by Jim Boyle
Richard Thomton has been a faithful participant in the annual program to honor veterans at Twin Lakes Elementary School in Elk River for 11 years, including the two that were done virtually during the pandemic.
Zacary Stockman, the last of his three grandchildren who have attended the school, is now a fifth grader so Thompton announced it would be last time attending the program.
During his turn with the microphone to announce himself and introduce the student who invited him he said: “I want everyone to know that every program I have been at is just as excellent as the one we’re experiencing now.”
The proud grandfather of Zacary; Owen Stockman, an eighth grade student at Salk Middle School; and Sam Stockman, a senior at Elk River High School; has made the 200-mile trek every year it has been held in person and he wouldn’t miss it.
“Thank you for everything you do for the kids,” Thomton told the school staff in attendance.
More than 100 veterans, a mix of parents, grandparents and great-grandparents of the school’s student body, turned out for the program.
One veteran travels from Arizona to hunt in the fall and makes a stop at the school each year, too. He called the experience an “absolute tribute to be invited.”
He served five years in the U.S. Navy on four different aircraft carriers.
“What sticks with me is it gave us a solid foundation to build upon in our life,” he said.
Another veteran said he wished every elementary school in America would do this very program.
“I can tell you every veteran here has gotten choked up by what you are doing,” he said. “Thank you and God bless you.”
The featured speaker this year was Capt. Bob Jaskowiak, a retired member of the U.S. Navy who served as an intelligence officer and commanded two units — one in the Office of Naval Intelligence in Washington, D.C., and supported the United States Central Command in Tampa, Florida.
He said he also did a three-year tour as a deputy director of intelligence at the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the Pentagon.
Jaskowiak came from a military family. His father and his two brothers served. His oldest brother died when his ship was torpedoed off the coast of Iceland.
“I had a really fortunate career,” he said. “The Navy gave me a lot more than I gave the Navy. I know a lot of people can’t say that.
“A lot of people made tremendous sacrifices. Much more than I did and much more than my family had. I think a lot of those people are sitting right here. Thank you for the sacrifices you made.”
He encouraged the children to ask veterans about their stories.
“They might not want to talk about it all the time and they might not be the first one to ask if you want to hear their stories,” he said. “I do think inside a lot of them would love to tell their stories.”
Nowadays, Jaskowiak is a member and volunteer at the Magnus Veterans Wellness Campus in Dayton, and he recently joined its board of directors.
“(Magnus) is the most amazing place,” he said. “It’s the only place like it as far as I know in the entire country. We are lucky enough to have it right across the river.”
He said it exists solely to serve veterans and their families and was the dream of Lt.
Col. Shawn Alderman. His family donated a $4 million estate for exclusive use by veterans, and their families.
The campus provides no-cost services to veterans. “If you don’t know about it, come talk to me,” he said to the veterans flanked to his left and right.
The services include primary medical and acute medical care whether a veteran has or does not have insurance.
“It won’t interfere with benefits you might get from the VA,” he said, adding Magnus also has psychological services, a full gym, free personal trainers, yoga, chiropractors and physical therapists.
“All of it is at no cost to veterans and immediate family members,” he said.
The students presented a stack of letters to Jaskowiak to take back to veterans at Magnus Veterans Wellness Campus that veterans were to receive on Veterans Day.