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ROTC battalions honor veterans

Lesley Stevenson | Monday, November 11, 2013

On Sept. 10, 2001, Richard Evans was a civilian with plans to marry his fiancée later that year. This Veterans Day, 12 years later, he is an active-duty captain in the U.S. Army, a survivor of four deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan and a father of four.

“It’s an awesome thing when the country gets behind and supports us [on Veterans Day],” Evans said. “I think we’ve learned some really hard lessons from the past.

“As a soldier, I’ve felt nothing but gratitude from South Bend, Mishawaka and Notre Dame in particular. I’m very thankful for that and the opportunity to be here.”

Since July, Evans has served as an assistant professor of military science at Notre Dame and a member of the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) cadre, or staff. Despite his prior tours of duty, Evans said he does not focus on his own service on Veterans Day.

“It’s a time for me to reflect,” Evans said. “I’ve been in the military for 12 years. I’ve deployed four times, so I think about all the great men and women I’ve had the opportunity to serve with. I think about the sacrifices my family has made to allow me to pursue this career.”

Tyler Thomas, a senior Naval ROTC midshipman and tri-military commander of the three Notre Dame ROTC branches, said Army and Air Force cadets and Navy midshipmen held a 24-hour vigil at the Clarke War Memorial fountain starting Sunday evening in honor of Veterans Day.

“We protect the War Memorial, which stands for all of the Notre Dame graduates who have died in World War II, Korea and Vietnam,” Thomas said. “We pay tribute to the sacrifice they gave. “Ultimately, that’s the ideal service we try to strive for. It may not necessarily mean giving our lives in the defense of the country, but they set a great example of how we should be living our lives.”

Thomas said South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg will address ROTC students and staff members at a public ceremony Monday evening in the Carey Auditorium of the Hesburgh Library.

“[Mayor Buttigieg] is in the reserves right now, and he’s actually going to be going overseas in February with the Navy,” Thomas said. “It’ll be really interesting to hear his perspective, especially in his pre-deployment work up.”

Thomas said the ROTC branches will participate together in Veterans Day activities, including a special appearance at the women’s basketball game Monday night.

“We try to make it a tri-military celebration,” Thomas said. “During the women’s basketball game, we’ll be doing a flag unfurling that’s tri-military.”

Chris Lillie, senior cadet and battalion commander for Army ROTC, said the rifle drill team would also make its first presentation in several years at the basketball game.

“It’s actually the first time in at least five or six years that we’ve had a drill team performance, so we’re kind of excited that we’re getting that going,” Lillie said.

Thomas said Veterans Day unites the ROTC branches beyond community-event planning. He said recognizing the service and sacrifice of all military men and women was the main lesson for midshipmen and cadets in training.

“We can learn from every service of the people who went before us, so it’s important to not just recognize Navy veterans or Army veterans, but celebrate their lives together,” Thomas said.

Lillie said the tri-military events reflect the shared commitment of the military divisions to protecting the United States.

“[The ROTC branches] don’t represent different things,” he said. “They’re all focused on different things, so seeing them come together shows that it’s one team, one fight.”

Maggie Armstrong, senior cadet and a squadron commander for Air Force ROTC, said her family’s military history made her learn and appreciate the significance of all veterans from a young age.

“It was a family holiday, and I never really understood why until my dad explained to me when I was about 12 that he had lost his entire crew in a plane crash,” Armstrong said. “That day was about remembering those people and the ones who’d gone before us to make our country free.”To me, Veterans Day is an opportunity to reflect and remember the brothers and sisters in arms who’ve gone before us. Whether they are retired or out of service or reserves or killed in action, it’s an opportunity to remember what this country stands for and that there are people willing to fight for it.”

Lillie said the same spirit extends to students at Notre Dame, even those who have no connections to ROTC or to the military in general.

“With the big ‘God, Country, Notre Dame’ mantra that we have on campus, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone on campus that isn’t big on service, and that includes service to country,” Lillie said.

“Whether or not you’re actually directly involved in the military, Veterans Day is a big day for everyone because you can go out and support the principles that you as an American believe in and that the people that are fighting for America are representing directly.”

Evans said Veterans Day also reminds civilians of the ongoing sacrifices that military men and women must make.

“What I’m afraid of is with the nearly 3,000 KIA [killed in action] and I think somewhere near 8,000 wounded soldiers, that the general populace will start to forget the sacrifice and service that these men and women have made,” Evans said. “Veterans Day is a day a year to remind everybody … [of] what they’ve had to do – leave their homes, leave their families, to bring freedom to a group of people and protect our shores from future attacks.”

Evans said members of the Notre Dame and South Bend communities frequently approach him when he wears his uniform to thank him for his service. He said Veterans Day would be a chance for civilians to continue supporting the armed forces.

“It gives them an opportunity to be a part of something larger than campus,” he said.

Contact Lesley Stevenson at lsteven1@nd.edu