Photograph by DJ Nicholson/UC Davis
Speakers at the first Memorial Day ceremony on the Davis campus last Thursday (May 26) encouraged the public and others to pay lasting tribute to the nation’s military victims — including 136 Gold Star Aggies — by upholding American values for which they gave their lives.
“Our participation in this ceremony should include a serious consideration of a difficult issue,” said Provost and Executive Vice-Chancellor Mary Croughan in her welcome address. “How do we fully and meaningfully honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice?
“My answer to that question is that we and future generations should extend and build on their legacy, advancing the noble idea of America and the freedoms we stand for.”
On this day, as we honor our Gold Star Aggies, we remind our college community of the significance of the Memorial Union “memorial” and acknowledge an important legacy created by UC Davis students. — Mary Croughan, Provost and Executive Vice-Chancellor
Keynote speaker Rory Stuart, a UC Davis Health physician and active duty Air Force officer who received the Bronze Star for her COVID-19 prevention efforts among US troops in Afghanistan, said: “I look back on my own service and hope I have honored the sacrifices made by our dead in striving to uphold the best ideals of our nation.
“We must never let their sacrifices be in vain. We must continue to build our communities and defend our democracy, so this remains a country worth fighting for – and, yes, dying for.
The first in-person Memorial Day ceremony since 2019 took place on Thursday, May 26 in the North Court of the Memorial Union, a building dedicated in 1955 to our former students lost in military service, from World War I to Iraq. , and, most recently, in a plane crash in Mississippi. The 2017 crash killed all 16 people on board, including Marine Corps Capt. Sean Endecott Elliott ’09, the co-pilot of a flight carrying Marines and a Navy member across the country.
Elliott’s parents, Cindy and John Elliott, now parents of Gold Star, who lost a child during military service, attended the ceremony last week. They were also present when Capt. from Elliott The name was added to the Gold Star Aggies wall in 2018.
“Burden in Our Hearts”
Lieutenant-Colonel Stuart spoke of men and women like him who enlisted or became officers in their late teens or early twenties, after being told that sacrifices would be made at the service to our country. “We eagerly accepted this abstract debt in exchange for the more tangible rewards our future military careers offered,” he said..
“Now, as I look back on my 19 years in the Air Force, I have a very different understanding of sacrifice than the young man who first took that oath all those years ago.
“Yes, our military service brings us wisdom, knowledge and experience, but these come at a price. With knowledge we learn that the world can be a difficult place. With wisdom, we learn to navigate this world. With experience, we experience loss and receive empathy for those who suffer.
“These blessings and burdens that we carry deep in our hearts. We are all changed by our service and we all ultimately pay this debt of sacrifice to some degree.
“Today, however, is not about us. It’s about them – our 136 Gold Star Aggies and the countless other men and women who gave their lives in the ultimate sacrifice for this country. The men and women I suspect felt the same excitement and concern as I did when I was first sworn in. Who I also suspect made a commitment to sacrifice militarily, freely agreeing to lay down his life if necessary, but youthfully confident that that day would probably never come.
“As I get older in my career,” Stuart said. “I find myself thinking frequently of these men and women. I think of their families and loved ones, who endure and endure their sacrifices long after the pomp and circumstance of ceremonies like these are long past.
“I wonder how to honor their lives, find meaning in their deaths, and continually show their support and gratitude to the family and friends they left behind.
“Veterans Day, July 4, and many other events of military appreciation are celebrations of the battles and victories that changed the world and shaped our country and the world. Today is not a celebration, but a somber recognition of the horrific cost of those victories. Too often we celebrate as communities and then mourn as individuals. May today be a day of shared mourning.
Provost Croughan said the thoughts and feelings of people today are inevitably affected by our current moment in history. “For more than two years now, we have had to deal with the tragic costs and heavy burdens associated with COVID-19,” she said. “During the same period, we have witnessed growing societal divisions of many types across our country, as well as extreme challenges to many of our sacred governmental institutions and processes.
“Beyond our borders, we are currently witnessing a ruinous war inflicted by one nation on its European neighbour, a war which, despite the diplomatic and other efforts of the international community, continues – threatening an even greater scale of destruction and possibly a global catastrophe.
“All of these realities…give us a heightened awareness of how quickly peace and social order can be threatened or lost and of the vulnerability of the country and the values we hold dear.
“They therefore give us a heightened awareness as well of the enormous debt of gratitude we owe to our Gold Star Aggies, and to all of our country’s men and women in military service, past and present.”
She proposed three measures of sustainable respect:
- Continue our efforts to ensure that all current and former military members feel included, valued and appropriately rewarded in our society. An urgent part of this project is to ensure that all veterans, especially those who are suffering, have access to the quality medical and mental health care that their service has earned.
- To do all we can to support and enhance the peaceful, thriving, and idealistic democratic society that all military personnel are committed to protecting. We must strive to heal the partisan divisions that currently disrupt the intended collaborative functioning of our country as one nation, that is, as a nation that embraces people of different backgrounds and perspectives and resolves adversarial arguments through fair elections and other democratic processes. As part of this work, we must intensify our efforts to prevent our democratic institutions from being compromised or corrupted.
- Advance the cause of peace for which they fought. In the short term, we must create the conditions to make armed conflict a very reluctant last resort for settling disputes between nations and, in the long term, a thing of the past.
Accomplishing those three tasks won’t be quick or easy, Croughan acknowledged. “But if we can work earnestly and cooperatively to advance them,” she says, “we will continue a legacy that will benefit our country and the world immeasurably. It will also be an event that truly honors the brave men and women we remember today. »