Polo celebrates Veterans Day together for first time since 2019

More than 100 people gathered in Centennial Elementary School for ceremony

U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Rick Knutson, left, of Polo, speaks to retired Navy Seaman 1st Class Tom Nelson, of Polo, at the end of a Nov. 11 Veterans Day ceremony at Centennial Elementary School. More than 100 people attended the event, in addition to students and staff. Knutson has served in active and reserve duty since 1998; Nelson served from 1965-69.

POLO — More than 100 people gathered in the Polo Centennial Elementary School gymnasium on Nov. 11 to celebrate Veterans Day.

“We’re excited to have the opportunity to celebrate Veterans Day on this day, Nov. 11, for the first time since 2019,” said Melydi Huyett, Centennial Elementary School principal. The tradition was suspended by COVID-19 mitigations.

Polo’s Honor Guard presented the flags at the start the ceremony. The Honor Guard’s members are from Patrick Fegan American Legion Post No. 83 and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8455.

Students led attendees in the Pledge of Allegiance, “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and other musical selections.

U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Rick Knutson, of Polo, served as the keynote speaker during the event.

He joined the Navy in July 1998, right after graduating from Polo Community High School. Knutson has served active duty and reserve duty since that time.

“I went to boot camp in Great Lakes in Chicago,” he said. “They taught me how to shine my boots and fold my underwear. It’s a great time.”

Knutson was stationed on the nuclear submarine USS Los Angeles, and made three wester Pacific deployments. He served as a diver with the Deep Submergence Unit and Undersea Rescue Command.

“You have to live underwater for the majority of it,” Knutson said. “So I spent almost four years on a submarine. … After completing my four years there, I decided I didn’t want to live on submarines anymore. I kind of liked breathing air.”

He was promoted to Chief Petty Officer in 2007, and became a commissioned officer with the Civil Engineer Corps in March 2012.

“Two years after my commissioning, I got a piece of paper in the mail that said, ‘You have been recalled by the president to active duty. Please report on Jan. 6, 2014,’” Knutson said. “Excellent. Another opportunity presents itself.”

U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Rick Knutson, of Polo, speaks at Polo Centennial Elementary School on Nov. 11, during a Veterans Day program. More than 100 people attended the ceremony, which was open to the public.

Knutson was assigned as the Weapons Officer and later Charlie Company Commander with Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 25. During that assignment, he was deployed to Afghanistan for one year in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

In May 2014, he got a Red Cross message, which usually contains bad news, Knutson said. Instead, he was told, “Congratulations! You’re a dad!”

“I’m like, ‘Sweet! Can I go home?’ ‘No,’” Knutson recalled. “So my daughter, Annalise, she was born when I was in Afghanistan. So I didn’t get to meet her until she was 6 months old. I met her for the first time at O’Hare airport.”

Knutson also served with Amphibious Construction Battalion 2 as a Detachment Officer in Charge. Currently, Knutson is the Operations Officer for the 22nd Naval Construction Regiment augment unit.

He has a bachelor of science in mechanical engineering and is employed by the state of Illinois as a nuclear safety engineer. Knutson also farms with his father on the family grain operation in Polo.

The Veterans Day ceremony concluded with a medley of the armed forces songs, the taps bugle call by Polo Community High School student Caleb Sutton, followed by the retiring of the flags by an honor guard.

Polo's Honor Guard present the flags at the start of a Nov. 11 Veterans Day ceremony at Centennial Elementary School, which was attended by more than 100 people in addition to students and staff. The Honor Guard's members are from Patrick Fegan American Legion Post No. 83 and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8455.
U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Rick Knutson, of Polo, speaks to Centennial Elementary School students on Nov. 11, during a Veterans Day ceremony. In addition to students, more than 100 people from the public attended the event.
Alexa Zoellner

Alexa Zoellner

Alexa Zoellner covers Ogle County for the Oregon Republican Reporter, Forreston Journal, Mt. Morris Times and Polo Tri-County Press. She has six-plus years of experience in journalism and has won numerous awards.