Military Ball – annual event to honor veterans

Photos by Jan Lee Buxengard Arthur Merlin Ford of La Crosse and formerly of Mabel, age 96, was the oldest veteran in attendance. Gary Buxengard presented the Navy veteran with a cased U.S. flag.
By : 
Jan Lee Buxengard

The 14th annual Military Ball, hosted by the military family, was held on April 21 at the Fest Building in Spring Grove. 

The attendance of 163 encompassed a wide range of the tri-state area and with many wearing their military uniform. 

Navy Cmdr. Christian Myrah of Spring Grove was emcee for the event.


Organized by John Geiwitz of Houston and Lyle Ellis of Onalaska, Wis., the presentation of colors for the opening ceremony included U.S. flag bearer Maynard LaFleur of Rushford and POW-MIA flag by Joe Tollefson of Caledonia with Anne Doering of Spring Grove and Myron Falken of Caledonia as flag escorts. 

The service flag bearers were: Army – Lowell Stephas of Fountain, Minn.; Marines – Earl Roberts of Houston, Navy – Robert Kolsrud of Waukon, Iowa; Air Force – Glenn Kinneberg of Spring Grove, and Coast Guard – John Geiwitz of Houston.

Special Export quartet sang “The Star Spangled Banner,” and attendees joined in the singing of “God Bless America.”

Richard Zibrowski of Caledonia led the POW-MIA ceremony “Remember”. 

Assistance was provided by James Loven of LeRoy, Minn., who placed the chair cover, and Donald O. Peterson of Winona lit the candle at the table for one.

Oldest veteran honored

Arthur Merlin Ford of La Crosse and formerly of Mabel, was the oldest veteran in attendance at the ball, and was honored with a cased U.S. flag for his military service. 

Ford, age 96 and next birthday in June, served in the U.S. Navy from 1942 to 1946. He was a gunner’s mate aboard ships and saw action at Guam. 

The USS PC (patrol craft) 801, a submarine chaser, was the last ship he was aboard. 

Last call of vets in the county

At the final salute ceremony, Gary Buxengard of Spring Grove read the Roll Call, honoring the 34 veterans of Houston County who answered their last call in the last calendar year. 

John Iverson of Medford, Minn. rang the bell twice after each name. Two trumpet players from the band provided a military salute of echoed taps.


Guest speaker Rev. Dr. William J. Reese of Viroqua, Wis. has been a professor of Religious Studies and Philosophy at Viterbo University in La Crosse, Wis. for over 22 years. 

An ordained Lutheran pastor, he has been serving as part-time pastor for the Evangelical Church of Peace of Crooked Creek, near Freeburg, Minn. for 20 years. 

Reese is a Vietnam veteran, having served with the 9th Infantry Division in the Mekong Delta from 1966 to 1967.

“We as veterans share everything whether from experiences in WWI, Korea, WWII, Vietnam, Middle East,” Reese said. “We cry when seeing Old Glory on the Fourth of July. We go to the cemeteries on Memorial Day. We proudly wear our uniforms at Military Balls like this. We veterans share so very much.

“Wherever we are, we are still fighting wars in our mind,” he pointed out. “The trauma of war – its sights, sounds, and smells was called Shell Shock in WWI, and then Acute Stress Disorder in WWII. We now call it PTSD – post-traumatic stress disorder, and it is real and it affects millions.

“I suffered from it for seven years and many in attendance here at the Military Ball have a slight or solid dose of it still.”

Reese relayed that St. Francis of Assisi was affected by PTSD in the 12th century. 

He was taken prisoner of war and was in a cell for over a year, until his father came with the ransom. 

The confinement took away St. Francis’ spirit, and he suffered in mind and heart. 

St. Francis came back to his hometown of Assisi, Italy with his worldview changed and, he was no longer a wealthy man. He wanted to serve Jesus who had given him a new view of life. 

“I am convinced the message of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ helped heal St. Francis and it can help in the healing process of present day PTSD. To build a bridge from the past to the future, psychological counseling still requires cognitive restructuring, mindfulness, but also spiritual intervention. 

“We have special ministry for them to help unpack the things in their minds,” Reese said. “War is Hell. In war they nearly died for us, and are still fighting a war. Parts of war are in their body, mind and spirit.”

For the past four years Reese has been involved in spiritual counseling of PTSD victims from all theaters of war – mostly the Middle East. He has conducted workshops in Phoenix, California, and soon in other Franciscan retreat centers across America. 

“We veterans have the opportunity to reach out to let them know they are loved and understood. The past is forgotten and they must move ahead,” he added. “We need to be proud to support those who served our country. I challenge you to pray for the sufferers of PTSD in all theaters of combat. There is a healing that takes place – be witnesses of Christian love.” 

Enjoyable evening

After the flags were retired, Cheers Big Band from the La Crosse area played “America the Beautiful” and attendees joined in singing. 

The band played music for dancing and listening pleasure for the remainder of the evening. 

The nine-piece ensemble was sponsored again this year by Craig and Deborah Ellestad in memory of his parents Mervin and Norma Ellestad.

On display were a variety of military uniforms from several decades.

Good Times/Kris Wedl catered the meal and Kathrine Myrah was the photographer.

Next year’s ball

Save the date of April 27, 2019 for the 15th annual Military Ball. 

This event is planned and carried out by a committee of volunteers from the local area, including Joe and Bonnie Tollefson, Donald Ellestad, Randy Denstad, Arlyn Pohlman, Myron and Anne Falken, and Richard Zibrowski of Caledonia; John Geiwitz of Houston; Gary and Jan Lee Buxengard, Ron and Darlene Dix, Fordyce and Marge Brevig of Spring Grove; Lyle Goetzinger of New Albin, Iowa; Maynard and Rhonda LaFleur of Rushford; and Lyle Ellis of Onalaska. 

The committee expresses appreciation and gratitude to everyone who has helped in any way to make the ball the special event that it is. 

For more information contact Gary & Jan Lee Buxengard 507-498-3461 or