The archetypical American veteran may be a proud white man standing in front of an American flag, but this image doesn’t necessarily reflect the diversity of those who have served in the armed forces. This year’s Veteran’s Day Celebration will follow a different beat.
Ramiro Espinoza is taking an unorthodox approach to Veteran’s Day. As the coordinator of th Veteran’s Outreach Center, he is the organizer of this Thursday’s celebration.
“I want to make all veterans feel included,” said Espinoza, “that it’s okay whether they’re poor, rich, combat veterans, or whether they are gay or straight. Anyone should feel welcome to celebrate our shared history. We have a lot in common.”
The ceremony will honor all veterans from Veterans for Peace to those who support the Iraq War.
“We have thousands of troops in Iraq right now that I want to be recognized as well,” Espinoza said.
He served in the Marines from 1998 to 2003.
“It’s really important how veterans are seen,” said Espinoza. “I’d like to be seen accurately—it doesn’t matter whether it’s good or bad. I don’t want to push an agenda, I don’t want to push a facade. I just want it to be realistic.”
The Veteran’s Day Celebration is at 12 pm on Thursday, November 9 in the VU Multipurpose Room.
Western Brass will play at the celebration, and a Western vocal performance major will sing the national anthem. Speakers include retired Rear Admiral Dr. Alan Steinman, the US Coast Guard’s formal surgeon general, and Joe St. Hilaire, Western’s registrar and an army veteran.
The Lummi American Legion will perform the color guard.
“They’re part of our community,” Espinoza said, “and I’d like them to be seen and heard.”
Espinoza will give the opening speech.
“It’s always been traditionally done that the Veteran’s Outreach Coordinator speaks at the beginning,” he said. “I was totally reluctant because I feel my experience is so different than a lot of other people’s experiences, but that isn’t a reason I should be afraid. It was very much a process of thought that I came to. This should be celebrated. It was very much a part of the conclusion that I came to.”
Veteran’s Day hasn’t always been an American tradition. It began as Armistice Day of World War I, according to Espinoza. Since then, the popularity of Veteran’s Day has waxed and waned.
Joe St. Hilaire, Western’s registrar, recalls how the public opinion of veterans has changed in his lifetime. He was drafted into the army in 1966 and served in the army for two years during the Vietnam War.
“When I first came out of the army, there was indifference at best,” he said “and sometimes an animosity towards veterans, so for example some schools discontinued their observance of Veteran’s Day.”
Western was one of those universities that for many years did not celebrate Veteran’s Day. Observance of the federal holiday was taken on Christmas Eve, when only staff and administrators were working. In 2000, the university resumed November observance and celebration of Veteran’s Day.
St. Hilaire hopes that the hard work people in the armed forces do will be recognized.
“The men and women that volunteered to go over there, as wrong as it may be, certainly are doing the dirty work for us,” he said. That’s kind of the way I feel about it. It’s a nasty job, and I hope that whether it is the right thing or not, they are doing it in the best interests of all of us.”
Services for veterans are available beyond November. The Veteran’s Outreach office, located in Viking Union 530, serves students throughout the school year.
“The primary objective is educating veterans on their resources that they have on campus,” said Espinoza, “whether it is the Veteran’s Service Office and understanding how they get their education benefits, to explaining their medical benefits. Also how they receive those benefits, what they are owed and what they are eligible for.”
Veteran’s Outreach also educates students on how the military works.
“It does benefit veterans for people to understand how the military works,” Espinoza said. “Whether it’s good or bad, as long as it’s accurate. I’d rather have a poor accurate impression than a false positive one. I don’t want people to be exalted for the wrong reasons, I don’t want people to be degraded for the wrong reasons. There are good and bad things about it, just like anything else.”