Campus, Community Honor Sacrifices of Military Veterans in Holiday Ceremony

photo of name reader

Lt. Gen. Robert Yerks received more than two dozen awards for valor during his long and distinguished military career.

But it was an injured soldier in a hospital who paid the ultimate tribute to Yerks when he struggled “violently” just to raise his arm enough to salute the retired lieutenant general.

“That,” Yerks said, “was the greatest honor I’ve ever received.”

And just as Yerks’ greatest honor came in an unexpected fashion, he asked the hundreds assembled outside Eastern Kentucky University’s Powell Building for a special Veterans Day ceremony on Friday, Nov. 11 to carry the spirit of the event with them and always look for opportunities to honor veterans and their sacrifices.

“We should reflect personally on what we should do, not just today, but what about tomorrow? What are we going to do tomorrow” to honor the sacrifices made by veterans and their families?

Yerks, who received an honorary degree from EKU in 2007, was the keynote speaker for a ceremony that capped day-long events on the Richmond campus, which also included volunteers reading the names of each of the 6,313 casualties of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom (now Operation New Dawn). The reading was part of Remembrance Day National Roll Call, a nationwide grass roots effort initiated at EKU to honor American service men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq and Afghanistan. Campus and community volunteers read names at 183 colleges and universities in all 50 states.

EKU also joined the other participating campuses at 2 p.m. EST in a nationwide moment of silence, punctuated by a 21-gun salute by the VFW Rifle Squad, the playing of “Taps” and a bagpipe rendition of “Amazing Grace.”

Sixth District Congressman Ben Chandler saluted EKU for its initiative in organizing the nationwide observance.

“We have come to the point we can just expect Eastern Kentucky University to lead the way,” Chandler said. “Thank you for the leadership you continue to show.”

Chandler urged his listeners to continue their support of the veterans as they begin to return in large numbers from the war-torn Middle East.

“Supporting our troops is critical when they’re abroad, but when they come home, our responsibility to them does not end,” Chandler said. “In fact, it’s just beginning. As a nation let it be our pledge that when the veterans return home we leave no veteran behind.”

EKU President Doug Whitlock expressed his thanks to Lt. Col. Brett Morris, Ret., associate director of veterans affairs at the university, and the student veterans who organized the day’s events, especially the Remembrance Day National Roll Call.

“The idea (for the national roll call) was born on this campus,” Whitlock reiterated, “and if that doesn’t give you pride in this campus, I don’t know what would.”

Other speakers at the ceremony included Morris, Student Regent Rachel Mollozzi and EKU VETS President Ryan Donahue. EKU student Randy Toler performed an a cappella version of “America the Beautiful,” Bret McIntosh and Evan Cummins played “Taps, and EKU graduate Colin Keefe performed on bagpipe..

The Remembrance Day National Roll Call was sponsored nationally by the Veterans Knowledge Community of NASPA Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education. NASPA is a 12,000-member association for the advancement, health, and sustainability of the student affairs profession. The mission of the Veterans Knowledge Community is to advocate for best practices to help student veterans transition to college and succeed.

Recently, EKU earned from Military Times EDGE magazine a No. 2 ranking among the nation’s four-year colleges and universities for its commitment to helping military veterans further their education. In addition, Eastern was recognized by G.I. Jobs magazine as a Military Friendly School in 2009, 2010 and again this year.

In 2010, EKU unveiled Operation Veteran Success, a series of initiatives designed to make Eastern an even more veteran-helpful campus and help veterans in their pursuit of a college education.

Published on November 11, 2011