The holiday illuminates Vietnam history and opportunities
Perhaps my view is skewed, hailing from central Oregon (with all that implies politically). But I find it pleasantly surprising that Portland State is the only public university in the state that closes its doors on Veterans Day.
Known as Armistice Day until 1954, Nov. 11 originally celebrated the end of World War I, a war whose sheer brutality was overshadowed only by its senselessness. Largely forgotten now, WWI saw massive casualties, new alliances and changes in the ways wars were fought. It ended on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month—Nov. 11. The date expanding into an honoring of all American veterans was passed by the Eisenhower administration in response to a suggestion by a World War II veteran.
The fact that PSU closes on Veterans Day is in honor of the university’s distinctly veteran heritage: PSU was originally founded as an institute primarily concerned with serving recently returning WWII veterans. Though the days of Vanport Extension School are long past, one student organization has managed to keep the tradition alive.
Viking Vets (formerly the Student Veterans Association) celebrated Veterans Day Thursday to a notable turn out. Viking Vets is currently presided over by Dave Christensen, a U.S. Army veteran of eleven years. According to Christensen, Viking Vets has two cornerstone aims.
The first is to provide the necessary resources to ease the transition from military to civilian life. This is a process that in some cases can be more challenging than expected. Apart from the stresses and trauma potentially incurred while on deployment, it is quite common for recently discharged veterans to experience a sort of culture shock in transitioning from the demands and climate of military service.
The second is to facilitate the academic success of student veterans through a combination of mentorship and peer support. Though the number of student veterans on campus has exponentially increased in recent years, especially with so many service members taking advantage of the post-9/11 GI Bill, manyeducational resources available to veterans go unused. According to Christensen, this has many explanations.
“Some people are not aware of the benefits they have earned and the resources that are available. Some veterans choose to cut all ties with the military after leaving the service, preferring to close that chapter in their lives and integrate anonymously back into civilian life,” Christensen said. “Some are not comfortable answering questions about their service and the duties they were asked to perform. For others, the memories of combat and lost comrades may be too painful to share or they fear those who have not experienced combat may not understand.”
Though exact figures for veterans attendance at PSU are sketchy (Viking Vets estimates the number between 900 and 1,200), the number of veterans does not coincide with the amount of educational resources and benefits at their disposal.
“The reasons veterans choose not to come out about their service or disabilities are deeply personal and often complicated,” Christensen said. “The best thing we can do is to respect their decision, continue to support them and encourage them, let them know about the resources that are available and give them time to heal.”
A veterans’ status can occasionally muddle otherwise cut-and-dry arguments. Such is the case in Springfield, Ore., where a 70-year-old Navy veteran faced the possibility of eviction were he to again violate the regulations of his apartment complex by flying an American flag outside of his residence, as he has done every Veterans Day of his life. Pathos often prevails in this sort of debate—I am certainly inclined to side with the veteran—but, as they say, rules are rules.
Issues like these, wherein the rule of law/regulation clashes with the spirit of the same, are always difficult. I would venture to say that this issue of the flag on display would probably go unreported, were the central individual not a veteran himself.
An argument concerning what the media chooses to report on, and whatever that might say about American news, belongs to another day. But it does reveal something about our sensibilities as a population; namely, in my view, that we tend to believe that veterans deserve better.
And most of the time, they do. Whether it’s Veterans Day or any of the other 364 days of the year, take a moment to think about those who have served, are serving, and may someday serve their country. And for those who proudly bear the title of “veteran,” take advantage of what programs are out there for you. You’ve earned them; why not claim them for yourself?