CALIFORNIA — California University of Pennsylvania has created what is aimed to become a new tradition of honoring military service members with ties to the campus with the unveiling and dedication of more than 30 banners the week before Veterans Day.
The outdoor banners — each honoring a current student, Cal U alumnus or university employee who is either a military veteran or active-duty military, Reserve or National Guard — were unveiled on Nov. 4.
A military honor guard was present as the final banner was hung.
“I think it’s such a nice way to honor the vets who have given so much for their country and I’m pleased to be a part of it and honor my family members, and I’m sure other people feel the same way,” said Cherie Sears, a Cal U graduate who purchased banners for both her father and husband.
Sears said she appreciates the timing of the dedication.
“As we get to Veterans Day, it’s really a time to remember all those who have given so much. This is just a small way in which we can honor them. It’s our way of saying ‘thank you’.”
Although only in its first year, the mission is to decorate the entire campus with banners, said Capt. Robert Prah, director of Cal U’s Veterans Affairs Office, which spearheaded the banner program.
The banners — each including a photo of the honoree, along with his or her hometown, branch of military service, era of service and other information — will be displayed throughout the campus this month, then cleaned and stored for use in future years.
More will be added through the program annually until it becomes a “good problem of finding more areas to place them,” Prah said.
“With our banners, we will continue to show our public expression of gratitude throughout our beautiful campus,” Prah added. “We are very proud of their sacrifices and service. The value of this program in years to come is immeasurable to both the families and the service members.”
“It’s a great way to showcase our military community here at Cal U,” said Carolyn Cements, a university staff member and military coordinator in the university’s Global Online office. “It is very important to honor our veterans who have served, currently serving, and those who have never returned.”
Clements purchased a banner for her father, who served in the Army during Vietnam from 1969-1971 in the 1st Signal Brigade.
“I believe times were different (then) with the reception of service members coming home to the states,” she continued. “It wasn’t the hyped up excitement that my brother and sister received when both returned from Iraq and Afghanistan. My dad knew that he was called on to perform a duty, and that’s exactly what he did. He never regretted what he was called on to do. I am very proud to honor my dad today. My dad is a very modest man, and never would be the type to seek recognition. This banner is symbolic to his, ‘welcome home’ that he never received from over 30 years ago for his service to our country.”
One honoree, Sgt. Joshua Hager — a member of the Army National Guard and a veteran of the Iraq War — agreed that the dedication is a great way for the community to show its appreciation of service men and women. Hagar, a 27-year-old criminal justice major at Cal U, said he enlisted for patriotic reasons, because of a sense of duty and because he felt it was the right thing to do.
Hager’s name appears on a banner because he is the 2013-2014 recipient of the Col. Arthur L. Bakewell Scholarship, a fund that offsets the cost of education for eligible candidates.
Bakewell, a former director of the Office of Veterans Affairs at Cal U, enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1943 and served in Italy and Germany during World War II. He was commissioned in the regular Army in 1947 and served Korea, France, Germany, Vietnam and the New Jersey National Guard. He also is the father of Sears, who purchased banners in his honor and in honor of her husband, Micheal Sears, a Navy veteran.
“This project puts a very human face on military service,” Prah said. “It will introduce our campus community to individual veterans and service members as we walk past these banners every day. The project is not only a tribute to these men and women, but also to the local sponsors who contribute their support.”
The public is invited to visit the campus during November to view the banners, which recognize men and women who served in conflicts from World War II through Afghanistan, in all branches of the military. A map will provide the location of each banner, Prah said.