YOWELL: U.Va. needs to do more to honor our troops

The University has failed to recognize its role in supporting the men and women who fight for this nation, and it is utterly disappointing

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The removal of the 21-gun salute demonstrates the administration’s lack of respect for ROTC students who will one day dedicate their lives to defending our nation. 

Riley Walsh | Cavalier Daily

The University recently made the decision to remove the decades-old tradition of a 21-gun salute from the University’s Veteran’s Day vigil. President Jim Ryan justified removing the honored practice from this year’s celebrations by stating it “is not required,” has the potential to disrupt classroom learning and could promote gun violence concerns around Grounds. However, following immediate backlash, he was forced to respond to community discontentment in regards to this decision. Ryan has since been quoted saying that he aims to “take a closer look at options” that could possibly “enable us to re-introduce the 21-gun salute to the program” in future years. Although Ryan’s response gives me some hope, the initial removal of the 21-gun salute demonstrates the administration’s lack of respect for ROTC students who will one day dedicate their lives to defending our nation. 

This decision compelled one community member to write a letter to the editor for The Daily Progress to express his outrage, saying, “My support for UVa and its administration has ended.” He went on to address ROTC units directly, arguing, “If U.Va. cannot support honorable military tradition of a 21-gun salute for military veterans, than I suggest that all ROTC units leave U.Va. and affiliate with other colleges and universities in Central Virginia that appreciate and respect the military traditions that come with hosting ROTC units on campus.” 

Articles lamenting the University’s blatant disrespect toward the United States military and ROTC units on Grounds have since been shared across social media platforms, all centered around one theme — the University is not doing enough to honor troops.

One of Ryan’s justifications for the removal of the 21-gun salute — other than it being a cause of distraction — is that it is traditionally a practice seen on Memorial Day celebrations as opposed to Veterans Day. This justification is flawed for two major reasons. Primarily, most faculty and students are not on Grounds for Memorial Day, as it typically falls well after the school year has ended. Moreover, there is no reason we should not be extending our gratitude to veterans beyond one day of the year. We should instead take every opportunity to show our servicemen and women how appreciative we are for the sacrifices they make every day. A 21-gun salute is the most admirable way to show gratitude to those that serve. In fact, it is often described as the “highest honor rendered,” and to insinuate that it would be a disruption to student’s learning is a disgraceful excuse. 

The University could stand to learn from schools across the country that don’t hold classes on Veterans Day in order to show respect for those who fought for this incredible nation. Many shared these same concerns in response to Ryan’s statement on Twitter, with one commenter stating that they believed it was an “inane and vacuous policy change.” 

University Group Commander Cameron Greer best explained the importance of honoring our troops when he said “this is a very solemn, somber, and very serious thing that we're paying tribute to, and something that's bigger than any one individual cadet.” This statement symbolizes all that the University appears to have missed. Outside of the 92 cadets from ROTC units that participated in the 24-hour vigil, Veteran’s Day celebrations were virtually nonexistent on Grounds. But unfortunately, this disrespect is not limited to the misguided policies taken by the University’s administration.

Earlier this year, Opinion Columnist Jake Wartel published a piece for The Cavalier Daily discussing “the destructive legacy of the U.S. military” and, as a result, the “serious challenge” of ROTC. In his article, Wartel discussed the military industrial complex and how certain military interventions have supposedly rendered the United States military a horrible institution. This article resurfaced on Nov. 11, following Ryan’s decision to end the 21-gun salute, when the University chapter of Young Democratic Socialists of America tweeted the article with the caption “Happy Veterans Day!” In doing this, these University students displayed repulsive and unjustifiable behavior. But paradoxically they fail to acknowledge that without this so-called horrible institution, they would not have the freedom of speech that permits them to publish such distasteful comments in the first place. 

Given these distasteful attacks coming from admittedly fringe community members, Ryan, the University and its students have an opportunity to reconsider and reflect on the message their actions have sent our troops, their families and the rest of the nation. 

Instead of removing honorable traditions from the University’s Veterans Day vigil, we should be actively working to not only expand the ceremony on Veterans Day but on every other day as well. A veteran is not only a veteran one day a year, and all active-duty military personnel make daily sacrifices to keep our nation safe. Furthermore, the members of these ROTC units are next in line to serve the United States and provide us with the opportunity to attend prestigious schools like the University. They, along with those before them, deserve more respect than that which has been shown by our community. 

Hailey Yowell is an Opinion Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at h.yowell@cavalierdaily.com.

CORRECTION: This article previously stated that President Jim Ryan made the executive decision to end the 21 gun salute, when it was in fact a collective decision of several University.officials. It has been updated to reflect this correction.

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