By Bill Robinson
In the 1960s and ‘70s, when many campuses around the country were the scene of anti-war riots and demonstrations, Eastern Kentucky University was naming buildings and streets for its alumni who had died fighting for their country.
That contrast made observing Armed Forces Day at the EKU Veterans Memorial on Saturday especially gratifying to members of the local Vietnam Veterans of American, said Emerson McAfee, its leader.
A building was named for William Jackson Brewer Jr. of Independence who was killed in Cambodia in 1970. Campus streets were named for Paul Van Hoose, killed in Vietnam in 1967, and John Hanlon, who was disabled during the war.
With EKU’s history of training students for military service and then honoring alumni for their sacrifices, the university’s recognition for its commitment to educating and employing veterans comes as no surprise, McAfee said.
Although the ceremony was conducted by Vietnam veterans and took place at EKU, the intent was to honor any veterans of every U.S. war, from the Revolution through the current war in Afghanistan, he added.
Among those McAfee mentioned by name was Lori Ann Piestewa, the first Native American woman to die in combat on behalf of the United States.
A Humvee driver, she was serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom when her unit came under attack. She drove through an ambush, and her vehicle crashed after it was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade.
She and two other female soldier passengers were captured, but Piestewa died of her injuries soon afterward.
“Being a hero is not bounded by sex, race, age, military service or any other boundary,” McAfee said. “It is governed only by a person’s caring for their comrades and their country. It is open to all who put others before self.”
The veterans conducted a fallen soldier ceremony, planting a rife into the ground by its barrel, placing a combat helmet on top, hanging a set of dog tags from it, placing a set of boots before it and then saluting.
A seven man rifle squad then fired three volleys, followed by the playing of “Taps.”
The Armed Forces Day program was only the first of what the local Vietnam Vets organization promises to be many community involvements, McAfee said.
The group also intends to provide assistance “in any way possible” to local veterans, he said.
Bill Robinson can be reached at email@example.com or at 624-6690.