By Robert Burns
“Taps” broke the unusual silence that fell in the Pit at 11 a.m. on Veterans Day.
The colors were presented by soldiers in full dress regalia. Then Eastfield President Jean Conway asked veterans to raise their hands, saying they deserve recognition from the school.
“They have sacrificed,” she said. “Some of them sacrificed their lives, some of them their health, in order to be sure that this country is not only safe, but that we enjoy our freedoms.
“Look at the last elections. Things didn’t go exactly the way one of the parties wished it had. But we didn’t have a coup, instead we had an election, and people voiced their opinions during the elections. We are going to have a lot of changes in government. In order to do that we have to have people willing to fight for that kind of freedom.”
Hal Geldon, father of biology lab tech Dana See, served in the Navy in the Philippines during World War II.
“I think it is real fine,” he said of the ceremony.
Education major Mary Delai said the event was respectful and appropriate.
“It was perfect,” she said.
The ceremony was the first of several campus events honoring veterans.
The Military Veterans Place, a lounge where veterans can gather, opened the following day, Nov. 12. Conway said student veterans told her that finding one another was difficult
“Without uniforms, they didn’t know who the other veterans were,” she said. “If they wanted to compare experiences and to talk about how to get on with life, they didn’t know how to do that. They wondered if they should make a club for veterans. Then I said, what if they had a place that they could come socially to … support each other.”
Visitors to the MVP will find others with experiences, concerns and issues unique to veterans, said Veterans Affairs coordinator Roy Rollinson.
“It’s really to help the veterans have a place where they can be supported by each other,” Rollinson said. “They can converse about matters that people who aren’t in the military may not be able to relate to. It is going to be a place where they can decompress and help them move further into the transition to civilian life.”
Staff Sgt. Connery Carrol said the MVP would help veterans make needed connections with one another.
“Military is like the biggest fraternity in the world,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what branch of service or job you did or the rank you were, we all support each other. It is just nice to have somebody who has been through a similar experience.”
The lounge is designed for school work and relaxation. Three computers line a wall, and Student Life contributed an Xbox One, which connects to a big screen TV.
“I can’t wait to start using this,” veteran Jose Machado said of the room.
Don Baynham, associate vice president of institutional effectiveness and economic development, donated a microwave and mini-fridge. Baynham, a veteran of Vietnam, also procured a special memento: a personal letter from former President George Bush commemorating the opening of the MVP. Baynham and the Bush family share a mutual friend.
Another memento – a flag flown over the Texas State Capitol in Austin – hangs in a glass case on the back wall, and seals representing each of the military services decorate another wall.
The veterans celebrations concluded with a picnic, moved inside to the Fireside Lounge because of frigid temperature. Guests munched on hotdogs, chips and cupcakes while being serenaded by the Eastfield Jazz Ensemble. Students wrote messages of appreciation on a banner that will be placed in the MVP.
“I think it is really great that they are doing activities like this,” said student Patrick Gales. “I think it is a very nice way to bring a nice touch to Veterans Day. Rather than it just being sad, it is more celebratory.”