When Brian Benesh began planning Veterans Day Services in Dickinson 16 years ago, they were held at the St. Anthony Club.
Over the years, attendance has grown so much that the services need to be held at Stickney Auditorium in Dickinson State University’s May Hall, one of the city’s largest venues.
Benesh said Wednesday during the service’s recognition ceremony that he’s stepping down as the planner of Veterans Day and Memorial Day events to focus his volunteerism on memorializing veterans’ gravesites in cemeteries with American flags.
“The time has come for me to just spend my time and efforts on my cemeteries and honoring those people,” Benesh said. “These programs will run themselves. That won’t be a problem. But it’s time to let go.”
First Sgt. Scott Obrigewitch, a Dickinson teacher and master of ceremonies for Wednesday’s service, said he didn’t have to worry about the program with Benesh in charge.
“When he calls me up, it’s pretty much planned,” Obrigewitch said. “He has everything lined up.”
This year, Benesh’s speaker was a new colleague he recently gained because of their connection during the Vietnam War.
Bruce Jessen, a retired Dickinson teacher and school administrator, was a medic at the 27th Surgical Hospital in Chu Lau, Vietnam, for 13 months while Benesh served as a specialist on a helicopter.
They connected during the Stark County Veterans Memorial dedication in October, and shared a laugh when Benesh asked if Jessen — who is bald — had blond hair when he was younger.
“My hair was white — when I had hair,” Jessen said with a laugh.
He told Benesh yes, and Benesh identified him as the “Blond Angel” soldier who’d often meet the injured being brought to the hospital on his helicopter.
After more conversation, Benesh convinced Jessen to speak at this year’s Veterans Day Services.
Jessen, who said he was bitter over his war experiences and the public’s reaction when he returned from Vietnam, said he was happy to get up and talk about his experiences.
“I’m still not really over it. I don’t like to be around when they talk about stuff like this,” Jessen said. “This was good for me today.”
A committee of Dickinson veterans will be tasked with finding a replacement for Benesh, and Obrigewitch said there are people interested in volunteering.
“There’s some interest in the community. Some veterans in the community and even some non-veterans who want to be active in it,” he said. “Eventually someone will take the lead and start organizing, putting calls together and we can shoot some ideas around.”
Benesh thanked the multiple area veterans he has worked with over the years who helped improve the city’s special programs, as well as the people who attend them.
“I hope in the last 16 years I have given you good programs and I hope you have taken something from these programs,” Benesh said during his speech. “I have urged and stressed to you that no veteran can ever be forgotten. Ever. And I’m going to ask that you always remember those who have given so much for all of us.”