Coon Rapids Senior Center stages Veterans Day celebration

If you ask John Kriesel what he thinks about his service with the U.S. Army, he’ll tell you he loved it.

John Kriesel, who lost both legs and two of his best friends as the result of an IED blast, now serves as the Anoka County director of veteran’s services. Here, Kriesel poses with Bill Lilledahl, department commander of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, Inc. Photo by Sue Austreng

John Kriesel, who lost both legs and two of his best friends as the result of an IED blast, now serves as the Anoka County director of veteran’s services. Here, Kriesel poses with Bill Lilledahl, department commander of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, Inc. Photo by Sue Austreng

“I had 10 years of really good days, and one really bad day,” Kriesel said, an ironic smile spread across his face as he spoke to patriots and veterans gathered at Coon Rapids Senior Center for its Nov. 9 Veterans Day event.

State Rep. and U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Kriesel told his amazing story of survival and service – the story of how he lost both his legs and two of his best friends when a roadside bomb exploded, mangling his legs beyond repair and killing two Army buddies on that fateful day in Iraq, that one “really bad day,” Dec. 2, 2006.

“The thing is, no matter what, bad things will happen. Whatever those bad things are, big or small, it’s your attitude that helps you overcome,” Kriesel said.

Kriesel talked about how that traumatic and deadly incident put everything in perspective.

“We don’t really appreciate life until you almost lose it,” Kriesel said.

“We don’t realize how lucky we are to live in the greatest country the world has ever seen. We are very lucky because people before us fought to preserve that freedom. Freedom is not free.”

Many of those gathered in the Coon Rapids Senior Center that day were Kriesel’s comrades in arms, veterans of wars fought generations ago.

Thanks to a donation from the Coon Rapids American Legion, 100 veterans attended Coon Rapids Senior Services’ Veterans Day event free of charge. Another 100 attendees joined those veterans and all seemed to take to heart Kriesel’s message.

As prelude to Kriesel’s presentation, entertainer Betty Rydell performed a selection of patriotic songs and as their service song was performed veterans of each branch of military service stood to be recognized and honored for their service.

And then lunch was served in the Coon Rapids Civic Center dining room, a room specially festooned with red, white and blue bunting, banners and American flags.

Following his presentation, Kriesel, who also serves as Anoka County director of veterans services, invited veterans to stick around and find out more about veterans’ benefits.

“We’re here to answer questions, help with paperwork, define eligibilities and benefits, or just to listen,” Kriesel said.

“You’ve got stories, you’ve got memories, you’ve got questions. We’re here to listen.”

Kriesel assured all veterans that they are eligible for veterans’ benefits.

“I hear lots of guys say, ‘Well, I’m not as bad off as that guy. I shouldn’t take anything.’ Well, you’re not taking anything away from anyone. You’re not leaching the system – you’ve earned these benefits. You wore the uniform. You earned it,” Kriesel said.

The Anoka County Veterans Services Office is located inside the Anoka County Government Center on Main Street, Anoka. Office hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday.

For more information about Anoka County Veterans Services, email veterans@co.anoka.mn.us, call 763-323-5290 or visit ww2.anokacounty.us/v4_veterans/default.aspx.

Sue Austreng is at sue.austreng@ecm-inc.com

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