-- Jason D. Grose
Chances are that if you look around in one of your classes, you will find at least one veteran. Which classmate it might be may surprise you. No longer is the title of veteran reserved for the distinguished older gentleman sitting in the front row. This “grandfather” stereotype has now been outdated. Veterans now include men and women of all ages who served in a time of war dating from the 1940s up until the 1990s. Consequently, the 25-year-old person next to you in class just might be one of our national heroes who fought bravely in a hostile foreign land.
The connection between veterans and higher learning dates back as long as universities existed. At the University of Washington, ROTC participation was a requirement of every student’s first year. Both in World War I and World War II, students answered the call for service by voluntarily disenrolling from school and enlisting in the service. Despite the stereotype of colleges as havens from military service during the Vietnam War, thousands of patriotic Americans once again put aside their educational pursuits in order to fulfill their duty to their country. The pattern continued in the 1990s when the call came once again. Students flocked to the services when they realized that they, too, had an obligation to serve our nation. Thank God some things never change.
During the Gulf War, I served in the Marine Corps. Afterwards, I was selected for a commissioning program where I am currently attached to the Navy ROTC unit. While studying at the University of Washington, I have come across both fellow veterans and future military officers. The veterans inevitably strike me as worthy of great respect and appreciation. No matter how their military service ended or what they encountered while serving, every last one of them has been fiercely patriotic and willing to return to service if America ever asked them to. The future officers, ROTC midshipmen and cadets, are also worthy of a great deal of respect. While inexperienced and idealistic, these young men and women constantly amaze me at the willing sacrifice they so readily display for the good of our country. These are going to be our future veterans and; therefore, deserve our unrestricted respect.
During one special day, the Navy ROTC unit had an alumni reunion where former NROTC members were invited to come back to visit the campus. As I looked around the room I realized that veterans from every recent war were represented. In one corner, there was the older gentleman talking to an 18-year-old freshman about hand-to-hand combat in German trenches. In another part of the wardroom was a middle-aged Vietnam veteran listening to a young midshipman tell about the current NROTC policies. And alone by the pool table was a elderly woman silently staring at one of the old photographs. I went over to her to introduce myself and asked her if I could be of any assistance. She looked at me, smiled, and pointed a shaking finger at the photograph and simply said, “My husband loved this place. He died in WWII.” Stunned, I then realized that not only had the veterans who survived had returned, the ghosts of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice were also in attendance.
Every veteran, past, present, and future, realizes the fact that they, too, might not make it back to such reunions some day. Regardless, they still serve with pride and without hesitation. On this day, their day, we all must recognize their sacrifices and thank them for providing us all with the best standard of living of any country in history. A simple expression of appreciation from you, whom we serve for, goes a long way because your support is our highest motivation.
Jason D. Grose