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Beatrice schools say thanks to veterans

On Friday, veterans from around Beatrice were honored for their service with ceremonies hosted by Beatrice Middle School and Beatrice High School in celebration of Veterans Day.

Just after 8 a.m. on Friday, about 500 middle school students gathered in the gym for a ceremony that began with a posting of the colors, performed by the American Legion post 27.

As soon as the flags began moving across the gym, the hundreds of students fell completely silent, something of a miracle at most schools, civics and history teacher Mike Policky said.

“That you can have a gym of 500 kids listening and paying attention shows a great appreciation for our vets,” he said.

After the crowd stood to recite the Pledge of Allegiance and sing the national anthem, the Kensington Chimers—a group of resident musicians from the Kensington in Beatrice—played handbells in time to “America the Beautiful.”

Phil Dettbrenner served as the guest speaker. Dettbrenner was a Beatrice police officer and worked for the Sheriff’s Office for 14 years. Currently, he works for the Gage County Veterans Service Office. He got his start in the military when he joined the Air Force as a student at Beatrice High School.

At the Air Force base, he was assigned to work as an Air Force security officer just outside of Sacramento, Calif. On his very first day, a B52 bomber was practicing touch and go drills on the runway, the engines flooded and it crashed about two miles away, Dettbrenner said.

His first task was to guard the crash from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. until inspectors arrived, armed only with a flashlight and radio because he hadn’t been issued a weapon yet.

He remembered the smell of diesel fuel and walking through the fog and discovering a charred set of landing gear. Nine people had died, and that really struck him.

“At that point, I realized why we there doing what we were doing,” he said. “I realized the sacrifices that people had made. Many people before me and since then.”

Dettbrenner’s speech was followed by a moment of silence for fallen veterans and the playing of taps.

The whole ceremony was planned by eighth grader students, Policky said. The students booked the guests, contacted the media, and gathered all the equipment they needed to put on a Veterans Day ceremony.

“The kids do everything,” he said, “We’re just here to guide them.”

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In the Hevelone Center at Beatrice High School, students and veterans began filling the auditorium for a ceremony at 10 a.m.

This year, Jason Sutter marked his 16th year as principal at BHS and his 16th year hosting the ceremony, though the annual event has been going on much longer than that, he said. This year’s ceremony was one of the biggest, he said, estimating that there were 800 people in attendance.

Following the posting of colors by the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Rev. Marilyn Hasemann of Christ Church Episcopal gave the invocation before the BHS Vocal Music Department stood to sing “Keep the Home Fires Burning.”

The Veterans Day address was delivered by John Hilgert, the director of the Nebraska Department of Veterans Affairs, who told the assembled group that they had heroes in their midst.

“Let them know that you care,” Hilgert said. “Listen, learn and repeat their stories. But, most of all, do not squander, do not take for granted the freedom and liberty that they have preserved for you to enjoy. Be worthy of their sacrifice.”

The school incorporated students into the event in recent years, Sutter said, and this year, all 650 kids students were in attendance, which he said is a good way to teach them what people in their community have done for their country.

“It's important for our students nowadays to see that commitment,” he said. “To see that responsibility, to see that love of country and to see that all veterans are willing to pay that ultimate price and protect our freedoms.”

Denny Hartig, who served in the Marine Corps Reserve from 1972 to 1980, said it was a good thing to be able to have veterans together in one place.

“It was great just to see the support the veterans have,” he said. “With everything that's going on in our country today, there's too much hostility to not enjoy something like this.”


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Gage County looking for veterans to honor

Veterans Day marks a time of recognition across the country of those who have served, but one monthly veteran recognition program in Gage County has seen decreased numbers in recent months.

Since 2013, the County Board of Supervisors has held a veteran of honor program.

The monthly event consists of finding one veteran to recognize at a board meeting each month.

The program wasn’t held in November, though, due to a lack of applicants.

“They tried three different veterans for November,” County Board Chairman Myron Dorn said. “One declined, one moved away and one was busy with harvest. A while ago, they had a fair amount of them in the pool to bring forward. Right now, they don’t have any in the pool.”

The program consists of a standing ovation and round of applause, while the veteran is presented with a gift.

Gage County Veteran Services Officer Phil Dittbrenner introduces the recipient, and the veteran has an opportunity to talk about his or her service experience.

Some recipients have shared war stories with the board, while others have simply thanked the board for its recognition.

A speech is not required, and anyone can nominate a veteran for the program.

“It doesn’t have to be anything spectacular,” Dittbrenner said. “We just need nominations. It’s been consistent for nominations and we usually get some that come in. Sometimes there’s an overabundance, and then sometimes we don’t have any.”

Dittbrenner said he’s enjoyed the program, in part because it gives him the chance to share a veteran’s service history, including when and where they served and what medals were received.

He added that Gage County has no shortage of veterans. It’s just a matter of raising awareness of the program, and pointing out that family members can do the nominating.

“A lot of it is they don’t want the recognition,” Dittbrenner said. “They don’t want to draw attention. Most feel that they did what they did and that’s that. They don’t want any fanfare.”

Anyone interested in nominating a veteran is encouraged to contact the Gage County Veterans’ Service Office at 402-223-1342.


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Niocorp signs deal for new natural gas pipeline in southeast Nebraska

Niocorp Developments Ltd. announced Thursday that it has struck a deal with a company to build a natural gas pipeline to serve its proposed mine in southeast Nebraska.

The company said in a news release that it has signed an agreement with Rockies Express Pipeline LLC to build a 27.8-mile natural gas pipeline that will supply its planned Elk Creek Superalloy Facility.

The agreement calls for Rockies Express to design, build and operate the pipeline, which will run from its main gas line in Marshall County, Kan. to the site near Elk Creek in Johnson County. Niocorp would contract separately for the purchase of the natural gas to be carried by the pipeline.

Niocorp said the deal is worth $63 million over 11 years and is dependent on the mining project going forward.

The company, which is based in the Denver area, has been working for several years to build a mine operation near Elk Creek, where it plans to extract niobium, scandium and titanium.

Niocorp earlier this year released its long-awaited feasibility study showing that the mine could be worth as much as $17.6 billion over its projected 32-year lifespan.

The company is now in the process of trying to raise the more than $1 billion needed to get the mine built. Construction is expected to take about two years.

“Arranging for long-term delivery of natural gas to the Elk Creek facility is an important milestone to have reached, and we are pleased to be working with the Rockies Express team on this important aspect of our project,” Mark A. Smith, executive chairman and CEO of Niocorp., said in a news release.

The pipeline would still need government regulatory approval, which Niocorp said Rockies Express would be responsible for securing.