In honor of Veterans Day, more than 200 people from the George Washington University community gathered to dedicate the renovated and relocated Veterans Memorial Park on Monday, which now resides in front of the Estelle and Melvin Gelman Library entrance at Kogan Plaza.
The park will be a “perpetual, visual reminder of the GW mission” and the university’s longstanding commitment to those who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces, said Associate Provost for Military and Veterans Affairs Vice Admiral (retired) Mel Williams Jr. at the dedication ceremony.
Formerly located in an open green space by the intersections of 22nd and G Streets, the park in its new, central location will pay tribute to military service members and veterans on a “daily basis,” Adm. Williams added.
A wall that prominently displays the park name in silver as well as insignias for all five branches of the U.S. Armed Forces was also revealed on Monday.
Veterans Memorial Park and the wall are gifts funded by GW Board of Trustees member Mark Shenkman, M.B.A. ’67. Mr. Shenkman is a veteran who served as a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army Computer Systems Command from 1967 to 1969.
“We felt it was critically important to recognize and honor the students, faculty, staff and alumni of the George Washington University who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces and have defended our sacred freedom,” he said. “We salute all of the military heroes, and we thank you for your service.”
During the ceremony, Mr. Shenkman celebrated his own “personal military hero”—his 99-year-old father, George Shenkman, a decorated World War II combat veteran who served under General George S. Patton. Mr. Shenkman said his father’s library is filled with WWII memorabilia, honors and plaques, and he continues to retell his military stories to his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, not wanting his family to forget “America’s greatest generation.”
As a student veteran who served two tours in Iraq and is now just months shy of graduation, GW Veterans President Mitchell Bent reflected on the person who kickstarted his college career.
His former lieutenant, a GW alumnus, asked him what wanted to do when he left the army. Mr. Bent admitted that he wasn’t sure, and his lieutenant went on to tell him about GW’s Elliott School of International Affairs.
“My mission ended in the army, and my new mission was to come to GW and to graduate. And it was tough, but I’m here,” he said.
George Washington President Steven Knapp reminded attendees at Monday’s ceremony about GW’s long history with the GI Bill and how the university continues to invest in the academic success of veterans.
“It was more than 60 years ago that the very first student to attend any university with a GI Bill benefit was our alumnus, Don Balfour. Today, we have more than 1,000 veterans and their families who are taking advantage of the current GI Bill,” Dr. Knapp said.
Following the unveiling of the Veterans Park Memorial wall, a GW VALOR Chorus of faculty, students and staff, led by Assistant Professor of Music Robert Baker, performed an Armed Forces medley of songs and "America the Beautiful."
Later that evening, the chorus sang at Vinson Hall, a retirement community in McLean, Va., for military officers and their family members. The chorus included Barbara Porter, chief of staff in the president’s office; Professors Leslie Jacobson and Douglas Boyce; and Lori Lerman, wife of Provost Steven Lerman. Adm. Williams offered introductory remarks.
Monday’s events were the capstone of a weeklong series of Veterans Day events.
Last week, Dr. Knapp, student veteran Verónica María Hoyer, Mr. Shenkman and Adm. Williams honored Americans who have fought and died in war by participating in a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It was a ritual President Barack Obama took part in one week later.
On Wednesday, those from Office of Student Veterans and Military Services as well as faculty and staff from around the university assembled 500 care packages for the sailors aboard the USS George Washington, an aircraft carrier in Yokosuka, Japan. And later that evening, the Office of Student Veterans and Military Services hosted “War in the Media: Recording History,” a panel discussion with student veterans and experts.
And the university’s dedication to veterans and military personnel extends far beyond Veterans Day celebration events.
GW Veterans Accelerate Learning Opportunities and Rewards program (Operation GW VALOR) was launched in May 2013. GW VALOR initiatives help military and veterans accelerate learning opportunities through tailored and innovative graduate and undergraduate programs. The initiative includes an expanded presence at the university’s Hampton Roads Center in Newport News, Va. Last spring GW also decided to increase its contribution to the Yellow Ribbon Program (YRP), which makes most GW graduate degrees free of cost for fully qualified veterans and their dependents, in addition to the already tuition-free undergraduate programs.
On Veterans Day, GW was named a “Best for Vets” college in the Military Times 2014 rankings.
“I’m very grateful for all of the contributions our veterans are making to the life of the university,” Dr. Knapp said on Monday. “One of those contributions is the way they continue the mission by leading and inspiring the service activities of their fellow students, as we continue to grow our veteran population, as more and more are returning from a decade of war.”