MONICA SZAKACS — News Editor
Veterans Day is the one holiday when someone can actually meet face to face with the people the holiday is about, said James Namnoum, veterans club president, in a speech during the Veterans Day ceremony last Wednesday, Nov. 9.
“Next time you talk to a soldier that returned from war, don’t ask how many people they killed, ask them how many people they helped…Happy Birthday Marines,” said Namnoum as some soldiers in the audience responded with a “hooah!”
Southern has honored Veterans Day for at least 36 years since Jack Mordente, veterans office director, was employed in 1975. He said today approximately 400 students are veterans and 25 percent are women. Through the annual Veterans Day ceremony, Mordente said he hopes the campus community will realize that most veterans are older students, many who have experienced the horrors of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“We honor our veterans for the sacrifices they have made serving our country,” said Mordente, who is also a U.S. Army veteran.
Less than 1 percent of the U.S. population serves in the military. The country as a whole does not acknowledge the service, according to Namnoum, who is also a Corporal Marine veteran. There is a disconnect between civilians and the military, he said, and veterans face challenges every day in regards to the GI bill, homelessness, trauma and benefits.
Mordente said the media does not report enough on the war and it is not on most people’s radar. Namnoum said he hopes people will encourage nightly news to show that the war is still going on and show what the military is doing abroad because that is the only way to close the gap between the U.S. population and military.
“Mostly you’ll hear about a death, or a spun story. Or they receive stories from troops that are not entertaining so you don’t hear those stories,” said Don Spencer, veterans office student worker and Army sergeant.
The posting of navy colors by a Navy Honor Guard marched in front of 80 members of the Southern community. During opening recognition, U.S. soldiers and veterans stood as the audience clapped and cheered in appreciation of their services and bravery.
Stephanie Acosta, tech sergeant for the U.S. Air Force reserves, said that to her, Veterans Day is a day to thank those that served before her and those who will serve after her. Acosta did one tour in Iraq and one tour in Germany. She has been in the military for eight and a half years and is a medic. She said it was hard adjusting when she came back from Iraq, because she was thrown into civilian life.
“I watched men and women who lost lives and they won’t be making it back home,” said Acosta with tears. “I have kept people alive to bring them home just so they can say goodbye to their families. My spouse couldn’t understand what I went through. You’ll never be the same when you come back.”
Spencer said the biggest issue he had was dealing with his peers. He was able to crawl into a bottle for two years instead of dealing with reality.
“When I came to SCSU I had to deal with 18-year-olds that think they know everything about the war, but they had no idea what it was like overseas,” said Spencer. “I was considering leaving my first year until Jack brought me into the veteran’s office and I was able to talk to others like me the way I wanted to.”
Spencer said he appreciates Veterans Day because he has lost friends to the war. He said it is a day to think about those friends he does not see or talk to anymore. He has saved email conversations of his lost friends that he can look back upon, especially on Veterans Day.
“Those emails are the only things left to remember them by,” said Spencer.
Advice that the three veterans discussed during the ceremony was how civilians and family members can communicate with a soldier who came home from war. Spencer, Namnoum, and Acosta agreed that a soldier needs time and space. Acosta also mentioned that family members and friends will not understand everything the soldiers went through and they should be prepared for extremely blunt recall of situations and what they had to do.
“Be open minded especially if you opened the gate to the conversation, because you can’t just close it when you feel you can’t handle it,” said Acosta. “Be prepared for an answer you don’t want to hear.”
Veterans share the common bond of serving even if they did not go to war. Through Veterans Day and enlightenment, Namnoum said he hopes people will understand every soldiers’ bravery.
“We can all sleep at night,” said Namnoum, “because of the strong men and women making sacrifices.”