Remembrances of Service and Camaraderie

November 15, 2013

Led by President Arthur F. Kirk, Jr., the Saint Leo University community honored veterans of all generations Monday, November 11, with morning, afternoon, and evening events at University Campus. The day of programming helped bring to a close Saint Leo’s yearlong commemoration of 40 years of providing educational services to the military community. Saint Leo considers the military community to include active duty servicemembers, veterans, reservists, and family members.

Many learners who fit this profile are attracted to Saint Leo when they need to continue their education. This fall, 3,400 students used veterans benefits to enroll. One young veteran, ROTC Cadet Anthony Trick ’14, who enrolled at Saint Leo after serving in the U.S. Army in Iraq, spoke during the Veterans Day morning program. He focused appreciatively on the deep sense of connection with fellow soldiers that his Army experience has provided. He has continued to rely upon his Army brothers and sisters, he said, as a student and cadet preparing to re-enter the Army as an officer upon his graduation. Saint Leo currently has more than 40 students in the Army ROTC.

The keynote speaker for the morning ceremony author, Winston Groom, was also once an Army ROTC cadet and was sent to Vietnam after graduating from the University of Alabama. Years later, he wrote the novel Forrest Gump, which was turned into a hit film in 1994. Groom told the audience that he still remembers his Vietnam days vividly, and shared several stories of missions that, in retrospect, are sources of humor. “It seems like it’s yesterday,” Mr. Groom said of his Army days in Vietnam.

Audience members and community members lined up at a book signing with the author later in the day. In addition to a new paperback edition of Forrest Gump, the crowd purchased copies of Mr. Groom’s new nonfiction work set during World War II, The Aviators: Eddie Rickenbacker, Jimmy Doolittle, Charles Lindbergh, and the Epic Age of Flight.

The keynote speaker for the Veterans Day evening program, U.S. Marine Corps Lieutenant General Robert B. Neller, spoke from his vantage point, of nearly 40 years of military service. Lt. General Neller now directs Marines at Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa. He paid tribute to Vietnam-era veterans, sometimes unfairly blamed by the general public for the conduct of that war, for ensuring that contemporary veterans are not treated in such a manner, but are instead treated with respect and gratitude for their service. And he expressed hope that Post-9/11 G.I. Bill® benefits will continue, and allow veterans the chance to obtain college degrees at institutions like Saint Leo.

Lt. General Neller also commended Saint Leo for leadership in educating active-duty servicemembers. The need for such specialized educational attention will continue, he predicted, as the nation moves forward with a smaller military. The remaining servicemembers will have to educated and highly committed individuals to fulfill the missions they will face, he said. He said he is optimistic the Marines will attract and retain such strong individuals.

In addition to the formal ceremonies, several other veteran-supportive activities took place at University Campus. Campus and community members contributed to a Tampa Bay-area collection drive of household goods and toiletries for veterans, for instance. World War II military memorabilia was on display, lent for the occasion by the Zephyrhills Museum of Military History. And the USO Singers, from Tampa, performed at University Campus in advance of the evening program. They were joined by the faculty-staff chorus, called Just the FACTS.

The evening ended with celebratory fireworks.