Nov. 6, 2019
At the 4th annual Veterans Flag Tribute at Northern Arizona University, President Rita Cheng declared NAU a Purple Heart university, recognizing the level of support, encouragement and commitment the university offers veterans, active-duty and reserve military members and other military-connected students.
She read the proclamation with Rodger Ely, state commander for the Military Order of the Purple Heart, and Commander Ed “Mac” McGlynn of Region Six of the Military Order on each side of her and a massive, lighted American flag in the background. Lighted luminarias with messages of gratitude and support lined the walkway in front of the podium.
“The Military Order of the Purple Heart recognizes Purple Heart universities for their support of veterans wounded in combat and it encourages students, faculty, staff and alumni to join us in honoring veterans,” she told the assembled crowd. “You, our veterans students make up an important part of our community, bringing with you leadership skills developing from proudly serving our country. For your presence here and for your honorable sacrifice, we thank you.”
The tribute, which Pete Yanka, the director of Veteran and Military Services, led, was an opportunity for veterans and their families from throughout northern Arizona to gather together and for the NAU community to recognize and thank them for their service. In addition to a moment of silence to honor soldiers who died at war, the Rick Yazzie and Battle Lake Singers performed the Veteran Honor Song in honor of the Indigenous people and communities who hold the land sacred and their deep and rich history within the U.S. Armed Forces.
“Thank you for your service—you and your families,” Yanka said. “Thank you for your commitment to being a part of something larger than yourselves. Thank you for all the sacrifices, both big and small. And to our families who have lost loved ones, no words will be enough. Thank you for being a part of this community, where your insight expands community thought and your commitment to service plays out on a daily basis.”
Additionally, three veterans spoke at the event, all with connections to the NAU and Flagstaff communities. Billy Weldon joined the military after graduating from high school; as an Army paratrooper he served two tours in Vietnam, earning a Purple Heart and two Bronze Stars. He’s been involved in veteran activities for the last 50 years.
“Being a veteran is the best honor I’ve ever had in this life,” he said before calling Ely and McGlynn back up to present Cheng with a Purple Heart flag and a necklace blessed by a Native American medicine man.
Meg Mosley, an NAU instructor who spent 13 years in the Army, rising to the rank of sergeant military police, spoke about her experiences as one of the first women airborne police personnel. She joined the Army in the mid-1980s and spent her career demanding to be allowed to enlist in areas not traditionally allowed to women. She spoke of wearing uniforms designed for men and being held to performance standards set with the expectation that she would fail them.
She met them all.
“It is not a pedigree that I take lightly,” she said. “I know it is hard-earned and well-deserved.”
One of her deployments was in 1985 to Grenada, a Caribbean island that had been shattered by military action. The people welcomed the American soldiers who came to help rebuild.
“I remember the welcome given us by the community and the promise we brought to them, which was peace,” Mosley said. “Peace is an opportunity that we often offer others, yet peace for a veteran is an assurance less granted.”
Armondo Escalanti, an NAU graduate and student in the master’s of social work program, spent 14 years as an aviation boatswain’s mate in the Navy, maintaining and operating the catapult system that launched aircraft off of aircraft carriers. As he shared what being a veteran meant to him—humility, family, connection, being part of a legacy that is greater than each of them—he returned to the same message for other veterans: Welcome home.
Bells from NAU’s tower pealed as Escalante, who wants to work for the VA after graduation, spoke, emotion in his voice.
“I’m proud to have served,” he said. “Whenever I see a fellow brother or sister, it brings a sense of pride to me, that I was able to answer that call as well, to be a part of that group. We have many that have come home hurt, come home with PTSD, who have seen things that people don’t normally see. It’s important that we recognize that and help each other out.”
Heidi Toth | NAU Communications
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