Veterans Day - Putnam Sentinel
Army Veteran Barney Hovest, there representing his son, Army Airborne Ranger Benjamin Hovest (deceased) is embraced by Tessa Brinkman (directly to Mr. Hovest's right), Chloe Lammers (right of Tessa) and Gabi Dershem (far right) who created artwork based on Mr. Hovest's son's experience with PTSD. (Putnam Sentinel/Martin Verni)
MILLER CITY — The veterans of wars both recent and still surprisingly present filtered into the brightly lit gymnasium of Miller City-New Cleveland school. They came to view artwork inspired by some of the darkest, and at times proudest hours of their lives. In doing so, they carved an intimacy, if only temporary, into a space designed for boisterous gatherings of masses of people. Nearby, the school’s band tuned their instruments in preparation, close enough to touch, but at times so distant they became hard to hear.

It was within this intimate space, carved from the interaction between artist and subject, that something approaching the truth could be experienced by those fortunate enough to never know it. The lucky many who remain ignorant of what is truly owed the honored few.

“We’ll forget about it, if they don’t talk about it,” said one of the students when speaking of the project. A little more than two weeks prior to the observed Veterans Day unveiling, art teacher Alisha Verhoff initiated a series of interviews between 48 of her students and 10 area veterans. The veterans were asked the near unimaginable - to openly discuss their experiences serving their country. The students were tasked with the impossible - to turn those experiences into artwork that could communicate the depths of what they had learned.

“It’s pretty awesome. They did a super job. It just amazes me that they did what they did. I don’t know, I just feel very…,” for a moment Vietnam Veteran Larry Niese cannot find the words. “They remember now. This took so many years. For everybody to come to terms with it. And now, they appreciate us. I really feel good about it.”

“That we are grateful for them,” Nicole Warnimont said just prior to the opening when asked what she hoped the veterans would realize when viewing her work and the work of her fellow students.

Liz Westrick echoed this thought, “They didn’t know if they could talk about it. They were very helpful to us by coming in. None of them had to. It was probably really hard for them to talk to us about it. We couldn’t have done any of it without them. So really there’s just a greater appreciation for them coming in and talking to us even though it was really hard. They still came in and did it. I think they wanted us to have a better appreciation of what it means to be a veteran too.”

Another student whose name was unfortunately not captured gave a similar response, “It’s equally important for the veterans to teach us as it is for us to learn. If they don’t come in and tell us about these things, we’re clueless.”

When asked what it felt like to look at work inspired by their own experiences, one veteran responded, “Overwhelming,” and then continued, “I hope it helps bring the realization of what war is all about, I guess, you know. It was a long time ago, I still feel…It’s good to know it’s not forgotten.”

For some, it will remain forever present. “I’m sad and happy and proud, I guess. The big thing is, I like what they all said about getting people to understand about PTSD. I still struggle today. It’s been a year and half. Feels like yesterday,” said Hovest when discussing his son, Army Airborne Ranger Benjamin Hovest's struggle with PTSD. A struggle his son unfortunately lost.

“He went on two tours of Iraq,” student-artist Gabby Drechel said of Hovest’s son. “The first tour, you can’t ever really understand what it’s going to be like, but then when he came back home, he really didn’t want to go on that second tour. But, he went. He felt like it was his duty and he should go, because it’s his country. Even though he was still struggling from that first time.

“It really makes you think ‘freedom isn’t free.’ He felt so strongly of all the stress he was having from the guilt of whatever he had to do over there. He felt so bad that he committed suicide. I can’t imagine the family, how they feel waking up everyday knowing that their son is never going to come back, basically because he served his country, and they’re suffering the consequences of that.”