STORRS – Red, white and blue pride filled an entire room Friday morning as more than 100 people of all ages paid tribute to the United States’ military during the annual Veterans Day ceremony at the University of Connecticut.
The event, which took place in the Wilbur Cross South Reading Room, included speeches from notable guest speakers such as Sen. Chris Murphy (D), Brig. Gen. Ralph Hedenberg and UConn President Susan Herbst.
Murphy expresses his gratitude to the armed forces and highlights American patriotism by sharing an anecdote about his encounter with a soldier who, despite being seriously wounded and in the hospital, still wanted to re-join his unit.
“He looked at me again and he said, ‘I need to get back to my unit. We have work to do.’ That doesn’t happen in any other military in this world…” Murphy says. “That kind of dedication to the men and women that you are standing next to is uniquely American.”
Just as Murphy speaks proudly about his country’s military tradition, Herbst also speaks proudly about her university’s tradition — one which spans back to the Civil War era, when the Whitney House hosted orphans of Connecticut Union soldiers who died in battle.
Herbst says she thinks about veterans’ sacrifices on a regular basis.
“I pass by the veterans’ memorial nearly everyday and many, many times on weekends and, every time I do, I think of the values and the conviction that motivated so many great family members of the UConn community to serve their country,” Herbst says.
Hedenberg discusses how the culture of Veterans Day has constantly evolved over generations and says the American public has treated veterans better or worse over the years depending on the politics of their wars.
The senior Army officer says that those who fought in any of the U.S.’s wars should be remembered and honored equally. He says he’s thankful that today’s citizens separate individual soldiers on the ground from broader political issues.
“As a nation, we now recognize that the circumstances in which [veterans] fought are not nearly as important as their selfless service to our nation,” Hedenberg says.
The ceremony was hosted by UConn Veterans Affairs and Military Programs (VA&MP), but Veterans Benefits Coordinator Robert Passmore took the lead in organizing.
Passmore is a UConn graduate (’88), 11-year Air Force veteran and a longtime Mansfield native. He says his family has strong historical ties to the university and its military community, as both his father and grandfather taught ROTC classes there.
The former officer says he’s proud to continue his family’s legacy and is very glad to see more people come every year to the Veterans Day ceremony.
“I’ve been with the office for several years and it always amazes me,” Passmore says. “The turnout that we get every year seems to increase, and I really look forward to seeing the turnout and the diversity of the crowd that’s out here to pay tribute to our veterans.”
Aside from public figures, the event’s crowd included a wide range of attendees: UConn students and faculty, Mansfield locals, a Tolland middle school class and about a dozen ROTC students, among others.
Like her colleague Passmore, VA&MP Director Alyssa Kelleher also says she’s impressed by the variety of people at the event.
“It’s really a great cross-section. You see the whole back filled with police [officers], ROTC, fire [fighters], and then you have people from the community come out,” Kelleher says. “We have the police color guard. We had the whole class of Tolland Middle School kids. It’s not just UConn students or UConn faculty and staff. It’s so much more than that.”
Veterans Day coincides with Armistice Day and Remembrance Day, which are similar holidays celebrated worldwide.
They all mark the anniversary of the end of World War I, which officially ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, when the truce with Germany took effect.
The U.S. previously recognized Armistice Day, but later renamed the holiday to Veterans Day in 1954.
Murphy says he is proud of UConn and the state of Connecticut for their dedication to honoring the military both during Veterans Day and beyond.
“I’m just so thankful that I get a chance to represent this campus that has made a commitment to honoring our veterans,” he says. “I’m grateful that I get a chance to represent all of those who have served or who are serving in this great state.”