The true meaning of Memorial Day is sometimes neglected during the excitement of long weekends, picnics and beach trips, but Drexel University’s Memorial Day Primer held May 21 in the Recreation Center served as a reminder of the true essence of the holiday.
Hosted by Drexel Veterans Association, the Office of Veteran Student Services and the Veterans Task Force, the eighth annual primer’s theme was “Together We Remember” to encourage unified remembrance while also paying homage to a local memorial site.
“Fundamentally, we gather today because we want to honor and pay huge tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice while fighting America’s wars,” Lt. Col. Lawrence Camacho, a professor of military science and chair of the ROTC program at the university, said during the welcoming remarks of the ceremony, which commenced an assemblage of patriotic undertakings.
Following the presentation of the colors by Army ROTC students, Tiffany McKeaney, the assistant director of Veteran Services, sang The Star-Spangled Banner. Emery Mako, president of Drexel Veterans Association then recited the Pledge of Allegiance, leading up to a spirited invocation offered by Chaplain Gary Holden from The Chapel of Four Chaplains.
Camacho returned to the podium, underscoring how the event pays a tribute to our fallen soldiers, and speaking about a significant symbolic notion of soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice: the fallen soldier battle cross. The cross, which consists of the soldier’s rifle, helmet, dog tags and boots, is a means of identifying a body that also acts as a means to mourn, he explained.
While these symbolic manifestations are hard to see on the battlefield, he explained how it was reassuring to see Drexel’s support for the men and women these crosses represent.
“To see this Drexel community here this morning gathered to pay tribute to our fallen comrades really means a great deal to me and my fellow soldiers,” he said. “It is no accident that Drexel is one of the best schools when it comes to our military members.”
He then welcomed the assistant vice president of Student Life, Rebecca Weidensaul, who oversees the Office of Veteran Student Services, including the Veterans Task Force. She spoke about how the primer was intended to raise awareness more intentionally for the national holiday each year.
Weidensaul explained how the event originated from an initial campaign created in 2011 called “DU Remembers … Will You?” to generate support for our servicemen and women, especially those who are students, faculty, staff, alumni, family or friends.
“It was our vision at that time in 2011 to create education, civic, patriotic and social opportunities for members of our campus and community, also to pause for our nation’s patriots, and to punctuate the value and the purpose behind their service to this great nation,” she said. “I hope this will become a lasting tradition because it is one of those moments which aims to touch our Dragon hearts and connect us with our military community.”
She then urged attendees to provide comforting words to those who have lost loved ones through military efforts, and to reflect on the concept of togetherness as we approach the holiday weekend.
“Together has been the cornerstone of all that we do in supporting military-connected students, faculty and professional staff at this university. And it’s this kind of togetherness that has no borders,” she said.
In addition to honoring those who have served and sacrificed, she explained how the primer also commemorates particular locations that honor our military, including this year’s featured memorial, the Cochran Memorial Triangle on 37th Street and Powelton Avenue, which pays tribute to Philadelphia native Cpl. James Joseph Cochran who lost his life in World War I at the age of 23.
Virginia Maksymowicz of the Powelton Village Civic Association presented on the shrine, explaining how they are constantly uncovering more details about Cochran and this memorial that is often overlooked by community members.
After a powerful reading of John McCrae’s “In Flanders Field” by Ralph DeLucia, the associate director of the Office of Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity at the University of Pennsylvania, Camacho gave closing comments before taps was played by Cadet Thomas Charno of the ROTC program. Other ROTC students retired the colors, which concluded the program, although everyone was invited to join a walking tour to the Cochran Memorial.
Mako, a finance and economics major and an Army veteran, said that events like the primer serve as reminders of our military men and women and those who have sacrificed.
“A lot of people are getting less in touch with what it means to serve; people don’t know how easy we have it in the U.S.,” he said.
He said Drexel Veterans Association aims to bridge this gap by raising money to support various endeavors like the veterans group home, helping veterans transition back to school, and through events like the primer.
Emily Barretta, a freshman studying global studies who was one of the cadets presenting and retiring the colors, enjoyed the program and said that it was well representative of all aspects of a typical memorial service.
“It was a very good tribute to those who made final sacrifices,” she said.
Joseph Lapison, a construction management student who was another featured cadet during the ceremony, said that the event will help him through his role in the ROTC program.
“One of the most important things we as cadets do is remember the past,” he said. “The event was very nice and very touching and I was honored to take part of it.”