Jeff Neukom, Managing Editor
While the month of November is one of the last months to admire the fallen leaves, it’s also a month to remember both our fallen soldiers and those who are still with us.
On Wednesday, Nov. 11, Illinois Wesleyan hosted the Veterans Day Ceremony. Students, faculty, alumni and community members alike gathered by the flagpole on the Eckley Quadrangle to commemorate the service and sacrifice of both veterans at large and those who are part of the Wesleyan community.
“It was a brief ceremony, but I think it’s an important one,” senior Amy Holpuch said. “It was a great opportunity to meet and thank our local veterans.”
Senior IWU student and U.S. Ranger veteran Tim Leiser opened Wednesday’s ceremony with a poem he’d written, which was followed by a moment of silence.
After the moment of silence, members of the audience named families, family members or veterans that they wished to lift up. Seniors Ashton Butler and Holpuch, members of ISU’s chapter of ROTC, laid a wreath in front of the flagpole.
IWU students in ROTC were joined by representatives from Illinois State University’s Science Department. Senior Michelle Riechers played “Taps,” a military bugle call, and first-year John Narcissi played “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes in honor of those serving and those who have served.
George Freeman, ‘70, was one alum present at the ceremony. At Wesleyan, he rushed Sigma Chi, and afterwards he joined the U.S. Military. After service, he has remained active in the Bloomington area. In 2013, he played the role of a cop in the play Middletown, directed by Will Eno, and hosted by the Heartland Theatre Company.
Often, when we think of military veterans, we think of those who have served in wars from years past, such as Korea, Vietnam or, more recently, the Gulf War. Not many of us think to acknowledge veterans of the conflicts in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Less of us think of veterans currently attending classes on IWU’s campus. Sophomore Megan Schumacher and senior Tim Leiser are pursuing their undergraduate degree after a combined four tours between them.
Schumacher completed training as a hospital corpsman, an enlisted medical specialist of the U.S. Navy who serves with both the Navy and the Marine Corps. Beginning in July of 2014, she served a seven-month deployment at Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan.
It was this deployment that made her realize she wanted to become a nurse. Thanks to the Yellow Ribbon Program, her fees are entirely taken care of.
“The transition has been hard, but I think this has been one of the best things for me,” Schumacher said. “I know I made the right decision.”
She hasn’t been alone in her re-acclimation. With the help of Will Jaeckle, associate professor of biology at IWU, she was able to adjust to life on campus and open herself up to social interaction.
Leiser, a graduate of the U.S. Army Ranger School, served three tours abroad – two in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. It didn’t take long for him to return to service after enrolling at IWU. This time, though, it was not in active duty.
Rather, with the help of Matthew Damschroder, he began work as a residential advisor, starting in Gulick Hall. He soon transferred to another dorm to take over a floor deemed “trouble” by RAs on site.
Compared to his training in Air Assault School, Airborne, Mountain Warfare, PATHFINDER and, of course, Ranger School, a floor full of undergrads did not present much resistance. It wasn’t always easy, but he made it through without issue.
“I had some anxiety and was uncomfortable living with other people right away,” Leiser said. “The readjustment to civilian life wasn’t easy, but Doug and Matthew really took care of helping me.”
Veterans Day is an important reminder to thank those who have served and sacrificed, both those who are still with us, and those who have passed. With veterans present on campus and in our community, it’s easier than you think to say thank you.