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Memorial Week Commemorates Veterans

Courtesy of Steve Zylius
Courtesy of Steve Zylius

The UCI Veteran Services Center and the Veterans Professional Fraternity hosted Memorial Week last week to honor UCI veterans and to commemorate the service of those who have served – and are currently serving – in the U.S. military.

“Memorial Day is a sad event, but it’s also a very respectful event,” said Melissa Clintron, veteran outreach intern at the Veteran Services Center. “We want to honor and thank all the veterans for their service and for all the sacrifices they’ve made for the United States. Instead of having one event to do so, we wanted to have a whole week of events to honor our veterans.”

The Veteran Services Center, located on the third floor of the Student Center, provides resources and assistance to veterans to help them transition into student life. Likewise, the Veterans Professional Fraternity is a student organization that provides a social and professional space for veterans.

For the memorial week, the Veterans Professional Fraternity received funding from the office of Thomas A. Parham, vice chancellor of student affairs, to display 8,000 flags in Aldrich Park near the Infinity Fountain. The flags served to commemorate those who died in service in Iraq and Afghanistan. A specific flag numbered 22 served to represent the 22 veterans that commit suicide everyday.

“Every day, 22 veterans commit suicide, so the Veterans Fraternity wanted to acknowledge those deaths as well because veterans are still paying a sacrifice when they come back, as transitioning is not always easy,” said Clintron. “We wanted to acknowledge the deaths at home as much as the deaths overseas.”

Students and community members attended Tuesday’s Memorial Day flagpole ceremony. Featured speakers were Pastor Frank Orzio, Army veteran-student Allan Chan and retired Colonel Henry Pandes.

The speakers encouraged students to honor those who have sacrificed their lives for the country and to honor veterans who are often forgotten and to live by their example.

“Let us not forget the most basic tenet of our existence and let us go forth each day doing something for the betterment of humankind,” said Chan, a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom who is now pursuing his MBA at UCI.

“Plant a tree. Donate to your favorite charity. Anything you can do in the service of others without any expectation of reciprocation qualifies. For, in a very minuscule yet meaningful way, that is what the soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen that paid the price for all of us overseas have done throughout history.”

Col. Pandes, UCI alumnus of the class of 1986 and keynote speaker of the flagpole ceremony, expressed his disappointment over this year’s ASUCI flag controversy, but was glad the motion was overturned.

“The flag represents freedom and it represents the fact that you can voice your displeasure with the flag and what it may mean, but that’s your right – that’s your freedom to say what you want to say,” said Pandes. “But the folks that gave you that freedom and that right to voice your opinion in public without fear of retribution are the men and women that have served and are serving today. Let’s not forget that.”

On Thursday, professor Chuck O’Connell hosted a veteran student panel  in his US War on Terrorism class.

“The veteran community is a small population,” said Clintron. “There are about 200 of us, but the support we have is from everywhere on campus. While we’re a small body, we’re still a very important part of the student body, and we see that as Professor O’Connell volunteered his class and made it open to the public.”

The highlight of the week was the sixth annual veteran appreciation dinner, thrown to honor graduating veteran and military students.

“When a veteran graduates from college it’s a big deal because they tend to be an older population and tend to have previous experiences that are different than the generic freshman in college just out of high school,” said Clintron. “We wanted to thank them for their service and congratulate them for graduating.”

Keynote speaker of the event, Pastor Orzio, spoke about his experiences in Vietnam and his current role as a pastor of the Wounded Warrior Ministry, a non-denominational ministry that serves the families of soldiers. He also reminded his audience that all soldiers who volunteer to join the service should be recognized, and not simply those who receive Medals of Honor for their actions.

During the dinner, 20 veteran and military students were awarded for their achievements and leadership with the Bridging the Gap Scholarship. Four students were awarded the Thomas T. Tierney Veteran Scholarship, funded by UCI trustee Thomas Tierney. The scholarships are awarded to students who have exhausted their post-9/11 G.I. Bill benefits and who have excelled academically.

In addition, Harry Tabata was awarded Veteran Student of the Year and Melissa Clintron was awarded Peer Advisor of the Year.

“Make sure that the veterans that are here around us today get a thank you and a ‘job well done’,” said Pandes. “I can tell you we don’t seek it, but we do appreciate it. To all the families of those who have served and are serving today, we offer our humble gratitude on behalf of our nation.”