LISBON, N.D. - As everyone around him opened brightly wrapped presents, Art continued to marvel at his, turning the three country music CDs around and around in his hands. He talked of singing along to the radio to the songs of George Jones, Hank Williams and Willie Nelson when he was younger. Now, he'll be able to listen and sing along in his room at the North Dakota Veterans Home in Lisbon, N.D.
Soldiers and airmen with the North Dakota National Guard delivered Art's gift and 128 others today on their annual trek to show their appreciation to the veterans who have served before them.
It's a way for the Guardsmen "to be able to give you something back for what you've done for your country," Maj. Gen. David Sprynczynatyk, North Dakota adjutant general, told the residents.
He was one of nearly 20 Guardsmen who visited the veterans.
"For us to be here and spend a little time means a lot to us," he said.
Together, Guardsmen and residents shared a holiday meal of lutefisk, meatballs, rømmegrøt, carrots, potatoes and lefse. Then, with the help of a couple of members of the 188th Army Band, they sang songs together and opened gifts that included an electric razor, NASCAR books, wall hangings and watches.
Tech. Sgt. Tracy Zidon, who has coordinated the event for six years for the North Dakota Air National Guard, helped one resident open a small box wrapped in gold-colored paper that contained two sets of ID tags. Despite the best efforts, nobody had been able to find his tags, but the Guard was able to make him two new sets, much to his amazement.
Each year, the state's Army National Guard and Air National Guard alternate roles in coordinating the event, which has taken place for more than 20 years thanks to the volunteer efforts and personal donations of the Guard members.
This year, the Air National Guard's Public Affairs Office worked with Lt. Col. Bruce Krogstad, 119th Wing chaplain, to do video interviews to capture some of the veterans' stories, including that of Betty Graham, who served as an aero-evacuation nurse during World War II.
"We just loved every one of those boys," she said of her many patients.
Today, she received a new winter coat and reflected on how different life was during Christmas at war.
"It was just another day," she said, "You couldn't sit down and feel sorry for yourself" - especially not with a plane load of 21 patients needing attention from her and the lone corpsman.
The Guardsmen who visited today say they want to make sure her service, and that of the dozens of other residents, remains remembered and appreciated.