As a child of a Vietnam War veteran, Elon University sophomore Lavinia Johnson has always cherished Veterans Day.
“This is such an important holiday because it helps citizens remember why the military is so significant in our society,” she said. “It also reminds veterans how influential they have been to our country.”
Lavinia Johnson sees the influence of veterans firsthand in her father, retired Army Sgt. Henry Johnson, who served in the 1st Air Cav. Division, 7th Cavalry, C Company and inspired her to apply to serve.
“Everyone should serve in the military,” she said. “I wanted to serve my country and I tried to. I wanted to protect my country the same way my father did. But for several reasons they couldn’t take me.”
According to her father, though, despite how important the work of soldiers is, many don’t have Lavinia Johnson’s same desire to serve in the U.S. military.
“Even though most people aren’t interested in this type of work, and many don’t appreciate it, it is still a job that needs to be done,” Henry Johnson said.
More than just another day
Veterans Day, a federal holiday celebrated every Nov. 11, was created to express gratitude for the U.S. armed forces personnel troops who have served during times of both war and peace.
But according to freshman Linnea Hull, an MS1 Cadet in Elon’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC), Veterans Day is about more than just recognizing soldiers.
“So many people don’t know that there are veterans that are homeless, or have PTSD or require hospital treatment that need their nation’s assistance,” Hull said. “This holiday gives those guys the recognition they deserve and the help that they need.”
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, nearly 50,000 veterans were homeless in 2014. It is also estimated by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics that there are 495,000 unemployed U.S. military veterans as of 2016. U.S. News & World Report stated that among soldiers who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan since 2001, 20 percent have reported dealing with PTSD upon their return home.
Among these statistics, Henry Johnson sees PTSD as one of the major problems for combat veterans.
“The issues we have can’t just have a label slapped on them,” he said. “Doctors can only fix problems with titles, but what happens to us in combat is something no one will ever be able to label or categorize.”
Reality isn’t lost
“Veterans Day might be a one-day event for us, but it is not for them,” Lavinia Johnson said. “Veterans don’t stop being veterans on Nov. 12. They are veterans for their entire lives, and they deal with the effects of that every day.”
According to Elon’s website, Elon has been honoring the efforts of the U.S. military for decades, even through the toughest moments of this nation’s history.
In 1943, during the most heated years of World War II, 672 pilots were trained on Elon’s campus for duty in the U.S. Army Air Forces. Right after the war, in 1946, Elon opened enrollment to GIs returning home from the conflict, which increased the student body size to 700. Several years later, in 1950, the Alumni Memorial Gymnasium was opened and dedicated to alumni who had sacrificed their lives during both world wars.
Though Elon has historic ties to the military, Professor of Management and veteran U.S. Air Force pilot Matt Valle said that the connection has faded over time.
“Increasingly, students do not have a connection to the military, and because of that they are not aware of the sacrifices that military members make,” Valle said. “Students need to be more aware that some of the folks teaching their classes, or running campus programs or cleaning their classrooms are veterans.
“Being thankful and getting involved isn’t a mandatory thing, but it is something people should want to do.”
Elon gets involved
Students who want to get involved with Veterans Day this year will find more opportunities at Elon than before. Team Hero — a club whose purpose is to serve and support U.S. military members, veterans and their families — will be hosting its first Veterans Day events this week.
“We want our troops to know we support them and are behind them all the way,” said sophomore Kiley Rush, public relations committee chair for Team Hero.
Rush is currently in a relationship with a deployed lance corporal in the Marine Corps, which she said can be difficult. The couple can’t talk as often as she’d like — sometimes not for a week or more when he’s on a mission and doesn’t know when he’ll be back with access to internet — but she said the difficulty just makes her more committed to her cause.
“It is terrifying to have him be out there right now especially with everything going on, but that’s why it is so important that we do our part at home,” Rush said.
Team Hero’s weekend starts off with Paws for Heroes Day on Thursday, Nov. 10. In partnership with the Elon Animal Society, Team Hero will bring puppies from a local shelter to Speakers Corner at 3 p.m. Treats will be sold and proceeds will be donated to Paws and Stripes, a nonprofit organization that provides service dogs for wounded military veterans with PTSD and traumatic brain injuries.
On Friday, Nov. 11, the Elon Veterans Day remembrance service will be held in LaRose Digital Theatre 10:45-11:30 a.m. The event will include a special commemoration of the Vietnam War, and the guest speaker will be Alfred C. Stewart Jr., who served with the U.S. Army as a ranger in Vietnam and was awarded the Silver Star.
Team Hero also will be there, hosting a veterans drive to collect candy, correspondence equipment, toiletries and other necessities that will be packaged and sent to currently deployed troops.
Later on Friday from noon to 3 p.m., Team Hero will be selling T-shirts for tie-dyeing right outside of Moseley Center. The proceeds will be donated to the United Service Organizations. All Elon faculty, staff and students are welcome to these events.
“These events are meant to remind all those at Elon that there are people that are your teachers, and neighbors and coworkers that have sacrificed a great deal to serve the country,” Valle said.
Valle and the students in his “Seminar in Project Management” class have been planning several events for this weekend, including the Nov. 11 service, in cooperation with student groups such as Team Hero.
There will also be a Wounded Warrior Project tailgate prior to the Nov. 12 Elon football game at Rhodes Stadium. Students are encouraged to stop by the event to meet with wounded warriors and purchase T-shirts. The winner of a 50/50 raffle at the the tailgate will be announced at halftime.
Even though Henry Johnson won’t be able to make it to Elon to attend these events with his daughter, he had one last message for all current U.S. soldiers.
“To all those soldiers going into the bush, God bless you, and come home safe,” he said.