enormous gratitude that can never be repaid.”
DeAnna Carlson Zink, CEO of the UND Alumni Association & Foundation, noted that military veterans have had an outsized impact on the University.
Carlson Zink pointed out that three of this year’s Sioux Award recipients are veterans. They are Werner Nistler, the lead donor for the Nistler School of Business & Public Administration who served in the U.S. Army; former Grand Forks Mayor Mike Brown, who was stationed at the Grand Forks Air Force Base when he enrolled in UND’s medical school; and Terry Severson, who served in the Air Force before launching a successful telecommunications company.
“These are just three example of thousands of military veterans who we are proud to call UND alumni,” she said. “I want to thank all of you who have served in the military. You make us all very proud.”
Hogetvedt closed the observance by calling attention to the Fallen Soldier’s Table at the front of the community room, a tradition honoring those who served but didn’t come home.
“The ceremony has come to symbolize a commitment to never forget them, while recognizing that they are still with us in spirit,” she said. “The empty chair at the table is a poignant reminder that the seat will forever remain unclaimed.”