Today, the Daily Deac is not about campus per se. It is Veterans Day, and today is a day of remembrance and gratitude for all who have served our country. Many thanks to all our Deac parents and families who have served in the military. No matter which side of the political aisle you sit on, I hope we can all agree that the men and women who voluntarily join our country’s armed forces are making a noble commitment.
And although it is called Veterans Day, here at the Daily Deac we also want to honor and thank all of those in the other ‘helping professions’ too: police, firefighters, EMTs, medics and clerics of all types and sorts, etc. If part of your job is to help and serve others – especially in dire times or when your own personal safety is at risk – we thank you.
One of the best lessons I learned at Wake Forest came not in class but in a field in France. When I was an exchange student in the Dijon program, our professor took us on a trip to Normandy. We got to see the D-Day beaches and the American cemetery there. If you have been there yourself, you know that the landing area on the beach faced steep cliffs, which were all heavily bunkered and seemingly impossible to penetrate. Just looking at the landscape there told the story that this would be a massive, massive loss of life. Somehow reading the description of the cliffs in history books did not adequately paint the picture of what a hard task this was going to be. I had to see it to believe it. And our soldiers would have seen it too, and must have seen how grim the outcome was likely to be. Yet, they pushed on.
There aren’t good enough words to describe what I felt (and my classmates too), when we got to the cemetery. The rows of crosses, and stars of David, are endless. When you look on the stone and see the young men’s ages – 18, 19, 18, 20 – so many young people (so close to our own age!) dying so far away from home….well, it is a sadness that is beyond expression. Lots of tears, lots of silent, somber students. Our very wise professor, Byron Wells, told all of us as we got back on the bus to go back to our hotel “Never forget what you saw here.” I doubt any of us did.
My Wake Forest friends in other abroad programs had their own seminal moments of understanding the sacrifices and histories of veterans. Whether that was seeing the books of the war dead in Westminster Abbey, or visiting the Cabinet War Rooms of London, or seeing one of the concentration camps in Europe. Other friends came to understand the lives of those who served in other ways. I would argue that knowledge of the past and appreciation of the personal stories and sacrifices and agonies (as well as victories), are important to the education of the whole person.
So for the memory of those soldiers who have passed, those who survived, those who saw action, those who served nobly in other ways, and those who are yet to serve – our own WFU ROTC students – I say thank you.
I have a French prayer that I got at the D-Day cemetery. On the back I scribbled the words from one of the monuments:
“This embattled shore, portal of freedom, is forever hallowed by the ideals and the valor and the sacrifices of our fellow countrymen.”
In honor of Veteran’s Day, I invite you to join me in doing a Random Act of Kindness today. Could be picking up the tab of the person in the drive through behind you, or paying someone else’s toll during your commute, or doing something else like that. Pay the goodness forward.