SIUE hosts first annual Veteran’s Tribute

From Monday, Oct. 29 to Thursday, Nov. 1, 2012, SIUE hosted its first Veteran’s Tribute in the Art Gallery at the Morris University Center. The tribute featured various events to pay homage to those who have served and fought for the United States including speeches, discussions, displays of artifacts, and writing notes of appreciation to veterans.

Lawrence Meinzen's Helmet from World War II

Lawrence Meinzen's Helmet from World War II

Sponsored by the SIUE ROTC, Peace and International Studies Department, Department of Political Science, Office of Educational Outreach and SIUE Office of Veterans Coordination, the Tribute featured veteran and local speakers as well as a display of the Illinois Patriot Guard Traveling Memorial Wall on Monday, Oct. 29.

The Memorial Wall honors the 260 fallen Illinois soldiers who served in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom with photographs and individual background information, including their rank, branch of service, date of death and hometown.

Speakers at the Tribute included Paul Pitts, who served in the Air Force during Vietnam and Desert Storm; Dennis Post, who served on the Coast Guard during Vietnam; Russ Nicholson, who served in the Air Force during the Korean Conflict; and Cheryl Mafla, who served in the Army during the Iraq War.

The Tribute even featured a veteran from World War II: Lawrence Meinzen. Meinzen was drafted in 1944 at the age of 17. During the last year of the war, he served in eastern Europe under the famous General George Patton and also in Japan.

Illinois Patriot Guard Traveling Memorial Wall

Illinois Patriot Guard Traveling Memorial Wall

Like the other veterans who participated in the Tribute, Meinzen spoke to students, SIUE faculty and staff, other veterans and members of the wider Metro East and St. Louis communities. Those who attended the Tribute were able to not just hear about the experiences of the veterans but also view medals, helmets, jackets, photographs and many other historic items owned by the veterans.

Other speakers at the event included Historian Bill Nunes, who spoke about the World War II effort and recent SIUE Distinguished Service Award recipient and local retired businesswoman Dolores Rohrkaste, who spoke about women and the World War II effort.

Political Science department chair Dr. Denise DeGarmo, who played a large part in organizing the event, estimated that around 300 people from the SIUE campus and outer communities had attended the Tribute.

DeGarmo believes that the large turnout attests that remembering and honoring veterans “is an important issue” and that it’s also important to take the time to remember how much veterans have sacrificed.

Lawrence Meinzen speaking to ROTC students

Lawrence Meinzen speaking to ROTC students

“I think we’re in a society that’s so fast-paced and sometimes self-reflective rather than outwardly reflective. We forget that a lot of what we get to do is based on what veterans have done for us,” says DeGarmo.

Overall, she feels that the Tribute was a success and that it stirred a lot students and veterans.

“I believe students learned what the important contributions of our veterans were and are, and they hadn’t previously thought about that,” says DeGarmo. “I also think our vets who participated were ready to talk to students, embraced students and were very honest in their presentations.”

DeGarmo also believes that the Veteran’s Tribute served as a way for students and community members to find links with veterans, especially those on campus, and to see “the human side of war.”

“I think those networks and connections are really strong,” DeGarmo says. “I am glad we were able to facilitate that.”

DeGarmo as well as the other sponsoring departments are planning to host the event again next November with the same and possibly more veterans and with the return of the Illinois Patriot Guard Traveling Memorial Wall.

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