Winona honors veterans

Gabriel Hathaway, features writer

On Nov. 11, Winona State University, in collaboration with the Winona community celebrated veterans for their service. 

Each year on Veteran’s Day , an event is hosted by Winona Regional Veterans at Veteran’s Memorial Park. The Veteran’s Day Vigil was started by Roger Reitmeier and is now celebrating year 27 of the event. 

This year’s theme was the celebration of the armistice of World War II. The vigil lasted 24 hours, starting at 12:00 a.m. and ending at 11:59 p.m. with a ceremony at 11:00 a.m. commemorating the community’s veterans.

During the 24-hour period, volunteers from local veteran groups or citizens watch under the main flagpole in silent tribute to the people who served the United States.   

On Veteran’s Day, the Winona State’s social media pages published a post celebrating their veteran employees. The post recognized and thanked employee-veterans: Thomas Cox, Ben Fowler, Sharron Johnson, Lydia Lazzara, Fredrick Lee, Sally Mathews, Steven Morrison, Daniel Nash, Casey Pronschinske, James Reidy, Nancy Rogers, Theresa Sanneman, Jay Smith, Bill Soranno and James Wheat.     

There are also 137 student-veterans at Winona State University. One of which is fourth-year communication arts and literature teaching major, Nicole Tompos. Tompos said she originally enlisted because of her idealistic views on serving.

“I thought that joining the National Guard would be a great way to have a positive way to have an impact on my community, and it would be a good organization to be a part of to help people,” Tompos said. 

Tompos enlisted in the National Guard two days after turning 17 in Nov. of 2015. She signed onto a six and two contract, meaning that she would serve for six years and remain in reserves for two. During her time in the National Guard, Tompos rose to the rank of Specialist. 

As a non-combat veteran, Tompos said she spent most of her time training in Monticello and Buffalo, Minn., with a year-long deployment to Guantanamo Bay in 2017. 

Tompos said that she is lucky to avoid student loan debt because of her time in the National Guard. 

Tompos also said she urges people to think before enlisting in the military. 

“I think people should probably put more thought into it [enlisting] than I did when I joined,” Tompos said. “If you’re interested in joining, I think it should be something you should research and look into whether even if it’s what branch you want to be in, then specifically what career you want in the military.” 

Tompos mentioned how Winona State acknowledges their veterans and supports them that way. She mentioned other ways to support veterans.

“I think a really great way to thank veterans would probably be to try and look at the mental health issues that a lot of veterans have, or homeslessness that a lot of veterans suffer from,” Tompos said.  

Another Winona State  veteran is faculty member James Wheat. Wheat has been an adjunct professor at Winona State for 30 years. He teaches in the music department, and Wheat is currently teaching a series of low-brass private lessons. 

Wheat served in a non-combat role in the Navy for five years from 1962 to 1967, during the Vietnam War era. Wheat played in the Navy band and his primary role was to play for different events and funerals. 

“I, along with many others, received a personal invitation to join the military,” Wheat said. “And rather than be drafted into the Army, I thought I would volunteer for the Navy.”

Besides the recognition Winona State University posts for veterans, Wheat said there are also choir concerts to honor veterans.

“The choir has often done something special,” Wheat said. “Harry Mechell is quite good about looking for ways to make connections with his music making and events and occasions.”