Students, families and servicemen alike gathered in front of the Ultimate Sacrifice Memorial on the University of Connecticut campus on Monday for the 10th annual Veterans Day ceremony to honor all those who have served in the United States Armed Forces.
Brig. Gen. Gerald E. McDonald Jr., the Assistant Adjutant General-Air to the Connecticut National Guard, served as the keynote speaker for the event. McDonald is the military advisor for Air Force-related matters to the Adjutant General.
McDonald began his speech by talking about the Battles of Lexington and Concord in 1775 and how the “shot heard around the world” inspired the following generations of American militia.
“Since that day, brave men and women around the United States have answered the call to defend our nation, protect our allies and preserve freedom,” McDonald said.
McDonald spoke about a UConn freshman, Steven Coon, who recently enlisted in the military and chose to defer his fall semester next year to attend technical school and basic training.
“Some people might ask why Steven would put his education on hold,” McDonald said. “I believe the answer lies in the oath that he took. They [those in the military] swear oath to an idea in the Constitution, an idea that is bigger than themselves, bigger than their education and bigger than an institution.”
McDonald said the agreement that every American soldier makes unites them regardless of their differences.
“It is an idea that binds us together as Americans regardless of the color of our skin, our gender or our religious beliefs,” McDonald said. “This idea of freedom drives other nations to try to emulate us, and it strikes fear in the heart of our enemies.”
All veterans, active duty soldiers and their families deserve the utmost respect and support throughout difficult times, McDonald said.
“Today we salute the service of all veterans, and we keep in our thoughts and prayers the fallen, the missing and those who are serving in harm’s way,” McDonald said. “Though our debt to these heroes can never be repaid, our gratitude and respect must last forever.”
Alyssa Kelleher, UConn’s Director of Veterans Affairs and Military Programs (VAMP) and Nicholas Martin, a UConn Veteran student, made opening remarks at the event.
Kelleher, who was part of UConn’s Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) and deployed twice to Afghanistan, told the crowd the event is far greater than just honoring the military.
“Traditionally, Veterans Day is thought of as a day to pay tribute to those who have served the United States,” Kelleher said. “For me, and I’d imagine many veterans, it’s a day on which I reflect on the amazing people who were to my left and my right on some of my best days and on some of my worst.”
Kelleher said, despite the hardships that came with being in the military, she does not regret the experience.
“I know that the many men and women I served with, along with the veterans here today, would do it all again without hesitation,” Kelleher said. “For me, this is the power behind the bond that unites veterans and what makes this holiday so special.”
Four ROTC cadets from the university handled the presentation of the colors. UConn student Rebekah Mirener sang the national anthem for the audience.
The event concluded with taps performed by UConn student Micah Donley. Those in attendance were invited to the North Reading Room of the Wilbur Cross Building for refreshments immediately after.
Robert Passmore, UConn’s Veterans Benefits Coordinator and a United States Air Force veteran, said the annual ceremony is very important in its value for all citizens.
“We can’t ever forget those who have served, those who continue serving and those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice,” Passmore said. “That’s why I pulled my son out of school today to come and see the ceremony so he can understand the importance of it – it’s something that you can never lose sight of.”
Passmore said his favorite aspect of the ceremony is the keynote speakers, as they provide different views of the military and their experiences each year.
“[For keynote speakers] we’ve had congressmen and two generals from the National Guard who bring what the definition of Veterans Day is for them,” Passmore said. “So listening to their speeches and how they see it is always enjoyable for me.”
(photos taken by Judah Shingleton)
Taylor Harton is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. They can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.