Episode 70 - A Veteran’s Day Commemoration

In a special Veteran’s Day episode, President Scott L Wyatt and Steve Meredith sit down with the SUU Veteran’s Resource and Support Center Director Amanda Keller and Executive Director of the Bryce Canyon Association Gayle Pollock to discuss the history of Veteran’s Day, what life can look like after service for veterans, and the resources for veterans in southern Utah.


Full Transcript

Steve Meredith: Hi again everyone, and welcome to Solutions for Higher Education, a podcast featuring Scott L Wyatt, the president of Southern Utah University in Cedar City, Utah. And I’m your host, Steve Meredith, and I’m joined, running in at the last second, by our President, Scott Wyatt. Scott, how are you today?

Scott Wyatt: Terrific, Steve, it’s nice to be here. 

Meredith: So, we’ll talk about this on another podcast, but you started the morning in Kinshasa, Congo?

Wyatt: Yeah, so, it’s…yeah it’s not every day that you wake up in Congo and then fly home. 

Meredith: Yeah. So, you are…looking none the worse for wear. I’m just saying, it’s a good thing it’s an audio only podcast. [Both laugh] This is one of the few times when I look more together than you. Anyway, we’re…

Wyatt: I haven’t…yeah, I’ve been on the plane for 28.5 hours and haven’t been home yet. 

Meredith: Right. You came literally from the Cedar City airport. 

Wyatt: You can’t smell or see me online. [Both laugh]

Meredith: So, anyway, we’re glad that you’re here and glad that you have been able to join us. And President, one of the things that we occasionally like to do is special podcasts that are specific to certain events. We’ve done one for Thanksgiving, for example, and we have a holiday coming up, a commemoration, an observance in the United States, this coming Monday, November 11 and that’s Veteran’s Day. And we have talked about wanting to do a podcast that was specific and special to Veteran’s Day, and so, that’s what this podcast is about tonight. We have a couple of guests to talk with us. Why don’t you introduce them? 

Wyatt: Yeah, this is terrific. Veteran’s, a group of those people who have served in the military, have been an increasingly important focus for us at Southern Utah University. We now have a terrific, well-run Veteran’s Resource and Support Center and our director is Amanda Keller, and we welcome you to the show tonight, Amanda. 

Amanda Keller: Thank you. 

Wyatt: And we’re also joined tonight by telephone from Bryce Canyon, Tropic, Utah, Gayle Pollock who…

Meredith: Beautiful, downtown Tropic. 

Wyatt: Beautiful, downtown Tropic, that’s right. Anyway, that’s where Gayle lives and Gayle is the Executive Director of the Bryce Canyon Association. He’s also a graduate of Southern Utah University, including a master’s degree, and is one of the founders and leaders of our Community on the Go Program. So, we’ll talk a little bit about his relationship to veterans and Veteran’s Day and those kinds of things. 

Meredith: Great. 

Wyatt: But, Amanda, we continue to grow in the number of veterans that we have here and in our services for them and I’m always amazed by the sacrifice and service that veterans give. And some of the things that happen in their lives that we just don’t normally think about. 

Keller: Yes, absolutely. 

Wyatt: For example, at SUU we occasionally do fireworks on random days. 

Meredith: Right. 

Wyatt: You know, you always do them on the 4th of July and people expect it but we actually, we do fireworks on a certain day in the fall, Homecoming, and we do the Utah Summer Games and the first year that we did that without notifying everybody, we got calls. [All laugh]

Keller: I bet you did. 

Wyatt: And it was that day that it dawned on me that all of these things that we take for granted, you know…but if the veterans in our community aren’t expecting fireworks to go off, it might put them into a very bad spot for a minute. 

Keller: It definitely can trigger, that’s for sure. I was very grateful for Mindy, to Mindy Benson for sending me out an email that said, “Hey, just so you know, this is one of our random times, please let your veterans know” and I was able to push that out. And I even received some calls from my office thanking me, “Thanks for letting me know ahead of time, that really helps me kind of prepare for what’s going to happen” because like you said, it wasn’t on a holiday or anything. It was kind of a random, Red Riot Week, I think is what…so, they were very grateful for that. 

Wyatt: Yeah, it’s interesting that these little things that happen that we just kind of roll over and say, “Oh, there’s some noise outside” and somebody else rolls over and it triggers memories. 

Keller: Yep. 

Wyatt: How many veterans do we have here at Southern Utah University do you think? 

Keller: At last count, I read my last report I want to say it was the first weekend in September, and military connected students—that includes dependents and the spouse—we had about 511. So, I would say of that, veterans are going to be right in the 400 mark. 

Wyatt: Yeah. So, that’s…if you take that combined number, and it’s been growing…

Keller: Yes. 

Wyatt: So, it’s probably pretty close to 1/5…

Keller: Yep. 

Wyatt: One out of…yeah, about 1/5. 

Keller: Yep. 

Wyatt: No, not 1/5. Five perfect. What am I saying? 

Keller: It’s been 28 hours I’ve been on an airplane…oh no, not me. [All laugh]

Meredith: I think you’re doing well.

Wyatt: I knew there was a five there. 

Meredith: Yeah, I think you’re doing well. 

Wyatt: It’s like five percent, which happens to be almost as high as our international student population. That’s an interesting comparison. Veteran’s Day, of course, started the year after the end of World War I. 

Meredith: The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. 

Wyatt: We didn’t call it World War I then…

Meredith: Yeah. 

Because there wasn’t a World War II. 

Meredith: That’s right, no reason to delineate. 

Wyatt: Yeah. 

Meredith: And we were hoping it was the war to end all wars, I think.

Wyatt: That’s right. And the war started out as the celebration of the veterans of World War I and then it changed to be a celebration of all veterans. And I think that after sometime…I can’t remember when, but it was changed from November 11th to a Monday like a lot of the other holidays that floated to Mondays. 

Meredith: Right. That’s right, you had a three day weekend out of it. 

Wyatt: Uh-huh. And that only lasted for a very short time and then it got moved back. So, this is one of those unique holidays that actually is the day. 

Meredith: Yep. 

Wyatt: We celebrate President’s Day on rolling days, we celebrate Memorial Day on rolling days, but we celebrate Veteran’s Day on the day. 

Keller: Yes, we do. And we have our celebration on the 11th as well, I’m really excited about that. 

Wyatt: Yeah. And this is airing on the 11th. 

Keller: That’s cool. 

Meredith: Yeah, this podcast will air on Monday the 11th. 

Wyatt: Well, Amanda, you served. 

Keller: I did. 

Wyatt: Why don’t you tell us what you did and give us kind of the flavor of the service that our students…

Keller: I sure can. I actually am a Marine Corp veteran. I joined about a year and a half after I graduated high school, so I’m not going to date myself and tell you when that was, but it’s been a minute. 

Wyatt: [Laughs]

Keller: It was with the old Post-9/11 GI Bill, which is the old education benefit, not the new one. So, that kind of gives you a timeframe without actually aging me. And I served four years…

Wyatt: Hold on just a minute, I can do this math. 

Meredith: Yeah, that’s right. [All laugh]

Keller: I served…

Meredith: He’s got his phone out. He’s checking you now. 

Keller: Just typing in some numbers there. [Laughter] I served for four years. I was stationed at Camp Pendleton the entire time which is in southern California and I went in in between two conflicts, so I never was deployed anywhere, as a matter of fact. I served during a peacetime and I was…it was a fantastic and excruciating experience at the same time. I learned a lot about myself and like I said, got the GI Bill and so, that was fantastic. I actually was a truck driver, motor transportation…

Meredith: Nice!

Keller: So, I can drive some big trucks. [Laughs] 

Meredith: I’m going to keep you in mind. I occasionally need people that drive big trucks. [All laugh]

Keller: Yeah, I was able to do that. And since then, now that I’ve…this is a second or time that I’ve been in the veteran’s office. I used my GI Bill and got my degree at Weber State working in the Veteran’s Center. And since I’ve come to you at SUU, which I totally adore, what I have seen and what I have noticed with our 21st century veterans is this is a really long war and a lot of these veterans have gone five or six times. I hate to even say this, but my ex-husband was in the Army and he was deployed five times in our ten years of marriage. So, they are separated a lot from their families. That’s one of the major things is the separation and together and separate and together and separate…that’s a big one. There is…

Wyatt: Well, and it’s not like conflict in the past where you had a start date and an end date. 

Keller: Correct. 

Wyatt: We’re engaged in conflicts that it’s totally uncertain as to when they end. 

Keller: Right. And I think I saw in the newsstand that there are current active duty service members, some of them were not even alive when this conflict started. It’s been that long. 

Meredith: Wow. 

Keller: Does that make sense? 

Wyatt: Yes, it does make sense. 

Keller: There was a 17 year old…

Meredith: We started fighting in Afghanistan, for example…

Wyatt: That had never occurred to me.

Keller: And I hadn’t either before I saw it on the cover of one of the magazines in the newsstand. He’s 17 and he’s fighting a war that he wasn’t alive for when it first started.

Meredith: Wow. 

Keller: Crazy. 

Wyatt: My goodness. 

Keller: So, there’s a lot of unique challenges that they face reintegrating back into when they decide to come back to school. They change from a very structured and very rigid daily life to not so much structure. They sit in classrooms next to the traditional 18 year old. They have different world views, they have this rich knowledge that our traditional students don’t have and some of that knowledge comes with a little bit of baggage. They can have very strong opinions at times, they can be scared by fireworks at times, they can have big mouths sometimes even, too. 

Wyatt: [Laughs]

Keller: Which I encourage in my office, but it’s very, very true. And so, all of those things are unique challenges that they both bring to the table but also…I hate to use the word “challenge” because they are fantastic people and they have such a knowledge and understanding that…it’s hard to get anywhere else if that makes any sense. So, it’s been fantastic and really very eye opening to work with them and we do a lot of things in the centers to support them and try and make that transition as easy as possible. One of the things that we do that not many of the other colleges in the state do, we have a first year success specialist. So, I have a part-time employee that meets with all of the incoming students their first, second, and third semesters. Along with helping them navigate the regular university system like how to look at your DegreeWorks and things like that. She also checks in with them on a personal level. “How are you doing? How is your family handling?” A lot of our veteran students are aviation so they move their entire family here to go to school to get their pilot program, or their pilot degree. And so, a lot of times, there’s finding a place to live and all of that stuff. So, along with just the education component of it, it’s really a wholistic approach that we try to take in the office. We also have an opportunity for them to get telehelp for any sort of concerns that they have where they don’t have to maybe burn the caps or…they are able to just come into the office and do it over the phone in our front office and that’s something that we’ve partnered with VA to do. Along with that, sometimes it’s just a cup of coffee and a place to be able to swear and not have anybody get mad at you. [All laugh] I mean, for reals. Sometimes that happens in the lounge is they just…

Meredith: Hey, that’s my office. [All laugh] That’s what we’re describing. 

Keller: They just come in during coffee and swear and that’s all they need. And then we have all the traditional stuff like a printer and computers and stuff in our lounge. But it’s really just kind of a safe space for them to let their hair down and be around people that know what they’ve gone through. 

Wyatt: Yeah, that kind of understand it. I…there is some…there’s a language and a culture that we share with people that have been through the same trenches of life that we’ve been through and kind of understand that. One of the really rich things for me in my role as President of the university is being able to associate with people from all of these different tribes. [Laughs] However you want to describe it. This…the group of veterans have some similarities and definitely some differences amongst themselves because they’re all individuals, but it’s been really fun for me to get to know so many of these veterans and one of my favorite memories was a group of us went on an overnight motorcycle ride out to Torrey and Capitol Reef National Park. Anyway, we…I’ve got a motorcycle and they let me drive with them even though mine isn’t a Harley Davidson. We’d stop and…

Meredith: Then it isn’t really…if it’s not a Hog, it’s not really a motorcycle. 

Wyatt: I know, they’d make fun of me. 

Meredith: Sure. 

Wyatt: We’d all turn our motorcycles off and they’d say, “Hey, Wyatt, you forgot to turn your motorcycle on.” [All laugh] Because it doesn’t make any noise when it’s turned on or off. But just sitting there around a campfire eating pizza…it wasn’t really a camp fire but it was a fire outside at the restaurant, and just listening to them all talk about these stories and experiences was really interesting for me. I just loved being there and kind of window into what their lives had been like. 

Keller: They are a fascinating group of people, that is for sure. 

Meredith: Well, we tend to lump all of our older, non-traditional students, we call them, not in that 18-years-old right-out-of-high-school group, into one big sort of homogenous thing. But it’s true that within that, there are life experiences, some in the workplace, some in the home, other things that immediately differentiate one group of non-traditional students from the other and veterans probably have maybe the most extreme separation…or at the very least, the most impressing on the mind and body experience that they would bring to the table. 

Keller: Correct. 

Meredith: And as you say, it’s impossible, I suspect, for them not to have that inform their relationship with their classmates and…

Keller: Absolutely. 

Meredith: Faculty and everybody else. It just…we are all the sum of our experiences…

Wyatt: Yeah. 

Meredith: And so that’s important to remember, especially when dealing with non-traditional students. 

Wyatt: So, in addition to all of these services that are being provided in your Veteran’s Center, Amanda, a place where the veterans can come and find somebody that they can relate to and kind of vent their feelings occasionally and all of those kinds of things, there are some really complicated things for veterans. Their relationship with the VA hospitals, GI Bill, all these things and you spend a lot of time helping them through the regulations of all of those things. 

Keller: Absolutely. It feels like the federal government changes all the time, doesn’t it sometimes? 

Wyatt: And they even tell us after the fact occasionally. 

Meredith: Yeah. 

Keller: [Laughs] Right? The GI Bill is quite complicated. It’s one of the best GI Bills, the education benefits, that have been available for our veterans. This new Post-9/11 is fantastic and it requires a lot more than any of the old ones ever did. So, we do…we are in constant communication between the VA and our students, especially because of our aviation program, we definitely have to make sure that we are following the line that they want us to follow as well. Make sure that all of the veteran students that have earned that benefit are eligible to receive that benefit. 

Wyatt: Southern Utah University several years ago received the distinction of being the first Utah university designated as a Purple Heart University. 

Keller: Yes. 

Wyatt: And I assume that other universities in Utah have since received that designation, but I haven’t actually heard…

Keller: Yes, many of the others have followed suit.

Wyatt: That’s good. But I remember when this happened, they said that they specifically wanted us to be the first and they wanted us to be the first because we have always been so…we have always made such an effort with veterans. But I think that this part of the country is particularly veteran friendly. I think the rural American, rural western American is laced with patriotism and the feelings of wanting to serve. I remember getting into a discussion with a reporter from Los Angeles and I said to him, “I don’t think you have any idea what it’s like out here.” And he said, “Well, what are you talking about?” And I said, “Well, I don’t think I know a single person…I don’t think there’s a single person in our communities who doesn’t have a family member that served or didn’t serve or doesn’t have a close friend that served, either in active duty or as a reserve or something.” I don’t think there is anybody. So, we are as patriotic, veteran-friendly of a place as I think you can find anywhere in the world. 

Meredith: I’ve probably told you this story before, but when I was moving from the Phoenix area to work at Snow College, we drove up the normal direction up highway 89 and we started to see these “Welcome Home Triple Deuce” billboards and Patty was looking on her phone and saying, “This is a deployment that has come home.” And that was a big deal in and around central and southern Utah. 

Wyatt: Oh, it was a huge deal. 

Meredith: An enormous number of our citizens that served as part of that deployment. And one of our colleagues at Snow College, Vance Larsen, who was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army Reserves always told the joke that in Sanpete County, that there are a couple of armories in Sanpete and that when he was a kid back in the days of the Cold War, the old joke was that, “When the Russians come, eventually they’ll probably take us, but in Sanpete County, we’re going to slow them down.” And that’s kind of the way people view the world in this part of our state and in this part of our country. 

Wyatt: Well, speaking of community, Gayle Pollock, calling us from Tropic, Utah, I’ve heard you say a number of times that when you were growing up, most of the senior members of your community, males, had served in World War II and what an impact that had on you as a kid. 

Gayle Pollock: That’s absolutely correct. As I look back on growing up, all of the luminaries in my life, whether that be in school or in a church setting, both men and women had served either in active combat, in active duty in either Europe or the Pacific theater or on the home front in some kind of defense or war effort industry. So, yes, they really shaped and influenced me in so many ways. They were willing to share, not often, but when they did, when they would share their experiences of the way it had a great impact on me. And I totally concur that in particular, Utah, has a tremendous patriotism that runs both in the larger cities but especially rural Utah. I think of two teachers that I had in high school that used the GI Bill once they returned from the war to forward their education and complete degrees at the College of Southern Utah at the time so, it was interesting, your prior discussion, I was thinking about that and how Southern Utah University has been an institution that has helped veterans for many, many years. 

Wyatt: This relationship that you had with so many of the mentors in your life as you grew up in Tropic has led you to be very interested in the history of World War II in particular and you have visited a lot of these very significant spots where your relatives served and others have served. Why don’t you list some of the beaches, for example, that you have been to? 

Pollock: Well, two individuals in addition to my school teachers and those that I interacted with at church, two people, my father who was 16 at the close of World War II and my uncle who was a bit older, his brother, who was a Marine who was wounded on Iwo Jima, were really the two that started that interest in World War II history particularly. But as a result of that and those interactions, it’s just been somewhat of a passion, and really a desire to kind of walk in the footsteps of some of these individuals that has led me to a lot of places throughout the world. I’ve been most fortunate to have been able to travel to Iwo Jima in 2006. A very difficult journey to get there. There’s only one day out of the year that the Japanese government, who controls the island, now allows visitors to come, that’s usually in early March. So, I’ve sampled and taken sand off many beaches that are significant. Iwo Jima being one that I will always remember and cherish in particular because my uncle served there and what he told me about that event later in life. I’ve been to places like Guam and Saipan and Tinian—the Tinian Islands in the northern Mariana is where the Enola Gay, which has connection to Utah, in particular, Wendover, flew on August 6th to drop the first atomic bomb on Japan—a number of other areas in the Philippines and Hawaii, certainly Pearl Harbor. You should see my office, I do have quite a collection of sand and certainly also sand from Europe, meaningful places like Normandy and most recently from Bastogne,, Belgium. So, it’s just a visual reminder to me as I go to my office each day of the sacrifice that these gentlemen and women that I knew growing up, who are all gone now, and their sacrifice to make us free. So…

Wyatt: There’s a great quote that I love from Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, he was…everybody will remember him from the book Gettysburg or the movie Gettysburg. 

Pollock: Yeah. 

Meredith: Right. 

Wyatt: Commander of the group from Maine that held Little Roundtop at Gettysburg…and they dedicated a monument for his group and he came to that dedication and this is what he said and I think it is so fun to think about. He said, “In great deeds something abides. On great fields something stays. Forms change and pass; bodies disappear, but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls. Generations that know us not and that we know not of, heart-drawn to see where and by whom great things were suffered and done for them, shall come to this deathless field to ponder and dream; And lo! the shadow of a mighty presence shall wrap them in its bosom, and the power of the vision pass into their souls." Kind of a dramatic way of saying that, but I think there’s great truth to that. As we visit battlefields, whether it’s Gettysburg or you visiting Iwo Jima, there’s something that abides in those fields. Something stays that our hearts are drawn to, to know something of what great and terrible things happened there to our benefit. And Gayle, you’ve…you’re kind of a pioneer for SUU’s Community on the Go. Which is…

Pollock: One of several. 

Wyatt: One of several, but one of the pioneers and your particular interest for that has been World War II and you have helped us lead two trips now, two out of three for the European theater, western European theater, and why don’t you say something about that for us? 

Pollock: Well, certainly. I’d be glad to. Community on the Go really started as kind of an offshoot of study abroad programs that are offered to students there on campus. As I was completing a Master’s in Public Administration degree the last few years speaking with a couple of my professors, we talked about how the community could benefit from a similar model where by travel abroad could be conducted and subject matter experts could lead those trips and that was really the genesis of Community on the Go, but in the initial phase, we talked about what would be of interest to the people and certainly at that time and since then we’ve seen a tremendous interest in the subject of World War II and so in the early design for the early program that we considered was figuring out how we could take advantage of some of the milestones that were happening. For example, the 75th anniversary this year of the Battle of the Bulge and Operation Market Garden, how we could incorporate these kind of historic milestones into the Community on the Go program. And so, initially we decided that we could do three trips, a trilogy, that we would call Fortress Europe, to talk about the beginning of the end beginning at Normandy and finishing in Berlin in three trips. And so, that’s a little background, as you’re well aware, President Wyatt, as you participated in 2017. We led our first trip which was part of this trilogy which was Operation Overlord, the D-Day experience where we were able to tour the very planning for D-Day in England and then cross the channel and stand on those sacred beaches of Normandy and, in particular on Veteran’s Day, be in the American cemetery overlooking Omaha beach and what a powerful and poignant moment that was, one that I reflect on, and I know that participants that were part of that trip have similar sentiments. And then this last year…

Wyatt: Yeah, it’s hard to not stand where those bunkers are, where the Germans were holed up and look out at low tide and think, “Wow, they didn’t even have a chance, it’s so far.” It’s so far. 

Pollock: Absolutely. 

Wyatt: But, they eventually prevailed and then really prevailed. That was the first two years ago, and then this year was Battle of the Bulge. 

Pollock: Correct. Fortress Europe Operation Market Garden and the Battle of the Bulge which is the 75th universe of both of those engagements. Of course, the Battle of the Bulge in the annals of American warfare was the largest single engagement ever fought by the U.S. Army in terms of total number of men and equipment involved. Not even in Vietnam or in the recent Gulf Wars did we muster forces like we did for the Battle of the Bulge and it’s absolutely the final straw in the war in Europe, in particular for Hitler, as he launched his last-ditch offensive when the German army was defeated, after the battle, they were essentially no longer a fighting force. But to experience that and be there on such a monumental anniversary, the 75th anniversary, was truly, truly magical and I think that those that participated, again, would share the same sentiment. But we’re looking forward to completing the trilogy, we finish this series, the Road to Victory, the road to Berlin, we’ll finish in Berlin and then the final chapter of that story will be in Poland and Auschwitz. So, I’m looking forward to that and I know that there are many that are anticipating on going. 

Wyatt: Yeah, and for our listeners, put in the back of your head 2021. 

Meredith: Those are great trips. 

Wyatt: Yeah. And this will probably be what time of year? We’ve done these in the fall, haven’t we? 

Pollock: Yeah, I think probably again in the fall. September or early October, which is a good time to travel to Europe. Costs are down and so are tourists. That tourist season is kind of coming to a close and it’s just a perfect time to visit the continent and some of these very important places, important to all Americans I think.

Wyatt: Yeah. 

Pollock: Or completed at these locations. 

Wyatt: So, put on your calendars early spring of 2021 and started looking online at Community on the Go and we’d love to have people join us. One of the highlights for me of this trip was the American cemetery in the Netherlands. What an amazing, small community in the Netherlands that has been taking care of these cemetery for the last I don’t know how long. Beginning on Memorial Day of 1945, community members in this little town started adopting…

Meredith: 75 years, 74 years.

Wyatt: Yeah, started adopting the graves of fallen American soldiers and every single grave and every single name on the placards has been adopted by a local and they go in on Memorial Day and birthdays and Christmas and put flowers and I think about 40% of them have connected up with the American families and what a sweet thing it is if you’re the nephew or grandson or something of one of those fallen soldiers to know that there is a family in the Netherlands that still is grateful and is putting flowers on the grave every Memorial Day. That’s pretty special. 

Pollock: I think that demonstrates the lingering effects of war and how the Europeans that were liberated by the Allies in Belgium, in Holland and the Netherlands and other areas are so grateful for these young men and young women that came from all over to places that they couldn’t even point to on a map, that were unknown, and sacrifice so much. I think that feeling is still there, despite all of the political turmoil that we see or hear about, you get these glimpses of just how grateful people are and I think that’s really one of the reasons too that it’s important to travel and see some of these locations. Not only to walk in the footsteps of ancestors or history but also just to experience the gratitude that these communities and areas all over the world have for what the United States has done. 

Wyatt: You know, the stories, and they go way back and they continue on in the present, we were talking about Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and what he said at the dedication of the monument for the 20th Maine at Gettysburg…but he was a college professor and asked for the ability to leave for a little while so he could fight in the ward and the board of directors said, “You can’t do it.” And so, he asked for a sabbatical to go to Europe and study and they said, “You can do that.” [Laughs] But he didn’t go to Europe, he just went and he got the group of volunteers from Maine and they went and fought in the Civil War and had a very significant impact on the outcome there. But the commitment and the desire to serve and all those things is impressive and I see that every bit as much in the veterans that are serving today and have served in recent past. I think they care very, very deeply about what they’re doing and have great motivations. 

Keller: I agree. 

Wyatt: Yeah. Amanda has served. I was thinking of my own family, my dad served…we’ve all got uncles, parents that have served. I’ve got a niece and a nephew that served and a brother. One of my nephews was injured and I have a niece that was a nurse in Afghanistan. Not easy to be a nurse in Afghanistan. 

Keller: No. I can imagine not. 

Meredith: You mentioned the lasting impact. I have a son that worked for the federal government and we went to visit he and his family so we could go see our grandkids when they were posted in Kosovo. And so, they were in the capital city of Pristina and we went to visit them where he was attached to the Embassy. And in Kosovo which is, you may remember kind of a breakaway republic, and they’re ethnic Albanians and kind of wanted to be part of Albania and didn’t want to be part of Serbia and…anyway, long story short, President Clinton then and later President Bush authorized American troops through the UN to go help the people of Kosovo who were essentially being genocided for wanting to break away and it’s interesting to go stand in a capital city in the world and stand at the corner of George Bush and Bill Clinton Boulevard. 

Keller: Wow. 

Meredith: Which you can’t imagine ever having in the United States. 

Keller: No. [Laughs]

Meredith: We would never have the intersection of those two streets. But there’s a statue of President Clinton in the middle of that street and the people of Kosovo remember that. 

Keller: Wow. 

Meredith: So, place we visit, people remember. 

Wyatt: They do remember. Something abides. Forms change, people change, scenery changes, but there’s a spirit that lingers in these places where so much sacrifice occurs and our hearts are drawn to those places. And we salute all the veterans, old or young. I’m always taken a little bit by seeing some of these…we still have some World War II veterans in our community. They’re getting pretty old. 

Meredith: Yep. All in their 90s now. 

Wyatt: All in their 90s. But we’ve got a much younger group that are Korean War veterans. 

Meredith: Vietnam War veterans. 

Wyatt: I say “much younger…” [Laughs]

Meredith: And they are not young. [Laughs]

Wyatt: But it’s interesting because many of them that I’ve developed a good friendship with, it’s hard to find them without their hat that says, “Korean War Vet.” 

Meredith: Yeah. 

Wyatt: So, it’s part of their identity that has never left. Always there. 

Meredith: Last time we visited Washington, D.C.—we had another pair of kids that lived there—and we went to the Iwo Jima memorial and there was a busload of Iwo Jima veterans there, very old, old men, a small group that were hobbling up there and wheelchaired up there getting their picture taken and it was very moving. 

Keller: So cool. 

Wyatt: Yeah, I visited South Korea a couple of times, I got into a taxi with some person and when he discovered I was an American, he thanked me. I didn’t do anything, of course. 

Meredith: Yeah. 

Wyatt: But he remembers. He remembers what we did and you take a satellite image of the Korean Peninsula and look at the difference between North and South Korea and North Korea is black, no lights, no electricity hardly, and South Korea is such a vibrant hub of activity. We’re buying all kinds of things from South Korea. I can’t think of anything manufactured in North Korea. 

Meredith: Yep. 

Wyatt: Except for fake propaganda. 

Meredith: Starvation and misery. 

Wyatt: Yeah. 

Meredith: Yeah, unfortunately. 

Wyatt: Well, Amanda, what would you…how would you define the feelings of our young veterans?

Keller: That’s a good question. 

Wyatt: That includes you. 

Keller: [Laughs] That’s a good question. I listen to the stories from Gayle and the conversation that we’ve been having and I almost…I’m humbled and I almost…part of me almost feels bad calling myself a veteran because I served in peacetime and I didn’t go anywhere. So, there were a lot of years where I didn’t even say, “Yes I am a veteran” because I didn’t sacrifice all. I sacrifice four years in Southern California and it’s really hard for me to compare that to those that gave all or the suffering and the misery that was in much previous wars than myself. So, I know that my feelings…I know it’s not just me, I know we have a lot of veterans that feel that same way and I can give you an example of why I feel that way. Even ones that have served in our current conflict, in…on Monday for Veteran's Day, I wanted to celebrate the veterans that attend SUU so I asked around my office and even put it out to our veteran students that I was looking for speakers. Normally, you will see one grand speaker that has fantastic and horrific and wonderful stories to tell, but I wanted to give a voice to our younger generation of veterans, so, I asked around and more times than not, “It’s just a short little ten minutes. Give me a little blurb, stand up there and talk about just for ten minutes what your experience, specifically the sacrifice and rewards of your service” more times than not it was like, “I don’t have anything to say. Why would you ask me? I haven’t done anything.” [All laugh] And they served in four deployments. I mean, it’s just…it’s a very different…and I don’t know if it’s the same way for everybody but it was hard to me to fill those spots because a lot of them are so humble and they even themselves think, “Well, I really didn’t do all that much.” So, we are blessed to be able to hear from four of them, which is fantastic, on Monday at 11:00. But I think aside from that, most of them—and I think this is pretty consistent throughout—most of them, it’s almost hard for them to say, “You’re welcome” when you thank them for their service. A lot of them don’t feel like maybe it was a big deal or it’s just kind of awkward. Even for me, when people say, “Thank you for your service” I think, “Well, I was in California for the whole time, what did I really do?” So, it’s taken me a little while to get past that. But I think that they are grateful for what they’ve done, they’re glad to be done with it, some of them are, the GI Bill has been a huge help to kind of thank them but I think it’s just…it’s just one of those things you just do it because it needed to be done. So, I just…I joined because somebody needs to and if somebody doesn’t then we’ll have a draft again and I think that’s what a lot of these young ones feel like. It’s almost like they didn’t do anything above and beyond, they just feel like “It needed to be done, so I did it.”

Wyatt: Yeah. Even during major conflict, somebody has got to buy the weapons. 

Keller: Right. 

Wyatt: Somebody has got to ship them. 

Meredith: Yeah. 

Wyatt: Somebody has got to organize the tents. You know, they’re just…it’s got to be done. The longer I…the older I get, the more I recognize in my life and in broader stories that the biggest impact comes from the accumulation of small things rather than one big thing. So, we certainly salute those that were in the fox holes, so to speak, but we also salute those that did 100 little things. Because it takes it all. 

Pollock: And I think if you were to ask, and I asked many World War II veterans, my high school basketball and athletic coach is a Korean War veteran, I think if you ask them, no matter where they serve, they didn’t think that they did anything great and they would give a similar answer. “I did it because it needed to be done. It was just part of an obligation that I felt.” But all of them would have that same humility and say, “I really didn’t do anything significant” and yet they have. And I think that’s just the…whether you served in the Cold War, whether you served recently, whether you served in a combat theater or a support, logistics…to me, there’s no distinction. You were willing to serve, and that’s the important thing. You sacrificed a moment in time in your life to wear the uniform of this great nation and you deserve the same recognition. And that’s the way I’ve always felt. 

Keller: Thank you. 

Wyatt: Yeah. My dad was an Air Force…was a weather forecaster in the Air Force in Elmendorf, Alaska. Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage, Alaska. And I used to kid him that he had pretty light duty because all he had to do is show up at work and say, “Snow today, snow tomorrow, it’s going to be cold tonight, it’s going to be cold tomorrow.” [All laugh]

Meredith: Yeah, he didn’t even need to open the window and look out.

Wyatt: Yeah, “How hard is that dad?” [All laugh] But somebody has got to do it and it’s a really serious part and obviously the weather was far more complicated than that. But I know he loved his service, I know he loved the time and I know that my mother loved that part of their life. The association they had with the other officers in the Air Force up there being so far away from home and feeling like they were part of keeping this…keeping people on the wall. Protecting this country. Strength is the greatest deterrence to war. Well, you pulled something up, Steve, I saw…

Meredith: I was going to…President, I know you’re a huge Abraham Lincoln fan, and I’ll get all teary-eyed if I read this. Would you mind reading the tail end of the Gettysburg Address?

Wyatt: Oh yeah, I could probably quote it. 

Meredith: You probably can. 

Wyatt: But since I’ve been awake for a while…[All laugh] So, the…I like to do this in my American National Government and History class. I ask students the question, “Who delivered the Gettysburg Address?” And they always get it wrong. 

Meredith: Really?

Wyatt: Yeah, they always say, “Abraham Lincoln.”

Meredith: [Laughs]

Wyatt: It was Edward Everett. He was the president of Harvard University, the most famous orator in the country, he was asked to come and deliver the speech for the dedication…

Meredith: That’s right. 

Wyatt: Of the Soldier’s Cemetery in Gettysburg. Talked for two hours, gave a masterful speech. This was back in the day when people would go out for a speech. Not a movie or something, they’d go out to hear a speech, and he brought the crowd to tears. And then when he was done, Abraham Lincoln stood up and gave his very, very short, brief, appropriate comments almost like, “Well, we’ve got to have the President, I guess.” 

Meredith: Right. The, “He came all of the way out here, we’ve got to have him speak.”

Wyatt: Yeah. 

Meredith: Right. 

Wyatt: And there’s a lot of myths about his speech, that he wrote it on the carriage on the way to the thing or whatever and none of that is true. Abraham Lincoln spent a lot of time on his speeches and he spent a lot of time on this one. And there’s a saying that goes, “If you want me to speak for an hour, I’m ready to start right now. But if you want me to speak for ten minutes, you’re going to have to give me a few days to get ready.” Because the fewer the words, the more concise your point, the more direct it is, the longer it takes to get ready and Lincoln wanted this speech and he wanted an opportunity to define what was happening. And it was in this speech that he was able to say what this is all about. And it’s interesting, you asked me to read the ending of it, it’s so short, but…

Meredith: Yeah, I’m fine to have you read the whole thing. I just felt like I was asking you a favor so I…

Wyatt: Yeah. One of the things that occurs here is that Abraham Lincoln defines the founding of this country as being the Declaration of Independence. And you can say that the founding of the country is when the Constitution was adopted or when the Revolutionary War began or when the Revolutionary War ended and he didn’t define any of those days, in fact, most of us don’t even remember any of those days. He defined the start of the country as the day that the Declaration of Independence was issued and the most significant part of that Declaration of Independence was not the statement that we’re independent but rather, the philosophy that was said. The ideology that was going to guide this nation over the next decades and centuries. Because they had already declared independence, frankly, they had done it on July 2nd and so, they’d already published that. So, by the time we get to July 4th, they restate that independence and then mostly the words from Thomas Jefferson, they define what this nation is about. But, Lincoln is the one that really pulls this in. And he uses it to shift people’s feelings about the Civil War. “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” So, this nation, the birth of this nation is this dedication that all men are created equal. “Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.” And for him to say that “it is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this” was actually kind of saying, “Edward Everett, your two hour talk was fine that you dedicated this land, but I’m here to do something entirely different.” “But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.” So, this ground was dedicated a long time ago. Sorry Edward, but the men and women who struggled here already did it. “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.” And then this is the pivot for Lincoln because he turns this ceremony from a dedication of the ground to a dedication of the living. 

It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

So, this all actually wraps us in together that our veterans stand prepared to defend us and do those things necessary and to fight for freedoms around the world and we here have to dedicate ourselves to the same cause and we’re still actually struggling to bring a full equality to everybody and...but that’s what our nation is dedicated to achieve. And it seems to me that we keep getting…even though it doesn’t always seem that way, I’m convinced that we continually get better. Some of the things that we’ve struggled with in the past, we’re not struggling with anymore. And some of the things that we’re struggling with today…if we understand our history well, we know that we’ve always been struggling with those things. [All laugh]

Meredith: That’s right. 

Wyatt: This isn’t the first impeachment. It’s not the first time that a president has been accused of lying to the people and all the bad things. 

Meredith: Yep. I’m old enough to remember at least a couple of those. 

Wyatt: Yeah. But we have made advances in how we have gotten rid of things such as slavery and all of those things that we’ve fought for in the past. Anyway, on this Veteran’s Day, we could dedicate this to everyone, frankly. We dedicate it to the veterans who have stood ready to defend us and others, whether they were called to give the ultimate sacrifice or not or whether they were called to so to speak lay down in a fox hole and spend cold, miserable nights worried about whether they were going to see the next day. But in a sense, you can also dedicate Veteran’s Day to us, the living, who need to continue on with the work this country is all about. And one of the things, I think, Steve and Gayle that I think we’re doing, since we’re not veterans, I think one of the things we’re trying to do at this university is honor the veterans who have served and doing our very best to help them succeed in their schooling and their future career and lives. Amanda, we appreciate your service and what you’re doing to help these students of ours. And Gayle, this Community on the Go is a fabulous way to show tribute to many of these veterans from years and years ago and I look forward to the next addition in two years. 

Pollock: I agree. It’s our duty to keep these stories alive and so we don’t forget sacrifice. And Community on the Go is trying to do that. 

Wyatt: I don’t think that I’ll have another Memorial Day or Veteran’s Day where I don’t think about the people in this little, teeny village in the Netherlands where every single American soldier has been adopted by a family. There’s a lot we can do to honor these people.  

Meredith: You’ve been listening to Solutions for Higher Education, a podcast featuring Scott L Wyatt, the president of Southern Utah University in Cedar City, Utah. We’d like to thank Gayle Pollock who joined us from Tropic, Utah, a bustling metropolis, thank you, Gayle. Gayle is a very, very noted alumnus of our institution and a great friend to the university and also is the Executive Director of the Bryce Canyon Association. We’ve also been joined in-studio by Amanda Keller who is the director of our Veterans’ Resource and Support Center. Amanda, thank you for what you do for our veterans and thank you for your service. And thanks to all of our listeners who have served, for your service. And to all the rest of our listeners, thanks for listening. We’ll be back again soon, bye bye.