The next ‘greatest generation’

The USAF Silent Drill Team performs as part of ECU’s commemoration of Veterans Day.

ECU commemorates Veterans Day

By Mary Schulken
ECU Director of Public Affairs

The men and women who serve in the armed forces today represent the nation’s next “greatest generation,” a Medal of Honor winner told those gathered for East Carolina University’s Veterans Day ceremony.

“On this veteran’s day I think about the 1.5 million men and women we have in the service today who are part of the next ‘greatest generation,’” said retired Col. Joe Marm of Goldsboro, who delivered the Veterans Day message. “I think about the wounded warriors learning to use their prosthetic limbs … about the lone sentinel, standing guard … ”

That service and the sacrifice it represents is not ordinary, Marm said, and should not be taken for granted.

“These soldiers don’t see themselves as brave or special, they see themselves as doing their job,” he said.

“Our democracy is dependent on the willingness of our finest citizens to step forward in that manner and defend the nation they love.”

The ECU ceremony, historic because it took place on 11/11/11 and began promptly at 1:11 p.m., honored a long-standing tradition of military service by the campus, said Steve Duncan, assistant vice chancellor for administration and finance and military programs.

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Images from the East Carolina University Veterans Day celebration include placing a brick paver in honor of Gen. Gary L. North, an ECU alumnus and four-star general who attended the celebration; Cpt. Justin Hochstein surrounded by bayonets during the drill team performance; Army vet John Hart with a pirate marine cap he calls his “pirene” hat; medal of honor speaker retired Col. Joe Marm; Air Force ROTC member Dany Hernandez, left, and Army ROTC member Connor Rosario ringing the Victory Bell when names are read during the ceremony; and ringing of the bell for each of 111 honored for military service. (Photos and video below by Cliff Hollis)

It was also the first Veterans Day celebration at the Freedom Wall and Memorial Walk, a campus site dedicated this year that honors the military service of ECU faculty, staff and students.

“Truly this is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Duncan told the couple of hundred veterans, students, faculty and their families gathered in the brisk but sunny courtyard between two buildings.

Marm asked the crowd to overlook the slight slurring of his words. He took a bullet in battle which exited his jaw, he explained, affecting his speech.

Marm is one of 85 living veterans awarded the United States military’s highest decoration – the Medal of Honor – for his role in the Vietnam War at the Battle of la Drang. The battle was made famous in the book, “We Were Soldiers Once…and Young: Ia Drang – the Battle That Changed the War in Vietnam,” which was made into a movie starring Mel Gibson.

“All our service men and women today are indeed a ‘band of brothers,’” Marm said. “God bless them, God bless you and God bless our country.”

At the ceremony, Duncan read the names of more than 140 people connected with ECU and military service whose names will be on brick pavers permanently set in the Memorial Walk. Friends and family donated $125 to have each of those names included. The money pays for ROTC student scholarships.

A blustery breeze rattled the microphone as Duncan read the names. Two ROTC students tapped the Victory Bell, originally dedicated in 1953, for each name, releasing a melodic, barely audible tone. When a few of the names were called, low cheers and quiet, scattered applause could be heard from the corners of the crowd.

Gen. Gary North, a four-star general who serves as commander of the U.S. Pacific Air Forces and is a 1976 graduate of ECU, attended the ceremony as guest of honor. He received a commemorative ECU coin and a brick paver, which was later set in the Memorial Walk by two ECU brick masons.

Earlier in the day he served as grand marshal for Greenville’s Veterans Day parade.

North has logged flown more than 4,600 hours of flight in fighter aircraft, from the F4 to the F16.

“Col. North has done this university, this state and this nation proud,” said Rick Niswander, vice chancellor for administration and finance.


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