MARSHALL - As a Vietnam veteran and the recipient of two Purple Hearts and the Silver Star, Ron Mackedanz spoke to the 2014 Boys State participants about patriotism and military service.
"Our counties, states and nation will be looking to young men like you for leadership in the future," Mackedanz said to the more than 300 high school juniors in attendance Tuesday morning.
His father and three of his uncles served in World War II, and several of his cousins were in the service when the Hutchinson native was drafted in 1968.
Photo by Anna Haecherl-Smith
Ron Mackedanz answers a question from a Boys State delegate from a Boys State delegate on Tuesday.
One of his cousins was shot down and MIA in Vietnam the same week he received his draft notice, Mackedanz said, "so there was no question, I had to go and do what our county asked of me."
Mackedanz talked about his time in the Army and the advantages it gave him later in his life.
"Take advantage of the opportunities to be in leadership roles," Mackedanz said. "Those skills are always in demand. Make the most of the opportunities that come your way."
After he spoke, Mackedanz fielded questions from Boys Staters about his tour of duty, what it was like coming back home and if he had any advice for young men like themselves who are considering joining the military. Mackedanz suggested the boys check with their congresspeople and ask about opening at West Point and other academies.
"Those would good chances for promotion and leadership roles," Mackedanz said.
Most of the focus falls on the current year's delegates, but when talking to a former Boys Stater turned counselor, you discover the week-long session can still be a learning opportunity for all involved, according to a recent Marshall High School graduate, Tom Wyatt-Yerka.
"You have a lot better idea of what's going on," Wyatt-Yerka said, "but you still get to learn something from all the new speakers."
Last summer, Wyatt-Yerka participated as a Boys State delegate.
"I lost every election that I was in, but I was named the outstanding Boys Stater for the 'city of Minneapolis' and got to interview to be one of the two senators sent to Boys Nation," Wyatt-Yerka said. "After that, I was asked to come back and serve as a counselor, so I'm back this year."
It's a little different being on the other side of the event but getting the opportunity to come back has been a good and sometimes enlightening experience for Wyatt-Yerka.
"It's kind of a weird, because when you think back to the year you were involved," Wyatt-Yerka said. "You remember the impact the counselors had on you, so to be able to see the impact that you're having on the delegates is a good feeling."
When asked what advice he has for current Boys State delegates, Wyatt-Yerka said, "Be involved in everything. Don't get discouraged if you don't win elections, the program is definitely not over if you don't win a position. There are plenty of other opportunities than just serving in an office. You get out of this week what you put into it."
He said his experiences at Boys State later helped him in his senior year of high school and through the college application process
"I met a ton of people, those connections you make are going to help out in the future," Wyatt-Yerka said. "Right now, there is such a network of people who have been Boys Staters in the past. I've met lots of people through the college application process that have either been Boys or Girls Staters."