Never Forget Our Vets: Veteran’s Day Dinner Honors the Brave

Photo courtesy of the Office of Communication & Marketing.

For the third straight year, the SUNY New Paltz campus community came together to honor its veterans. 

On Friday, Nov. 11, the SUNY New Paltz Office of Veteran and Military Services (OVMS), hosted its third annual Veteran’s Day Dining-in at the College Terrace. Jason Gilliland, coordinator of OVMS, served as master of ceremonies. 

In attendance were distinguished members of the campus administration, including SUNY New Paltz President Donald P. Christian; Vice President of Enrollment Management, L. David Eaton; Interim Vice President of Student Affairs, Wayne Brumfield; and Director of Student Accounts, Niza Cardona.

The evening began with a rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner” as performed by Daniel Chiu, a fourth-year music major. In his opening remarks, Gilliland recognized students, faculty and campus staff who had served in the armed forces. These included members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and the Marines, which was promptly met with a loud “ooh-rah!” Gilliland stressed the importance of honoring those who have served, commenting that they “protect our way of life.” 

“Events like these show how we’re moving in the right direction,” Gilliland said. “It puts faces to veterans, active duty service members, dependents and supporters, and it helps create a campus family.”

The dinner featured a pair of keynote speakers, including Staff Sgt. Samuel L. Davies, a fourth-year marketing major, and Dr. Zelbert L. Moore, Assistant Professor Emeritus, Department of Black Studies. Neither Davies nor Moore had ever spoken at a Veteran’s Day event, but both came prepared with their thoughts on what the holiday means to them, as well as their ideas about service.

Davies, a Purple Heart recipient who is stationed at Stewart International Guard Base in Newburgh, said that the holiday is ultimately for the people, not necessarily for the veterans. He expanded on his thoughts by saying that even if Veteran’s Day was not celebrated, returning veterans would never forget their combat experiences. He said that the support they receive when they come back, from their respective families, friends and colleagues, is what he treasures the most on Veteran’s Day.   

“Veterans don’t need a day to be reminded of the damages of war,” Davies said. “On this day, we reflect on what we have to be grateful for. Without the people, this day means nothing.”

Following Davies, Moore spoke about how when he first received his draft notice, he and his mother both thought that the draft board had made a mistake. However, within a few weeks he was on his first plane ride to Fort Collins, Colorado. From there, he was stationed at several military bases in the South before serving in Korea with the 8th U.S. Army.

Moore related a story of how his service exposed him to new experiences, including a night when he asked his Korean translator, Sgt. Kim, to explain to him what was being said on the radio. His translator reluctantly told him that it was North Korean propaganda that repeatedly said, “we are going to kill you.” These experiences marked Moore, especially when he heard about a few friends from Oklahoma that did not return home from combat.  

To conclude the evening, Gilliland conducted the POW/MIA ceremony, which honors those who were captured or missing overseas. 

First, he presented the missing service members table, which is small in size and set for one. Gilliland explained the symbolism of the various items on the table, including the white tablecloth for purity, red rose for families keeping faith, a red ribbon to press for the proper accounting of the missing and a candle for spirit. The lemon represented bitter fate, while the salt represented the tears of the families.

“The wine glass is inverted, since they can’t toast with us,” Gilliland said. “The chair is empty and they’re not here, but they have not forsaken you.”