Boys Nation senators walk along the Vietnam War Memorial. Photo by Charlie Tucker

Boys Nation senators venture off campus

Early Sunday morning, the Boys Nation senators participated in a memorial service with honorable guest, The American Legion National Chaplain Rev. Daniel J. Seehafer. All 98 young men rejoiced in patriotic songs while a select few placed military flags upon a wreath that will be presented at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery Monday morning.

Following the memorial service, senate sessions got under way where opinions were expressed and heated debates occurred. The senate session is a time when senators present legislation to the four committees who vote to pass or reject the bill. Click here to view the legislation brought forth by each senator.

"I come from a very one-sided area, so I just sat in the senate and listened to both sides of an argument when a bill was being presented," said Kyle Witzigman from Springdale, Ark. "It was nice hearing different views and points to help make a better decision on a bill."

"It was really interesting to see how everyone presented their opinions and to hear their political beliefs and what they have to say," said Josh Eggler from Scottsdale, Ariz. "Some of the boys have very strong opinions, especially on the immigration topic."

After the intense senate debates came one of many Boys Nation moments that the senators eagerly anticipate - nominations for president and vice president within the Federalist and Nationalist party. There were nearly 20 candidates for the president position in both parties and each senator gave a five-minute speech to campaign for votes. On Monday evening, elections for the two positions within the Federalist and Nationalist party will take place.

By late afternoon, three buses hauled the young men to Greenbelt Post 136 in Maryland for dinner with Legionnaires, Sons of The American Legion, American Legion Auxiliary and National Commander Jimmie L. Foster, who was the keynote speaker. The post has been serving Boys Nation senators dinner for 30 years, and former Post 136 Commander Kathleen Linkenhoker has been a part of 11 of them.

"This is the first time that many of the young men will have actually been in a Legion post, so we are very honored and proud to be able to host the dinner," Linkenhoker said. "Boys Nation senators are awesome young men, and I look forward to them serving and leading our country."

The young men conversed with many of the post members and even asked Commander Foster questions related to veterans, war and his time as the Legion's national commander. And before the senators said their goodbyes as the National Mall awaited them, they showed their patriotism by singing "America Chant."

The National Mall is a setting that leaves many speechless, from the nearly 60,000 soldiers' names engraved on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, to the 19 lifelike statues of soldiers traversing their way through rough terrain at the Korean War Veterans Memorial.

"My dad asked me to get a rub from The Wall of one of our family members, and I really didn't understand it before I came and saw for myself," said Russell "Charlie" Hannigan, III. "The immediate silence you got when you were within the memorial is absolutely amazing and something I didn't expect."

Both memorials display honor to prisoners of war and those missing in action (MIA), and one Boys Nation senator understands firsthand the heartache left on a family whose son or daughter never comes home from war.

Thomas Tolton from Fort Pierr, S.D., recently laid to rest his great uncle, Sgt. 1st Class Arthur F. "Bluie" Jewett, who had been declared MIA since 1950 while serving in the Korean War.

"For years my family never knew what happened to him so the family story was that uncle Bluie could have a family in Korea because no one knew what happened," Tolton said. "There was no closure and my great grandfather Louie said his mother would cry for days."

But closure finally came 59 years later in 2009 when a team of Americans searching for MIA remains in Korea found a mass grave at the bottom of a dried up lake. There, the long-lost soldier was found and taken home.

"After all these years closure finally came because Bluie was home," Tolton said. "And walking through the Korean (War Veterans) Memorial tonight I couldn't help but think about my uncle coming home after so many years."

To read Sgt. 1st Class Arthur F. "Bluie" Jewett's journey home, click here.

Today, the Federalist and Nationalist party will elect a president and vice president, tour Arlington National Cemetery and visit the Iwo Jima Memorial.