Sunday at Boys Nation 2022: ‘This is our heritage’

A then 12-year-old Aiden Mikolajczyk didn’t completely grasp the significance of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on his first visit.

“I do remember seeing my family member’s name on that wall. So when I was there last night, I wanted to find his name again,” said Mikolajczyk, now about to begin his senior year of high school.

Mikolajczyk, one of New York’s two senators at American Legion Boys Nation, was looking for his great uncle, Dennis, during the program’s visit to the National Mall on Sunday night. Having worked at the World War II Museum in Eldred, Pa., Mikolajczyk’s understanding of the sacrifices veterans have made has grown in the years since that first visit to the memorial.

“I meet a lot of Vietnam veterans, and just seeing the names on the wall, now knowing what I know, it really put into perspective how much was given for our country. So I became very emotional seeing all that; it just meant a lot to me,” he said Monday morning during Boys Nation’s trip to Arlington National Cemetery and the Iwo Jima Memorial.

“Walking by (the Vietnam Veterans Memorial), it was unbelievably quiet, as it is in the Holocaust room of our museum; it reminded me of that, just the solemn, serious nature. We were all talking, having a good time before that, but everyone got the gist of it, understood how important it was. It was very, very emotional. It’s hard to put into words what I was feeling. Seeing our reflection in the stone, (thinking about) how we have to pick up the torch so to speak because this is our heritage,” he said.

The emotions continued with the visit to the Iwo Jima Memorial, as Mikolajczyk shared the story of a great-great-uncle who was killed on the first day of combat on the island.

“He was 16 years old when World War II started. Told his mother that if she didn’t sign his papers, he was going to lie about his age and join anyway,” he said.” And so she ended up signing his papers, he went off, and he was killed on Iwo Jima on the first day, as part of the first wave. He was a hero. …

“We have a letter from his mother, written in Polish, and she beat herself up every day because she signed those documents. She thought it was her fault even though it wasn’t.”

 ‘A surreal experience’

Once the Boys Nation senators arrive at Marymount University on Friday, it’s another 48 hours or so before they leave campus—two days filled with meeting each other and the program staff, and learning about and performing the senate process.

So it was understandable that, for Idaho’s Jayden LaVecchia, the experience of being in Washington, D.C., didn’t really kick in until Sunday night’s visit to Post 136 in Greenbelt, Md., and the National Mall.

“When we first came here, I hate to say it but it almost felt like we were still in Idaho, I didn’t get that whole surreal feeling of, ‘Oh, wow, I’m in Washington D.C.’,” LaVecchia said. “And then we went over to the Legion post, and I got to meet so many amazing people over there, including the national commander, got to hear some amazing stories, and that’s when it started to kick in, the surrealness of, ‘Whoa, there is something more than just me out there.’”

“Coming here, it’s all been super surreal,” said Bridger Benson, LaVecchia’s fellow Idaho senator. “Looking at all the monuments still feels like I’m just looking at a picture on my phone. Just grateful to be here. … I look forward to sharing my experiences with kids at my school to encourage them to come to Boys State and Boys Nation next year.”

Alaska’s McKinley Rhoades also wants to encourage the next class of Boys State and Boys Nation delegates. He credited Jonathan Ford, one of Alaska’s senators for the 2021 edition of Boys Nation, for recruiting him to Boys State.

Delaware’s Aaron Maniyatte was an alternate from his school, so he was especially grateful for the Boys Nation experience. “It’s been an amazing experience being able to meet everyone from different states,” he said.

Owen Bland of Connecticut noted that he and his fellow Boys Nation senators are in Washington not as tourists, but with a purpose.

“Knowing that we’re here to think about the future of the country, you can feel the legacy. … You can feel the history being made every day, it’s awesome,” Bland said.

 Memorial service

Sunday morning’s activities began with a memorial service which included a message from National Chaplain Rev. Stanley Hamamoto. Boys Nation senators also participated:

·       Welcome and opening prayer: Hudson Seago (Arkansas)

·       POW/MIA remembrance: Nicholas Rutkoski (Michigan) and Peter Van Overbeke (Maine)

·       Wreath dedication: Orion Van Buskirk (Oregon), Rylan Cruise (North Carolina), Luke Pullin (Georgia), Scott Bricker (Kentucky), Aiden Mikolajczyk (New York) and John Wiest (Rhode Island)

·       Closing prayer: Ford Daniels (South Carolina)

Social links

Check out Boys Nation’s singing skills and their visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. And don’t forget to follow all the happenings at, on YouTube at americanlegionHQ, and on social media on Twitter (@ALBoysNation) and Instagram (@theamericanlegion) with the hashtag #BoysNation2022.

Sunday’s number

6 — The number of bills voted on Sunday by the Boys Nation Senate in their first full day of action.

Boys Nation

Boys Nation

At Boys State / Nation, participants learn the rights, privileges and responsibilities of franchised citizens. The training is objective and centers on the structure of city, county and state governments.

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