More than 150 students, faculty and staff, along with area residents, were on hand when Eastern hosted its Sixth Annual Veteran's Day Ceremony in the Student Center. More than 300 veterans study on campus and another 50 National Guardsmen are students and several dozen employees are veterans. To better serve veterans on our campus, Eastern opened the Veterans Education and Transition Services Center in 2009.
After Renae St. John sang "America the Beautiful," Eastern President Elsa M. Núñez remembered Donald Eckman, a veteran, who walked into her office on Veteran's Day in 2008 and suggested the University do something to celebrate the sacrifices veterans make in defense of the nation. Núñez told Eckman that he had a good idea, and that her team would work on it for the next year. Eckman replied, "No, Dr. Nunez; we need to do something now! Today!" 90 minutes later, the president's team had energized the campus to hold its first Veteran's Day celebration.
Núñez said her experience with Eckman reminded her of two critical things: "First, each of us has a passion for something. In Donald's case, he was passionate about honoring his fellow veterans--past and present. The second lesson we can learn from that Veteran's Day in 2008 is that we need to listen to all the voices on our campus, and then, respond accordingly. Veterans have fought for the freedoms our nation bestows upon our citizens, and the enduring value of our great democracy. Those freedoms are worth fighting for, even worth dying for."
Master Sergeant James Duncan, a supervisor for the Connecticut Army National Guard's Recruiting and Retention Battalion, described the joy and comfort felt by members of the armed forces when they return to our country to see the American flag flying over their home base. He told the audience to "Be calm. Be safe. We will always protect you."