Veterans honored at Oconto Falls High School

John Maino emcees first Panthers Military Appreciation Night
Warren Bluhm
Oconto County Times Herald Editor

OCONTO FALLS — Five local veterans were honored Friday night in the first-ever Military Appreciation Night at Oconto Falls High School.

They included Staff Sgt. Kurt Buhrandt, a logistical specialist for the Wisconsin National Guard who is in his 23rd year of service. He met the night’s master of ceremonies, John Maino, when the longtime media personality was embedded in Afghanistan and Buhrandt was commander of convoy security, driving what Maino described as “the most hostile, most dangerous roads on the entire face of the Earth.”

“Just before going out I asked him what’s it like right now,” Maino told the audience gathered in the high school field house. “He said, ‘Right now you put your game face on, you strap in place, and you do your job. Nothing more, nothing less.’”

The other honorees were Marine Sgt. Ron Christensen, who served more than 20 years and is now Oconto County Veterans Service Officer; Sgt. Bob Thomson, U.S. Air Force; Navy Corpsman Bob Maloney; and Radarman 3rd Class Leslie “Butch” Vorpahl, U.S. Navy.

Maloney, who was a key figure in the campaign to build the new Oconto Falls Area Veterans Monument, gave a “shout out” to OFHS boys basketball coach Gary Regal for initiating the idea of a Military Night.

“I want you to know how important this is to all of the veterans who serve,” Maloney said. “When you go up to them in the grocery store and you say, ‘Thanks for your service,’ and we just shake our head and we say thank you, but that stays with us all day … as a group of veterans, I just want to say thank you for Military Night, Oconto Falls. Thank you.”

Christensen put in a “public service announcement” for the Veterans Services Office, which has the mission of connecting veterans with the benefits they’ve earned.

“Our county and especially this community is very supportive of our veterans,” Christensen said. “Most of us woke up this morning not giving much thought that our country is still at war and that we have troops deployed all over the world, but they make that sacrifice so that we can enjoy events like this tonight.”

Maino said in three journeys embedded with troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, he saw the power of sports as the service people he met would ask how the Packers or their high school teams were doing.

Maino said he asked the troops to write down the top 10 things they missed while deployed that they probably didn’t appreciate until they were far from home.

“So many of them wrote down, the smell of walking into a high school basketball game, the smell of that popcorn – the sound of a high school band – the smell of fresh-cut grass – the sound of hearing a band playing on Friday night when you see the lights on at a high school stadium and you’re walking up to those lights,” Maino said. “Those are some of the things the guys wrote that they said they will never, ever take for granted ever again.”

He told the crowd that Friday night’s games were a part of all that.

“Without trying to sound corny, that’s kind of what our people fight for,” Maino said, “because this is the American way – being able to enjoy sporting events and come into a gym like this and hearing a phenomenal band like this and a choir like this, and high school football games and wrestling matches and all those great things – that’s America, that’s what all of these gentlemen raised their right hand and said they’re ready willing and able to give up their lives for.”