A rendition of the military tribute “Taps” played softly in Veterans Memorial Park on Thursday morning as George Washington University students, faculty and staff silently reflected on the men and women who have died while serving in the United States Armed Forces.
In recognition of Memorial Day, which is observed on the last Monday in May, GW community members honored fallen service members with a wreath-laying ceremony in the park.
The event was hosted by GW VALOR and will become an annual tradition at the university, said Vice Admiral (retired) Mel Williams Jr., associate provost for military and veterans affairs. The ceremony will take place each year on the Thursday after Commencement—days before Memorial Day—so students who walk through the park will see the wreath and be reminded of those who lost their lives in combat.
“And it’s only appropriate that we do it here in the Veterans Memorial Park—the center of the George Washington University campus, next to Gelman Library, and in the center of the world’s most influential city,” Adm. Williams said.
Formerly located at the intersection of 22nd and G streets, the park was renovated and relocated to Kogan Plaza in the fall, thanks to a gift from GW Board of Trustees member Mark Shenkman, M.B.A. ’67.
Thursday’s ceremony began with the presentation of colors from the GW Police Department (GWPD) Honor Guard, as members of GWPD and the GW Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC) stood at attention.
Verónica María Hoyer, a sophomore in the Elliott School of International Affairs who served in the U.S. Air Force as an airborne cryptologic linguist and a tactical systems operator, then shared a personal story of loss.
While serving her first tour in Afghanistan, she watched Richard Dickson, a fellow tactical systems operator, anticipate the birth of his first daughter. One year later, in April, Ms. Hoyer and Mr. Dickson found themselves together again in Afghanistan, celebrating the first birthday of his daughter from thousands of miles away.
Less than two weeks later, Mr. Dickson and three others were killed when the aircraft he was aboard crashed near Kandahar Airfield. He would never make it home for his daughter’s second birthday, Ms. Hoyer said.
“When people ask me what Memorial Day is about, it is about Americans being thankful,” she said. “Americans should be thankful that they have had brave warriors who have made the ultimate sacrifice for everything this country stands for, for everything this land represents, for you, for the life you lead today.”
Law School Interim Dean Gregory E. Maggs—who is a colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve—reminded the crowd that GW has a number of students, faculty and alumni who have served in wars since the university’s founding in 1821.
“An unknown number of them have made the ultimate sacrifice, giving their lives in service of their country. Who were these courageous individuals? How shall we remember them?” he asked. “They were not mere numbers and statistics. Each of them lived a separate life surrounded by friends and family and all the blessings of freedom.”
He told the stories of four of those service members, “with the hope that they may represent those whom we cannot recognize by name today,” he said.
Joseph Comer, captain of the 1940-41 GW basketball team, led the Colonials to an 18-4 record—one of its best seasons ever. Two years later, Mr. Comer was an Army lieutenant in World War II. The native Washingtonian was killed in a military plane crash.
Howell G. Thomas Jr. wore the buff and blue as a cheerleader at GW in the 1940s. Shortly after, he served in the Army, and became one of the first U.S. casualties of the Korean War.
William Price was awarded the Silver Star and Purple Heart in World War II before coming to GW on the GI Bill. In 1968, Mr. Price volunteered for service in Vietnam and was killed when his plane was hit by ground fire.
Ricardo Crocker was both a member of the Navy ROTC and an editor for the Hatchet in 1989. Following graduation, he served in Operation Desert Storm, and then worked for the Santa Monica Police Department. He served in the Iraq War and, in 2005, was killed by a grenade.
“These four are but a few of the fallen Colonials who have learned in our classrooms, studied in our libraries and walked where we walk on this bountiful campus,” said Dean Maggs. “These stories, one for each of our nation's military dead, represent the true cost of freedom and security through our history.”
The ceremony concluded with the presentation of the wreath by Adm. Williams, Dean Maggs, Ms. Hoyer, Student Association President Nicholas Gumas, student veteran David Myerson and student veteran Monique Baskin.