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Annual Devils Lake veterans gathering on hold

DEVILS LAKE -- The Dakota Bull Session, an annual gathering of veterans to share stories of World War II, the Korean War and other military experiences for the past 23 years in Devils Lake, will not reconvene this spring.

And unless they get some help, longtime organizers say the event, which has attracted crowds of 300 or more in the past, will not return.

"The World War II guys are moving on," said Duane Carter, 87, of Devils Lake, and a veteran of that war. "It's become too much for those of us still here."

The annual Bull Session is a reunion of U.S. Navy veterans that began in Devils Lake in 1990. It has evolved over the years, attracting veterans from all service branches who have served in Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Keynote speakers have included former North Dakota Gov. William Guy, who survived the Japanese kamikaze sinking of his destroyer off Okinawa in 1945, as well as other notable North Dakotans who have reached the naval rank of rear admiral and generals in the Army and Marine Corps.

But as the years have passed, the number of younger participants has not kept pace with the loss of the older veterans.

"We're having some trouble getting some young blood," Carter said.

Last year's session, held in April, drew more than 130 veterans from all over the nation, including members of a Navy unit that fought in the Aleutian Islands in Alaska during World War II.

"They wanted to come back," Carter said. "I just enjoy visiting with the guys, and the stories. I'm going to miss that."

Hope for revival

Still, Carter and event founder Carl Bloom-quist hold out hope that the Bull Session will be revived, perhaps as early as next year.

Bloomquist is a Navy veteran from Webster, near Devils Lake, who served during the Korean conflict.

At its last meeting recently, members discussed several options, including:

- Rotating the event to other cities.

- Incorporating the event with one of the state's military bases or the North Dakota National Guard, which operates Camp Grafton, a national soldier training institute just south of Devils Lake.

- Finding a veterans group or other organization to sponsor or assist with the event management.

"We've had good cooperation and support here in Devils Lake over the years," Carter said.

The group continues to maintain the North Dakota Maritime Museum, located in the World War II Memorial Building in Devils Lake.