Keuka College honored current military servicemen and women and those who served in past wars and foreign conflicts Friday in a ceremony marking Veterans Day.
“Today, we pay tribute to the veterans of World War II, Korea and Vietnam, including those nurses who were trained at Keuka College. The College’s nursing program was created in response to the need for nurses in World War II,” said President Jorge L. Díaz-Herrera in a welcome at Norton Chapel.
First known as Armistice Day, the nation marked the laying down of arms that took place on the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, following the signing of the armistice that ended World War I. President Woodrow Wilson, feeling the weight of his decision to send American “doughboys” into battle in Europe, asked citizens a year later to honor the sacrifice of their fellow countrymen with solemn pride, said Chris Leahy, associate professor of history.
“Wilson envisioned that every Nov. 11 from that point forward would see parades throughout the small towns and big cities of the United States, and a brief suspension of business at 11 a.m.,” Leahy said.
In 1938, it became a federal holiday, but not until 1953 was a name change proposed, Leahy said. After Kansas shoe store owner Al King began a campaign to recognize all veterans, not just those from World War I, a Kansas Congressman introduced a federal bill, which was signed into law in 1954 by President Dwight Eisenhower. Thus, it officially became known as Veterans Day.
Professor of History Sander Diamond described the stately precision with which the 22 domestic and 24 overseas cemetery battlefields or memorials are kept in tribute of those who gave their lives. In 1921, one more tradition, that of placing a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, was begun when Sgt. Edward Younger first placed a spray of white roses on the third of four caskets of unidentified American soldiers placed in a row at a city hall not far from the Meuse-Argonne cemetery in France. The casket Younger chose was taken by ship for burial at Washington’s Arlington National Cemetery, where other unknown soldiers have been buried alongside it, he said.
Diamond noted that the last two World War I veterans, American Frank Buckles and England’s Harry Patch, both died at age 110 this year. Since America’s first war, the War for Independence, some 2,489,335 men and women have given their lives for their country, including 3,542 in Iraq and 1,425 in Afghanistan, where military conflicts are not yet resolved. And many who serve come back home with horrific wounds, both physical and psychological, from disfigurement to mental problems once called “shell-shock” but known today as PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), he added.
“It is now up to us and our government to see to it that our most recent veterans have their needs met, no matter what the cost, even in this era of cost-cutting,” Diamond said, drawing parallels between the Keuka mission, which stresses “service above self,” and the mindset of many veterans and family members who wait for their return home.
“We are mindful that American service men and women are still fighting and dying in Afghanistan. This gives Veterans Day more immediacy, more poignancy,” said Leahy, adding that it was important to honor and remember the brave women, as well as men, who have served.
The event closed with a prayer of remembrance, led by College Chaplain Rev. Eric Detar and a Presentation of Arms by an honor guard from the Yates County VFW, Post 745, at Keuka’s World War II monument, which stands near Lightner Library.
“We cannot fully repay those who gave up two lives, the life they were living and the life they would have lived,” said Detar.