Veteran's Day lunch unites community to honor Mitchell military veterans
Mitchell community members united on Wednesday to honor all local and area military veterans for their dedication to serve.
The annual Veterans Day lunch held at the Davison County Fairgrounds in Mitchell commenced with a speech from guest speaker, David Natvig, who had a decorated military career and worked his way up to Brule County State's Attorney and became the leader of the South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation in 2018.
Natvig, a Kimball native, spent several years in the Army, spent time as a paratrooper and climbed the ranks to become a captain in the special forces. On Wednesday afternoon, his message was simple: never stop honoring veterans for the sacrifices they made.
“Since those first shots that were fired at Lexington and Concord when the Revolutionary War began, our men and women in the armed forces have been answering the calls of duty,” Natvig said. “Isn’t it wonderful to live in a country where we are surrounded by so many people who are willing to give up their lives for this freedom that we enjoy.”
Natvig remembered the brave soldiers who paid the ultimate sacrifice in previous wars overseas, hailing them as some of the “bravest men and women to walk the Earth.” Natvig said there have been roughly 130,000 American soldiers buried overseas, along with 94,000 of them who either went missing or died at the seas.
“Just think about those numbers. Those are our brothers and sisters who fought for us and for the world, but weren’t able to make it home,” Natvig said.
Natvig echoed the importance of the motto that Army soldiers in the green beret follow, which he said is “free the oppressed.”
“To have some of the toughest soldiers on the planet, and their motto is to ‘free the oppressed.’ It’s not, ‘We are here to make you our subjects,’ it’s to free the oppressed, ” Natvig said. “Doesn’t that just speak volumes about what this country really is?”
As is tradition, a number of local veterans and soliders were honored by American Legion Post 18 and VFW Post 2750 during Wednesday's event.
Starting off with veterans, Mitchell’s own Steven Thuringer Sr. was honored with the 2020 American Legion Post 18 Veteran of the Year award. Jim Schorzmann emceed the event and presented the awards.
After serving 20 years in the military, including stints with the U.S. Army and South Dakota National Guard, it was time for Thuringer to receive his recognition. Although he’s no longer serving in the military, Thuringer has stayed active in helping his fellow veterans.
“He is a quiet individual and helps veterans organizations without wanting any recognition,” Schorzmann said. “Over the last few months, individuals from various groups in the city and Thuringer.'s grandchildren performed groundskeeping at the Servicemen’s Cemetery. We recognize him and his grandkids.”
Following in his father’s footsteps, Steven Thuringer Jr. was named the VFW Post 2750 Veteran of the Year award winner. His 20-year military career was spent in the U.S. Navy.
During his time with the Navy, the younger Thuringer was awarded the Surface Warfare Medal in 2003 for his efforts in the Iraqi Freedom War. After serving in the Navy for two decades, Steven Thuringer Jr. continued giving back to veterans in multiple ways, which included assisting an Olympic hockey athlete who had his legs amputated due to an IED explosion and helping build the VFW’s new elevator.
“(Steven) is always available to help and is our go-to person,” said VFW member Duane Kummer. “This year, he helped a great deal with the elevator project, putting up and tearing down scaffolding.”
After four decades of serving in the military, Thomas Flint, of Mitchell, was honored with the Soldier of the Year award. Flint started his decorated military career with the South Dakota National Guard in 1979. Since then, he’s climbed the ranks and amassed a handful of awards that include receiving a bronze star, a humanitarian relief ribbon and being named Warrant Officer of the Year in 2000 and 2001.
“He was activated with the Second Battalion 147th Field Artillery in November of 2003 and deployed to Iraq from January 2004 through March 2005,” Schorzmann said of Flint.
Known for his devotion to serving in the military, Sgt. Tyler Pepper also received a Soldier of the Year award. Pepper’s military career began in Mitchell in 2008 when he joined the South Dakota Army National Guard.
Pepper’s military expertise includes electronics and communications, which has helped him become a leader in the 665th Support Maintenance Company in Mitchell.
“He willingly takes a leadership role during the absence of others to train his section as a subject matter expert,” Schorzmann said of Pepper. “His technical expertise and dedication to the electronics and communications section is truly commendable.”
Dara Milekovich, of Mitchell, was named the VFW Auxiliary member of the Year.
“She is always willing to volunteer for VFW events and brainstorming new ideas for the Auxiliary,” Schorzmann said of Milekovich.