GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — Steve Gilroy, 29, a Navy veteran and past president of Richard Stockton College’s Student Veterans Organization, said Veterans Day should be more than an annual celebration.
What do veterans want? the Galloway Township resident asked Monday. “To keep this a country worth fighting for, and to be mindful of the policies and the society that shape and define us.”
To start with, he said, people should “be informed. Read real news from multiple sources; not just some hack political partisan media that play people for fools.”
Talk of “sacrifice,” “duty” and “honor” resonated at the college Monday as it honored veterans in a series of ceremonies.
Speakers praised the service of veterans in front of the school’s Campus Center, while uniformed members of the military held an oversized American flag.
Later, at the school’s Independence Plaza, a roll call of service members who were killed in action this past year was read aloud.
Then, in the school’s secluded Veterans’ Park, a wreath was laid near stones commemorating the Vietnam War as well as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I am even more proud,” said Herman Saatkamp, the school’s president, during the afternoon of festivities. Saatkamp said members of the military are “truly heroes who have defended our country.”
Raymond Zawacki, New Jersey’s deputy commissioner for veteran affairs, noted that Veterans Day initially commemorated the end of World War I, and is now the day when Americans thank the men and women who have served in the military. These days, he said, less than 1 percent of the nation at any point is in the all-volunteer military.
“On this Veterans Day 2012, let me just say thank you to all the veterans, all of those who have been veterans and all who may become veterans,” Zawacki said. “Without you, we would most certainly not survive in this present form that we enjoy and take for granted sometimes.”
Col. Anthony M. Henderson, a special assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who was an invited speaker Monday, repeated the theme of service. More than 8 million people have served in the military in the past 12 years, he said.
“These people will pass through life, attending school, starting businesses and leading their community. By 2040, we will be able to judge this generation. It takes about 40 years to define a generation,” Henderson said, “and this generation is being defined by service.”
Later at Independence Plaza, Gilroy spoke of his hope for the country.
“Know what’s going on in the world,” Gilroy said, “so that when we vets are sent to fight overseas in your name, you know why and how it’s happening.”
Don’t take members of the military for granted, he said, so when politicians threaten to dispatch the troops, know these are very real people whose lives will be upended by lengthy deployments.
Finally, he urged people to vote.
“I don’t care what party you belong to; I don’t care what beliefs you hold. Every election you don’t vote is to squander the freedom we have fought for,” Gilroy said. “A free republic like ours cannot long endure in a culture of apathy and ignorance.”
Ultimately, Veterans Day should be more than just superficial gestures, he said.
“Veterans Day should be a call for those who haven’t served to earn the sacrifices of those who have, and to do so in a way that doesn’t just involve sticking a yellow ribbon on the back bumper of your car.”
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