They haven’t yet experienced service themselves, but that doesn’t mean they don’t understand the value of honoring the community’s veterans.
About 100 Kansas University ROTC students participated in a 24-hour silent vigil in front of the campus’ three war memorials from 7 p.m. Friday to 7 p.m. Saturday. The volunteers stood in their dress uniforms, at attention when anyone else was nearby, for an hour or more. It’s an annual joint-services tradition and, though it takes place on campus, organizers said they hoped it would benefit the larger community as they celebrate the service of the men and women in all branches who have come before them.
Cadet Katherine Benson, a junior in Air Force ROTC, was a key organizer through her involvement with the Air Force’s community service group. The Veterans Day vigil is a bit of a logistical challenge — there are 144 posts to fill, and Benson had gotten little to no sleep as of Saturday afternoon.
But she said the shifts she had completed gave her an interesting opportunity to think deeply about such lofty topics as honor and bravery.
“It’s one hour done out of respect for those who have served and those who are serving, done by those who will serve,” she said. “It’s a good time to reflect on why you’re there, and our chance to stand for those who get to sit — those who are now done with their service.”
Cadet Tyler Underwood, also a junior in Air Force ROTC, said that he was pleasantly surprised by students’ reactions to seeing his part of the vigil.
“People say ‘thank you,’” he said.
“But we haven’t done anything yet,” Benson said.
They both spoke of the “interesting experience” of being seen in their service uniforms and the subtle but present reactions to their vigils they see in the eyes of passersby. Many of their classmates don’t know they’re in ROTC — even Underwood’s roommate doesn’t seem to, he says — and many outside of its culture may be less attuned to the sacrifices of duty.
So the ROTC students are quick to deflect attention from themselves back to their predecessors. After all, it’s giving respect to the veterans and those currently in active duty that makes the vigil worthwhile, Benson said.
“It’s the least we could possibly do,” she said.