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UND President Armacost: A Veterans Day message

The veterans we honor have served across generations in major wars, in conflicts, in the shadow of the nuclear age, and in times of peace.

The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918 marked the Armistice that brought an end to World War I. The United States would make that day, Nov. 11, a national holiday to honor and remember those who served our nation in military service. In Canada, this day is known as Remembrance Day, when their citizens honor those who lost their lives in military service.

Veterans Day can bring mixed emotions. It’s a time to celebrate courage, to mourn loss, and to remember what we wish had never happened and hope will never happen again. We can look to America’s greatest generation that fought World War II – a generation that grows smaller with each passing year – for countless examples of heroism and sacrifice. Veterans Day is about remembering and honoring the deeds and sacrifices of those who served.

The veterans we honor have served across generations in major wars, in conflicts, in the shadow of the nuclear age, and in times of peace. Some conflicts in the post-World War II era – Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan – provided less certain outcomes.

When you enter the military, it’s with the knowledge that you never know what might happen. For example, we didn't expect Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi Army to invade Kuwait in 1990. We didn’t know the U.S. presence in Somalia under Operation Provide Relief would result in the bloody Battle of Mogadishu in 1993. The 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers and Pentagon in 2001 came as a complete surprise. Nobody knew the ensuing War on Terror would last for 20 years.

Part of being in the military is about serving your nation when it becomes necessary and doing what’s needed, whether it’s a noncombat role in the U.S. during peacetime or driving a tank in a desert battle. When you join the military, you simply never know when or what you’ll be called upon to do.

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In World War II, a Navy cook named Dorrie Miller found himself on the deck of the USS Virginia at Pearl Harbor, firing an anti-aircraft gun he hadn’t been trained to use. He became the first African American to win the Navy Cross. In December 1944, Gen. George Patton pressed cooks, clerks and bandsmen into service as riflemen during the Battle of the Bulge to stem the tide of an unexpected German winter offensive. They helped bring an end to the last gasp of Hitler’s Nazi empire.

On the 20th Anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, I was honored to be among the veterans present to dedicate the new Veterans Memorial Park in Grand Forks. This beautiful park – recognizing all branches of the U.S. military – was in the works for years and was completed through the combined efforts of local businesses, organizations, and community members in coordination with military units from the region.

As a 30-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force, it made me proud to be part of a community that shows such strong support to our nation’s active military and its veterans. And as I travel around North Dakota, I’m constantly finding this same spirit present in our state’s citizens.

Last month on our UND campus, we held a ceremony to dedicate a new Memorial Union, which will continue the university’s tradition of honoring UND students, faculty and staff who gave their lives for their country. Gracie Lian, a UND graduate student and former student body president, noted in her remarks that the university’s students chose to retain the building’s original name because of what it embodies.

Gracie explained it this way: “The Memorial Union is a recognition of the students and the alums who have died in service to our country. They dedicated themselves to our nation, so that we can stand in buildings such as this one and learn and flourish and grow. …”

As I said on the anniversary of 9/11, I am proud to be leading a university that is so committed to its veterans – those who have served and our students who will go on to serve a well-established legacy.

On Veterans Day, it is important that we, as a nation, honor our service members who have served during conflicts, as well as those who served during peacetime. Most importantly, we should never forget those veterans who have passed and those who are still with us. Our nation owes them a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid.

UND President Armacost retired from the U.S. Air Force with the rank of brigadier general.

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