November 11 marks the 90th anniversary of the end of World War I when, on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, an armistice was signed, putting an end to the war in Europe. The day became known as Armistice Day, but it didn't become a national holiday until 1938. Then, in 1954 Armistice Day was expanded to celebrate all military veterans, officially becoming the holiday we know today as Veterans Day.
Every November, many people forget the significance of Veterans Day, instead opting to sleep in and forget about their responsibilities for a day. Schools and banks are closed.
Government offices shut their doors. Much of the country slows down for a change. Yet Erik Hardwick, Western sophomore and AS ROP Veterans Outreach Center Coordinator, hopes students will set some time aside to celebrate the holiday as it was intended.
“[Veterans Day] is an opportunity to honor soldiers and listen to their stories…which you don't always get to do on a daily basis,” Hardwick said. “It gives soldiers an opportunity to have a voice, to be able to talk about their experiences and their lives. It's a day of remembrance, but it's not just focused on the fallen. It's for all soldiers.”
Western students will have the opportunity to honor those who have served in the U.S. military on Nov. 12 at the annual Veterans Day Ceremony in the Performing Arts Center Concert Hall. Two soldiers, Michael Pereira of the U.S. Army and Chris Rowell of the U.S. Navy, are scheduled to speak about their experiences abroad and the challenges of returning home.
President Bruce Shepard will also give a speech at the ceremony.
“Celebrating any holiday is a personal matter,” President Shepard said. “For me, a college student of the 60's, I think we made mistakes when we let passionate opposition to the Vietnam War lead to bad treatment of those who were, through choice or compulsion, fulfilling a necessary role in a democratic society. Where that democratic society chose to send them was not their doing. We should not repeat those mistakes. So, I began to think: how can we proactively make sure those mistakes are not repeated? At any given time, we have a significant number of our students and some staff serving in harm's way. It's very important to make sure they feel welcome…back to their Western Washington University.”
The ceremony is scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m. and is free and open to the public. After the ceremony and reception, the three flags at the corner of Bill McDonald Parkway and South College Drive will be moved to the new flag annex in front of the Academic Instructional Center. The flag raising will be performed by members of the American Legion Color Guard.
“It's a day of remembrance,” Hardwick said. “And it's a reminder day to spread the word that there are still soldiers [abroad] in harm's way.”
Hardwick knows personally what it's like to be in a combat zone. He served in Iraq for a year between April 2006 and April 2007 as a Humvee mechanic before returning home to continue service in the Army Reserves.
“I got lucky. I didn't really have to worry about going out on missions and that kind of stress, unlike the soldiers who are doing that every day, which I have the utmost respect for,” Hardwick said. “[Iraq] can be a very stressful place. You can get mortared at any moment. You can get shot at. But at the same time, you're over there, you're doing what you were trained to do, you're serving your country—there is great pride in that.”
Along with its large veteran population, Western has a substantial number of military reservists—men and women, like Hardwick, who are pursuing a higher education while continuing to serve their country. On Nov. 13, many of these men and women will get the opportunity to talk about their experiences in the military when ASP Civil Controversy hosts “Soldiers After War” in Communications Facility 115. The event begins at 7 p.m. and will emphasize issues such as returning home to family and friends after combat, and to a country that is largely against the Iraq War.
“Although the Iraq War is a very real experience for veterans and is often cited in political debates, it is an issue that everyday Americans largely do not identify with,” said Charles Walker, ASP Civil Controversy Coordinator. “This panel and discussion will allow audience members a deeper look into the effects of the Iraq War on veterans and family members of veterans.”