University to celebrate veterans all month long

By Declan Harty

When the United States celebrated its first Veterans Day in 1938, the University had already established a deep tie to military service after having 189 students and alumni die during World War I. Now celebrating its 75th Veterans Day, the campus community plans to honor and celebrate those who have served the country. 

Nicholas Osborne has been the veterans coordinator of the Veterans Support Services since the organization’s inception in 2010. He said the Champaign-Urbana area, as well as alumni and student veterans on campus, will continue its support of veterans on Monday and throughout the month of November. 

“(Veterans) enrich our student body, and we want to show honor to that,” Osborne said. “So I think that this is a great way for us to honor them, but to also honor the diverse range of students that we serve here at the University of Illinois.”

Osborne also holds the position of interim director for the Center for Wounded Veterans in Higher Education. He served in the Coast Guard from 2002 to 2010 as a law enforcement and intelligence officer. 

According to Osborne, there are approximately 400 student veterans at the University. There will be numerous events held throughout November to honor student veterans, the community’s veterans and the campus’ rich ties with the U.S. military.

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    On Sunday, the University’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program honored veterans across the campus and community with a ceremony hosted at the Armory’s indoor track. The Naval ROTC hosted the ceremony, but the Air Force and Army ROTC programs also were in attendance. 

    “This ceremony is to give back to them, all that they have sacrificed,” said True Jones, a midshipman second class in the Naval ROTC and junior in ACES. “It is really to show them that we appreciate what they have given to us. … That is kind of the whole point in putting it across to people. It isn’t just a ceremony, where you come and sit down. It is a lot larger than we can even imagine.”

    The University’s ROTC programs date back to 1916 when the National Defense Act required able-bodied men in college to perform in basic military training. In 1945, the Naval ROTC was established, which was followed by the Air Force ROTC in 1949.

    Jones, who comes from a military-based family, hopes to become the first military officer in his family. Jones stated his love for the military, but more importantly, his desire to lead that led him to Illinois’s Naval ROTC. 

    Jones said that there is a relationship between the ROTC programs and student veterans on campus, but he feels it needs to be stronger. 

    “The Veterans Day Ceremony is a stepping stone to that; this year we have really upped the ante,” Jones said in terms of marketing for the event. “There needs to be more communication and relations, but this is just the beginning of what needs to happen.” 

    Throughout the entire month of November, the University’s Main Library will be hosting a veterans display collection that chronicles the University’s ties with the military.

    The exhibit displays a collection of artifacts, pictures and documents dating back to 1862, including a feature on when the Armory hosted the 33rd Division in 1941. According to the display, the University has had a 1,124 known casualties of students and alumni in World War I and II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. 

    The University’s military history is commonly associated with its affiliation to World War II, according to Osborne. The University lost 850 students and alumni to the war, and with President Roosevelt’s signing of the GI Bill in 1944, the University welcomed over 11,000 veterans back to campus in 1945.

    Following the large increase of veterans coming to campus that year, former University professor Timothy Nugent established the Division of Disability Resources and Educational Services in 1948. The University, according to Osborne, is now a “world leader in serving students with disabilities.” On Friday, officials of the Chez Family Foundation and of the University broke ground at 908 W. Nevada in Urbana for the Chez Family Foundation Center for Wounded Veterans in Higher Education, which is scheduled to open in the fall of 2015. 

    University of Illinois Department of Intercollegiate Athletics will be honoring veterans on Saturday at the football game against Ohio State University. Student veterans will be given free tickets to the game and invited onto the field during the game, Osborne said.

    “It is really humbling,” said Elizabeth Ambros, a student veteran, who served in the U.S. Navy from 2004 to 2010, and senior in Applied Health Sciences. “It tells the veterans, ‘We appreciate the time that you have taken off of life to go and serve.’ For us veterans, it wasn’t an easy thing. When they say it is a sacrifice, it is. … It is nice to appreciate those who gave up a piece of their life to serve for other Americans.”

    Declan can be reached at [email protected].