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Lyle’s Legacy: Stories of love for country, service, sacrifice told by veterans, families

LYLE—21 steps. Click. Turn. Click. 21 steps. Repeat.

Every now and then, Lyle Middle/High School Principal Jamie Goebel catches himself making smooth, precise strides down the school hallways. Every Veterans Day, his memories go back to Arlington National Cemetery, where he served one of the most prestigious and selective duties of his military career—a guard for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Originally from Freeport, Minnesota, and now settled in Austin, Goebel was the 459th guard for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It was an honor and privilege for which very few are chosen.

The most iconic memorial stands on a hill overlooking Washington, D.C., that is engraved with the words, “Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God.”

It was Goebel’s duty to guard and protect the four soldiers who were resting in this tomb, otherwise deemed The Unknowns from World War I, World War II, the Vietnam War and the Korean War. Their remains weren’t identified at the time of the conflicts, but they now represent the many soldiers who never returned home.

From November 1997 to May 1999, Goebel stood watch and protected the remains of the Unknowns. To get there, he had to be chosen by the military after they contacted those who fit the specific requirements and qualifications to be considered for the task. For months, he trained through exhaustion, extreme weather and studied extensive books he had to memorize. Then, Goebel needed to pass the tests before being able to be called to protect the tomb.

Inside Lyle Middle/High School Principal Jamie Goebel’s office hangs the picture of Goebel’s last day as a tomb guard for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery. He was the 459th guard, and only a select few are eligible and qualify to guard the tomb.

In the quiet of the night, Goebel remembered the blanket of stars he stood guard under and the time spent in silence with the Unknowns. That time of night was when he preferred to be with them; no one watching, except for the continuous watch that has been ongoing for decades.

One of the most emotional moments of his time guarding the tomb came when the Unknown of Vietnam was finally identified. It was a moment that brought a mixture of feelings from sadness to anger to peace, that the soldier would be returning home. He was identified as U.S. Air Force First Lt. Michael Jospeh Blassie, who was shot down and killed near An Loc, Vietnam, in 1972. At the request of his family, Blassie was to be reinterred at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri.

Once the remains were exhumed and reinterred, the crypt stayed vacant and was rededicated to honor all missing U.S. service members from the Vietnam War.

For the last hour he got to spend with Blassie’s remains, Goebel felt the immense sacredness that it was to be a tomb guard. He was a part of history, and yet, he continued to stand watch and protect his fallen brother one last time.

“It was the proudest moment of my life,” he said. “I stood taller that hour than I ever did in my entire life. He’s my brother, and we brought him home. At 5 a.m. that day, it was an honor to spend my last hour with him.”

When Goebel performed his last watch in 1999, the gravity of his service hit him. There in the cold, he laid roses on the four tombs and silently said his final goodbyes to the soldiers he protected during the prior two years before being relieved from his position.

Inside his office, Lyle Middle/High School Principal Jamie Goebel preserved his log that kept track of his watches he did as a tomb guard for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery.

He then went on to serve in the Minnesota National Guard before being honorably discharged in 2004 after completing a deployment in Honduras and earning his sergeant stripes. He then began his teaching career and ended up getting hired at Lyle Public School.

Originally something he never really talked about, Goebel now shares his military experience with students. He felt it was his duty to educate future generations about what it meant to serve their country and to appreciate the freedoms they get to enjoy. That included a more permanent reminder.

Situated near the Lyle Gym is a hallway that will soon be adorned with the legacy of military servicemen and women from the Lyle-area. It’s a place where many stop and reflect.

An ongoing project of Goebel’s, a Veteran Alumni Hallway is currently being created. Soon, information about alumni who served will be preserved on the wall. With their rank, service, branch and other pieces of information that students and staff can learn about.

If a veteran received a Purple Heart, their name plate will be in front of a purple wooden plaque. If MIA or POW, their name plate would be black. For those who paid the ultimate sacrifice, it’s possible the plaque could be gold. Goebel felt it was important to preserve the integrity of those who served and rarely share their service.

For those who visit the tomb, Goebel made one simple request: stay a full hour and say a prayer.

“Ask yourself, are you someone worth fighting for?” he added.

Lyle’s legacy

Superintendent Bryan Boysen felt proud of the service completed by his father Dennis Boysen, who served in the U.S. Army as part of the 354th MP Company in Rochester from 1966 to 1972, and his brother Brett Boysen, who served the U.S. Air Force during the Gulf War in 1991.

Out of love for this loyalty to country, Bryan signed up as a member of the Sons of the American Legion in Lyle. There, he established connections with local area veterans and volunteers his time to serve those who served their country. He recounted his internship with the U.S. Department of Defense in Europe, where he saw the effects that military service has on deployed families.

Veterans were not always respected for their service, particularly veterans who served in the Vietnam War. Bryan recalled the memories of his uncle, a Vietnam War veteran, who was spat on in public. There grew the resolve of honoring those who answered the call of duty.

Lyle Superintendent Bryan Boysen has a proud legacy of family members serving in the military. On Veterans Day, he shared the importance of honoring the men and women in the community who answered the call to protect the country. He proudly joined the Sons of the American Legion as a way to honor his father’s service and to help local area veterans.

Since 2007, Lyle School has been honoring veterans for their service through a morning program. There, students got to thank veterans and make personal connections. They’re also taught civics and about patriotism all school-year, not just for one day.

“We want to humble ourselves for these men and women who have given the ultimate sacrifice,” Boysen said. “It’s such a pleasure and honor to do this program that brings this community together. We still need to support our veterans. We need to take care of them.”

The deep roots that Lyle has with the military is apparent. A small town, the school itself has numerous employees who either were veterans or have family members who served. Some were employed at Lyle American Legion Post 105 and others volunteered much of their time organizing events that supported the local veterans.

Seaman First Class Anthony Slowinski, 92, hugs his granddaughter, Nevaeh Slowinski, 8, and a Lyle Elementary School third-grader, who was part of the school’s Veterans Day program that honored their local veterans their service. Anthony, a World War II veteran, said he was proud of his granddaughter, calling her “the star of my eye.” Photos by Hannah Yang/hannah.yang@austindailyherald.com

While attending Monday’s Veterans Day program, 92-year-old Seaman First Class Anthony Slowinski watched his granddaughter, Nevaeh Slowinski, 8, a Lyle third-grader, perform. He was proud of her, just as she was proud of him.

There was no doubt for Anthony when he enlisted in the U.S. Navy during World War II. At the age of 17, the Austin native did what many young men did during that time period. Though he was not in combat, he served on the USS Huntington DD781 destroyer from 1945 to 1949. He was involved in the 1946 Atoll Nuclear Bomb Tests in the South Pacific and spent months at a time out on the open water.

Slowinski regretted nothing from his service, remembering the brotherhood and the memories he forged with his fellow sailors. There was never a doubt in his decision to enlist.

“There were so many young guys who enlisted, and back then that was the thing you do,” Slowinski said. “That’s the thing that you did for your country.”

His son, Russell Slowinski, didn’t really have a chance to learn about his father’s military service. It took several years before Anthony was able to discuss what happened, yet, it was the conversation that exemplified how much his dad’s service influenced their upbringing as children.

“I think his service and beliefs instilled in us a good set of family values,” Russell said. “We look up to him. Me and my six siblings. He is the cornerstone of our beliefs. I believe that many people lose touch of what veterans have sacrificed. I’m just so proud of him.”

Seaman First Class Anthony Slowinski, 92, of Austin, (left), and his son, Russell Slowinski, walk down the Alumni Hallway at Lyle Public School on Veterans Day. The hallway will eventually honor all of Lyle’s military servicemen and women who were alumni.


Lyle Alumni Veterans Hallway

All Lyle Public School graduates since 1937 have been honored in the hallway adjacent to the locker rooms for years. Now we want to recognize the graduates who also served in the military. If you are a Lyle graduate who is a veteran, or know someone who is, please contact Jamie Goebel at joebel@lyle.k12.mn.us or pick up a form to fill out at Lyle Public School, 700 2nd Street, Lyle, MN 55953.