Students, veterans discuss their perceptions of today’s armed forces, day of remembrance

Anna Duszkiewicz

For Capt. Robert McGowan, who served in Iraq for more than a year, Veterans Day is a time to honor those who have served and those who are currently serving to protect the freedoms Americans have every day.

Veterans Day: The Forgotten Holiday?

From Mother’s and Father’s Day to Grandparents Day, holidays aimed to honor loved ones are common in today’s society. Cards are given, flowers are sent and department store specials bombard TVs.

Veterans Day, however, is a different story.

Jean Chrest, clerk-treasurer at Standing Rock Cemetery in Kent, said she doesn’t think people visit the cemetery any more around Veterans Day than at any other time of the year.

Chrest said Standing Rock is the only local cemetery she knows of that leaves veteran flags on the graves of veterans year-round.

She said the flags are replaced annually before Memorial Day by veteran organizations and a group of boy scouts.

Carol Moore, manager of Allen’s Hallmark in Stow, said a small number of people buy Veterans Day cards.

“It’s nothing that we have a big section of,” she said. “We only have one row of them.”

Moore said she thinks the store has sold more Veterans Day cards this year than it normally does.

“A lot of times the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) and those kinds of organizations come in and buy a lot of them,” she said.

According to Hallmark, the company has been selling Veterans Day cards since 2002. The cards were tested in 1985 and 1999, but sales were low. Consumer interest grew after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001.

McGowan, unit admissions officer at Kent State’s Air Force ROTC detachment, said it’s a chance to reflect.

“It’s a day to look back on the people I served with, the people who served for me, and the people who will serve in the future,” he said.

Yet numerous students have a hard time leaving the stereotypical image of a veteran behind.

“When I think of a veteran, I think of an old guy on a crutch with a missing leg and gray hair,” architecture graduate student Ryan Antonchak said.

Chris Kernich, sophomore sports management major, said he has never thought of a young person who fought in a recent war as a veteran.

“I think of him as my friend who fought for our country,” Kernich said.

Some students who know soldiers who have served overseas also said they have trouble getting past their notion of what is a veteran.

Kathleen McMannis, sophomore arts major, said her dad just got back from Iraq. She said she doesn’t really consider him a veteran.

“I think of veterans as being older, like from the Vietnam or Korean War,” McMannis said.

Molly Walz, freshman theater major, has a similar viewpoint.

Walz said she knows young people who fought in Iraq, however, she said she doesn’t immediately think of them as a veteran.

“That’s just not the first image I get,” she said.

Walz said she thinks a lot of people feel that way.

“They shouldn’t,” she explained, “but we grew up in a time when there wasn’t a lot of war, and we didn’t think of younger people as people who fight for our country and become war veterans. I think of a veteran as an older person because that’s what I grew up with.”

McGowan said there are veterans as young as 17-and-a-half-years old.

“I’ve fought with these kids,” he said. “They’re just as much veterans as their grandparents are.”

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, only 39 percent of veterans are 65 or older.

McGowan said some students are just misinformed.

“We need to paint a better picture for today’s youth so they can see that there are kids their age doing the same thing the older generation did, and they are veterans too,” McGowan said. “It’s not just the older people.”

Although it is a common oversight by many in today’s society, McMannis said she thinks the attitude should change and the younger generation should be better acknowledged on Veterans Day.

“They need to be honored,” she said.

Contact features reporter Anna Duszkiewicz at [email protected].