President Kaler's thoughts on Veterans Day 2017

Friday, November 10, 2017

Eleven … eleven … eleven.  Special numbers, special day.

For those of you who are historians – and those who are not – on the 11th day of 11th month at 11 a.m. European time, in 1918 World War I ended. No one knew then there were would be another World War. Sadly, of course, wars have continued these past 99 years, and veterans emerge every time after defending our country. 

In many nations in Europe, what we in the United States call “Veterans Day” is known as “Remembrance Day.”  I like that.  In some parts of Belgium, it is even called, “The Day of Peace.” I like that even better. 

My father was a veteran. A career member of the Air Force, he spent a year in Vietnam. I remember that year distinctly and the toll it took on my family. So, this is not just Veterans Day, it is also Veterans’ Families Day. We honor and celebrate here those who have served and also their families, who have served in their own ways.

We are very proud of the veterans on our campuses and the services we do our best to provide. There are about 1,000 student veterans on the Twin Cities campus and a couple hundred more on our campuses in Crookston, Duluth, Morris and Rochester.  

Our University Veterans Services office is considered a leader nationally and we are consistently recognized for the support we offer student and employee veterans.  We’ve been honored as a “Military Friendly School” by GI Jobs magazine and last year won the Pro Patria Award, which honors employers who support National Guard and Reserve employees. Also, we have a terrific Student Veterans Association, which helps build and sustain our veterans community.

Next Wednesday, November 15, at Coffman’s Great Hall, we’ll be celebrating Student Veterans Appreciation Day, from 11 a. m. to 1 p.m., and I urge you all to attend.

I'm proud of our infrastructure for veterans’ support. But if we fall short, or if members of our veterans’ community find that we’re not doing enough, please let me know.

There will be much written and said today about veterans and Veterans Day.  I was struck by an Op-ed piece I read in the Washington Post a few years back.  It was written by Paula J. Caplan, a Harvard psychologist, and the author of “When Johnny and Jane Come Marching Home: How All of Us Can Help Veterans.”

It was directed at the 90 percent of us who aren’t veterans. Caplan wrote the most productive way that every civilian can relate to veterans, no matter how we feel about war is this: We can simply listen to their stories.   

She wrote: “Veterans tend to suffer in isolation, and vast research shows that isolation worsens nearly every kind of emotional pain.”

She went on: “The next step for all of us is to make Veterans Day a National Day of Listening to Veterans . . . If every civilian listens to one veteran’s story, we will become a war-literate nation . . . We will become a real community, where veterans know that their pain will be heard and understood.”

On this 11th day of the 11th month of this year, let us all pause to remember the contributions of our veterans and their families, and to hope for peace.

And to all of our University of Minnesota student, employee and alumni veterans, thank you.