Spirits were high at the first Veteran’s Appreciation event held by the Associated Students’ Student Services Committee and Veteran’s Club in Creveling Lounge.The Nov. 12 event, touted as the climax of the weeklong celebration for on-campus veterans, featured two guest speakers, including PCC’s own Harold Martin, a professor in the social sciences department.
Dressed in full fatigues, Martin spoke in a deep, gruff voice punctuated with the preciseness of well-chosen diction. He recalled his days in Vietnam, during which he completed five years of service with the Army.
“I’m going to talk about myself more than I would have liked,” he said, “because when I was your age-the age of most of you vets here now-I couldn’t talk.”
Martin’s address centered on the importance of higher education, stressing how much the veterans of World War II have stretched the latitudes of change and thus shaped the modern community college system. His message rung true among the assembled crowd of 30 or so students, faculty, staff and veterans gathered amidst the red, white and blue balloon arrangements decorating the room.
“I owe an enormous amount of gratitude to the veterans of World War II,” said Martin. “They had just gotten back from the war and could have gotten high-paying jobs, but they instead took advantage of the G. I. Bill to go into higher education, and as a result, [the community college network] would not be the same without them.
“I thought, ‘Who are these guys? Where did they come up with the confidence to go to Harvard, Yale, all these Ivy League schools? Where did they find the confidence and self-grace’?”
Another theme overarching the two speeches, the second by former actor and Army veteran Jack Knight, was that of heroism-or rather, reluctant heroism.
Both touched upon the hesitation veterans exhibit when given the distinction of “hero.” Instead, they choose to shy away from the recognition, many feeling their time spent in the service was a duty they wanted to fulfill to their country, rather than as an act of perceived courage or bravery.
The sentiment was echoed by Victor Salcedo, a 24-year-old business management major who served in Iraq as a mechanic for the Marines.
Asked why he wasn’t in his dress blues for the event, Salcedo said he wasn’t fond of wearing the uniform because of the attention he receives, also noting that he is, first and foremost, a civilian when off-duty.
Knight’s speech was darkly humorous, interlacing a sly wit into subjects such as disabled veterans; military funerals; September 11, 2001; Operation Gratitude, a package delivery and outreach programs for those currently in service; and lastly, the great tradition of the American armed forces.
“I feel a great debt to those who preceded me and those who follow me,” he said. “I get so emotional because I still have that little thing inside me-‘I didn’t do shit!’ Maybe someday I’ll pay my dues.
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