Keuka College will commemorate the 70th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day (V-E Day) Friday, May 8.
The ceremony, free and open to the public, begins at 4 p.m. at the College’s World War II Monument, located near Lightner Library.
College President Jorge L. Díaz-Herrera will deliver remarks along with New York State Assemblyman Phil Palmesano, and Dr. Mike McKenzie, associate professor of philosophy and religion. Rev. Eric Detar, College chaplain, will offer a prayer of remembrance, and Rabbi Ann Landown of Temple Beth-El will recite the Jewish Prayer for the Dead, the Kaddish. Members of the Penn Yan VFW Honor Guard will also take part.
After the ceremony, refreshments will be served in Lightner Library.
V-E Day is celebrated each May 9. It was on this day when the Allies accepted Germany’s Unconditional Surrender in a destroyed Berlin, the German capital. It had been decided at the Casablanca Conference in 1943 that nothing less than the Unconditional Surrender of our foes would be accepted. On May 7, 1945, the Germans surrendered unconditionally at Rheims at the headquarters of the Supreme Allied High Commander, General Dwight Eisenhower.
And Keuka College has a strong connection to the events in Europe nearly 4,000 miles from its idyllic lakeside campus.
When the United States entered the First World War in 1917 two years after the sinking of the Lusitania, some of the young men at Keuka College left school and signed up. Some served stateside while others served on the Western Front or in the Navy. Germany was defeated and signed the Armistice on November 11, 1918. In the 1950s, Armistice Day was renamed Veterans Day and every year since the erection of the College’s World War II Monument in May 2005, the College has gathered around our monument to salute all who served in past and current wars.
“On the 50th anniversary of V-E Day in 1995, the students of the Political Science and History Club decided to commemorate this day,” said Dr. Sander A. Diamond, professor of history. “A brass plaque and an oak tree recall that stellar day which included a fly-over by the U.S. Air Force out of Syracuse.”
“Ten years later, the Club erected the World War II Monument on the 60th anniversary of V-E Day,” Dr. Diamond added. “It is well used each Veterans Day, Holocaust Remembrance Day, and Memorial Day. On one side of the Monument, the names of all of the theaters of war are listed; on the other, a salute to our Nursing Cadet Program, setting in stone the connective link between the war and our institutional history. As we did in 1995 and 2005, we honor ‘The Greatest Generation.’”
Twenty-four years after the First World War ended, America was again at war. While Keuka College began its 125-year-old journey as a coeducational institution, it emerged from the First World War as a women’s college. Early in the war, Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of the President, visited our campus and suggested to our president ways the College could contribute to the massive war effort. With so many of the young men from this rural area in uniform, it was suggested that the students could help with the harvests.
It was also suggested that the College start a Nursing Cadet Corps Program. Within two years, many of our nursing graduates found themselves in the various theaters of war and some served in the Occupations of Germany and Japan after the war.
“Both the Field Period™ and the nursing program are rooted in the war years, and today are among the central constellations of this fine institution,” said Dr. Diamond.
And according to Dr. Diamond, Keuka College will not be alone in our commemoration.
“World leaders have gathered to commemorate V-E Day and there will be celebrations in Washington, Paris, Brussels, Ottawa, Amsterdam, and Copenhagen,” he said, “We can pride ourselves as an institution that we too have taken time to remember, making another intergenerational transfer of values, which cement the connective links between nations.”
Keuka College marked Veterans Day with a presentation by Chris Leahy, associate professor of history and a prayer of remembrance by Rev. Eric Detar, College chaplain.
Members of the Penn Yan VFW sounded a 21-gun salute and played Taps at the end of the service held Nov. 9 at the World War II memorial.
Leahy’s remarks follow:
“Sixteen million men and women served for the United States in some military capacity in World War II; 10 million men served in combat. These men are dying at a rate of nearly 1,000 per day.
“1, 789,000 served in combat during the Korean War; these men are also dying at a rapid rate.
“8,744,000 served in combat in Vietnam; 698,000 men and women served during the first Persian Gulf War.
“1,048,844 troops have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001. One-third of them served more than one tour. Of course, men and women are combat veterans now.
“Our veterans hold a special place in the hearts of many Americans—indeed, should hold a special place in the hearts of all Americans.
“When Dwight Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander in World War II, addressed the troops on June 6, 1944, as he launched Operation Overload, the Normandy invasion of D-Day, he spoke simply.
“’Full victory—nothing else,’ he said.
“The brave men who stormed the beaches that day and made their way to the cliffs overlooking those beaches, took those words to heart. Forty years later, on the anniversary of that day, President Ronald Reagan was in Normandy. He honored these men with an eloquent and moving speech.
“’These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc,’” he said. ‘These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent. These are the heroes who helped end a war.’”
“He told them: ‘Forty summers have passed since the battle that you fought here. You were young the day you took these cliffs; some of you were hardly more than boys, with the deepest joys of life before you. Yet, you risked everything here. Why? Why did you do it? What impelled you to put aside the instinct for self-preservation and risk your lives to take these cliffs? What inspired all the men of the armies that met here? We look at you, and somehow we know the answer. It was faith and belief; it was loyalty and love.
“’The men of Normandy had faith that what they were doing was right, faith that they fought for all humanity, faith that a just God would grant them mercy on this beachhead or on the next. It was the deep knowledge—and pray God we have not lost it—that there is a profound, moral difference between the use of force for liberation and the use of force for conquest. You were here to liberate, not to conquer, and so you and those others did not doubt your cause. And you were right not to doubt.’
“President Reagan spoke these words to the World War II veterans who fought so valiantly on D-Day. But he could well have spoken them to veterans of the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Persian Gulf War, or the veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“As could these words, again, forcefully spoken by President Reagan:
“’You all knew that some things are worth dying for. One’s country is worth dying for, and democracy is worth dying for, because it’s the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man. All of you loved liberty. All of you were willing to fight tyranny, and you knew the people of your countries were behind you.’
“Reagan concluded his speech with words that could and should inspire us, as Americans, as we honor our veterans:
“’Strengthened by their courage, heartened by their value [valor], and borne by their memory, let us continue to stand for the ideals for which they lived and died.’
“Veterans of foreign wars, thank you for your service to our country.”