Wilkes University holds Veterans Day ceremony to commemorate those who served


The Beacon/Purvit Patel

Captain Jeff Homza shares his thoughts on Veterans Day.

It’s like winning the lottery.

That is the analogy that two veterans made to exemplify what it means to be an American, born in the land of the free and home of the brave.

“I’ve been in countries where people had to dig in the ground for a root to eat,” said Veteran’s Council co-advisor Col. Mark Kaster. “The opportunities we are lucky enough to have are because of the sacrifices are of our veterans, and they deserve recognition.”

That recognition is exactly what Wilkes University sought to promote with the Nov. 11 ceremony to honor the nation’s heroes.

The pathways of the Greenway were lined with American flags, men and women attended in full uniform and speakers rose one after another to address the crowd with the American flag waving behind them.

Every year, Veterans Day falls on Nov. 11, as it is the anniversary of the signing of the armistice, which ended the World War I hostilities between the Allied nations and Germany in 1918.

As such, the Veterans Council puts together a ceremony every year to show their respect and appreciation for those who have served.

President Patrick Leahy addressed the crowd, urging people to come together to honor veterans even at a time when the country is in the midst of a divisive election.

“We owe our way of life to our veterans,” Leahy said. “Today we say thank you, thank you for your service, to all our veterans who serve our country, dramatic and subtle. The highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”

As he spoke, a veteran dressed in full uniform stood behind the seated crowd. As he stood and listened intently to Leahy and the speakers that followed, his emotions were visible. At times he nodded in agreement, at others he got choked up.

Each veteran has their own unique story of why they entered, what their experience was like, the hardships, losses and victories they faced and what life looks like after their service.

One story is that of Kelly Egan, a 38-year-old environmental engineering major that served in the National Guard for 14 years. His service came to an end when he was discharged for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

“You’ll get a thousand and one reasons why people joined,” Egan said. “But at the end of the day you kept doing it because of the guy next to you. That’s what keeps you going.”

That camaraderie is one of the most rewarding aspects of his experience, Egan said, as well as having the confidence of knowing that he did something that mattered and that he did help people, even it is “just the guy next to me.”

He went on to talk about how the military strongly instills honor and integrity, and that veterans often have a different perspective than those who have not shared their experience.

As a veteran that faces PTSD, Egan said that it is something he “struggles with every day.”

According to the National Institutes of Health, Department of Veteran Affairs, and Sidran Institute, the societal and economic burden of PTSD is extremely heavy.

According to ptsdusa.org, one in three returning troops are being diagnosed with serious Post-Traumatic Stress symptoms.

Like many veterans, he struggled to find purpose after he was discharged. He talked about the many different paths veterans may choose to lead after their service, and his path of choice was education, for which he has two more years before obtaining his degree.

Captain Jeff Homza also touched upon what veterans’ lives are like after their service.

“Veterans service doesn’t end when they’re out of uniform,” Homza said. “They serve our communities like they served our country. Some people slow down when they retire, but not veterans.”

Every year the ceremony honors men and women that have made the same sacrifices as Egan. This year, the theme of the ceremony was: What does Veterans Day mean to me?

“Life a life that makes the sacrifice worth it,” Egan said. “It’s not for nothing, and people don’t realize that.”

Col. Kaster expressed similar sentiments, urging people to be aware of the service veterans have given to the country, not only on Nov. 11 but every day.

“If there’s one theme from all the sacrifices that have been made, are still being made and will be made, it’s that being a citizen is a responsibility. Freedom is not free,” Kaster said. “This day is to recognize what we too often take for granted… many people are mourning today. Recognizing the sacrifices that have been made can make you a better American.”

Kaster alluded to the a quote from the movie Saving Private Ryan, in which one character tells another as he is dying to “earn this.” What he means, Kaster explains, is to make his sacrifice worth it, and to earn the life he has been given by the sacrifice that so many have made. That is what Kaster was emphasizing in his message that every American should wake up and “earn this,” make the most of the life they have in order to best honor the sacrifices made in order for them to have it.

“The sacrifices of so many should be motivation to be your best every day, not just for yourself but for America.”

Another key component addressed was what Leahy referred to as the “unsung heroes” – veterans’ families. Leahy addressed families directly, saying “your sacrifice doesn’t go unnoticed and will never be forgotten.”

Wilkes also participates in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Yellow Ribbon GI Education Enhancement Program, which allows it to cover post-Sept. 11 veteran’s tuition expenses that exceed the highest public-in-state undergraduate tuition rate. Wilkes can contribute up to 50 percent of those expenses, and VA will match the same amount.

G.I. Jobs Magazine also named Wilkes University to its list of Military Friendly Schools the past six years. This list honors the top 20 percent of colleges, universities and trade schools that are doing the most to embrace America’s service members and veterans as students.

“We don’t expect to be thanked. We didn’t join to be praised,” Homza said. “Today, if at no other time, seek out a veteran and thank them for their service. Your freedom today is because of their sacrifice”