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Yes, America still has heroes

Voice of Democracy, Patriots Pen and Patriotic Art winners recognized recently by the West Fargo VFW included: Mackenzie Gasal, Shandi Mack, Brittany Anderson, Nick Reitan, Aubrie Abel, Lance Wilson and Jill Gustafson, pictured with Jackie Faith, Auxiliary president, and Russ Berg, Post commander.

Nick Reitan strongly believes America still has heroes.

In fact, it was elaborating on this specific principle that helped Nick bring home first place honors in the local and district Voice of Democracy contest as well as a third place award in state competition, resulting in a $650 scholarship for future educational endeavors.

A 16-year-old sophomore at West Fargo High School, Nick has enjoyed writing since 8th grade, having penned several short essays working off his own topics. He became even more involved this year when the opportunity presented itself to enter the annual West Fargo VFW sponsored Voice of Democracy event responding to the question "Do you Believe America Still Has Heroes?," as part of a project for his Boy Scout Troop 279.

Inspired by the topic, Nick said he found the essay "really easy to write," taking only about an hour and a half to pen the final version. He said the real inspiration behind the piece came from his parents, Mike and Michelle, and the roles they lead in everyday life, both retired members of the North Dakota Air National Guard, and Mike assistant West Fargo police chief, as well as Nick's Scout leader. "They are my main inspiration. They encourage me in everything I do. Without them I probably wouldn't be introduced to any of these things and without their help I don't think I could have done it."

On the other side of the coin, Nick said he was also inspired in his writing by "seeing how some people can be so narrow-minded. Through my words, I like to let these people know what they are missing out on and how they need to think more open-mindedly."

All in all, Nick said he really enjoyed the Voice of Democracy writing experience. "It was a lot of fun and not as difficult as some people might think. I was kind of hoping just to win first locally, but after I found out I made it as far as I did was shocked." Nick said he was totally surprised when a local VFW official came to the school and presented him with the award money that will be used for future educational plans, at the time still undecided.

A personal high for Nick was presenting his speech at the West Fargo VFW Volunteer recognition banquet held Thursday, April 22, at the VFW, with the end result a standing ovation. "Afterwards several people came up to me and said how much it meant to them. It was really inspiring. Everybody seemed to love it. My mom and dad were definitely pretty proud. They were really happy for me." Nick said he's also happy to have the support of his younger brother 14-year-old Nathan, who is always there to cheer him on, no matter what, with the feeling mutual.

On a concluding note, Nick said he would encourage anyone thinking about entering the VFW's annual contest to take the plunge and do so. "I'm just glad the VFW is doing this. It is a great opportunity to earn excellent scholarship money. I would encourage any other people thinking about participating to definitely do so."

In addition to Nick taking home his awards, several other student winners were recognized at the annual recognition banquet in Voice of Democracy, Patriotic Art and Patriots Pen competitions.

They include: Voice of Democracy, Mackenzie Gasal, second place; Patriots Pen, Lance Wilson, first, Aubrie Abel, second, Jack Olson, third; and Patriotic Art, Jill Gustafson, first, and Shandi Mack, second.

Following is Nick Reitan's award-winning essay.

"Does America Still Have Heroes?"

By Nick Reitan

When you ask yourself the question, Does America Still Have Heroes, what type of hero do you think of? Is it the solider that passes you by on the street? Or maybe, the fireman on the way to save someone's life, or is it the police officer, that just stopped someone from harming others? We all have these definitions come to mind.

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a hero is defined as: a man admired for his achievements and noble qualities, an illustrious warrior, or one that shows courage. What about the CEO of a local healthcare corporation, who is regularly seen volunteering around the community, and has decided to live a more minimalistic life and give most of his money to charity? Would he be considered a hero? Or the nurse who rushes to the scene of an accident and puts all her strength and effort into saving a child's life? Would she be considered a hero? Then what about the man, who rarely says no to a volunteer opportunity, who one day, sees a girl struggling to buy food and necessities for her family because their credit card was declined, and buys it all for her without asking for a thank you. Would he not be considered a hero? I believe heroes can be found anywhere for all the different actions they perform.

I was lucky enough to witness one of the greatest acts of giving and selflessness I will probably ever see in my life. In Fargo, N.D. in the spring of 2009, there was a flood of catastrophic proportions. The water level rose higher than the highest recorded flood in the region, which was in the late 1800s. The next month was spent filling sandbags all day and all night, and wondering that if I wake up in the morning will the water be at my house. The reaction from all the people in the area was tremendous. There were even people coming in from other states from across the nation, just because they knew someone that lived here and wanted to help them. There were so many people that spring that could be named a hero, the people who filled sandbags, the workers who helped evacuate the hospitals, the restaurants giving out food to the volunteers, and emergency personnel who kept people under their control and alert to what was happening. Without them, surely the region would be a disaster.

Everywhere around us there is a hero waiting to be discovered, whether it is the man behind you in the grocery store, or a person beside you at the stoplight on your way home. I am always grateful for what these heroes have done, because without their selflessness, I don't believe this nation would be the same.

Without heroes we would have more people dying from disasters, criminals would run free, and corruption would be everywhere. There would be wars of great proportions and anger and hatred being spread throughout the globe. I do believe that there are still heroes in our nation, some we have to look closely to see, like a volunteer or a generous person. Some we take for granted, like the soldiers still overseas fighting one of the nation's longest wars, or the local emergency personnel that keep the streets safe. I think that we can all just give a little thanks to those who truly deserve it.

We must always remember what our service men and women have sacrificed for us and what they have gone through to keep our country free. When you get the chance, put your hand on your heart and stand next time the flag passes you by, and thank a service man or woman that you see from the bottom of your heart, and be proud to live in a country where people aren't afraid to be heroes.