By Sarah Siock and Christian McCarville
To celebrate this year’s Veterans Day in a safe and socially-distant fashion, over 10,000 American flags were planted on the campus mall to honor those who have served the country.
The entire Rider community was welcome to plant a flag from Nov. 7 through Nov. 10 to honor a family member or friend who served or is currently serving in the military. This event was fittingly titled “Plant a Flag” and is a recurring tradition at Rider during the observance of Veterans Day. The flags were designated to be planted in the shape of the signature Rider logo.
The Veterans and Military Affairs Office had a goal of planting 10,000 flags and they received help from various organizations across the university to do so, such as the Alpha Phi Omega fraternity and the Rider ice hockey team.
To further commemorate Veterans Day a small ceremony was held on Nov. 11 on the campus mall. The ceremony is a Rider tradition and typically draws a large crowd. This year, the ceremony was kept small and attended by invitation only to follow the coronavirus safety precautions. The Veterans Affairs Office also live-streamed the ceremony on Facebook for those not in attendance.
“We wanted to focus on the flags this year because we had to leave out some of the other events we normally have such as guest speakers. The veterans really wanted an in-person ceremony. So we felt it was important to deliver that in some capacity,” said Coordinator of Veterans Affairs Thomas Reddington.
According to Reddington, there are 43 student veterans at Rider. Additionally, there are 121 military-connected students who have a parent or spouse serving in the military.
“Some of what these people have experienced is unbelievable. They walk our hallways and most students do not realize the heroes they have sitting next to them in the classroom,” said Reddington.
While the Veterans Day event had to adapt to a smaller scale, many of the ceremony’s notable traditions were still present. Each year a student reads the St. Crispin’s Day speech from William Shakespeare’s “Henry V.” Reddington said the speech encapsulates the bond formed from sharing a traumatic experience with others.
This year, the speech was read by senior environmental science major Paul Malatesta who served in the U.S. Marine Corps for 10 years.
“I had big shoes to fill. I wanted to participate in the ceremony to show the veteran community and anyone on campus that if you are hurting, struggling, shy, or if you ever need help, you can get a little bit of inspiration from me, and just know you can ask for help,” said Malatesta.
Student veterans appreciate the support provided by the Veterans Affairs Office as well as the steps taken by the Rider community to honor veterans. Eugene Marsh ‘14, a Vietnam War veteran who is currently pursuing a doctorate at Rider, explained the connections the Veterans Affairs Office provided him during his undergraduate studies.
“I can remember serving in Vietnam and [being] unaware of veteran services, opportunities and communities. None of that existed when I came back from Vietnam so it was a very isolating experience. Upon arriving at Rider in 2010 the Veterans Affairs Office brought meaning and purpose to a veterans community and I became engaged immediately,” said Marsh.
The Veterans Affairs Office also had an impact on senior accounting major Scott Ruskan. He said Reddington and the team at Veterans Affairs helped him decide to join the U.S. Coast Guard.
“Tom helped me get the ball rolling with the Coast Guard. He was one of the first people I reached out to when I started on this journey,” said Ruskan.
Ruskan decided to hold his enlistment ceremony for the Coast Guard on Nov. 10 on the campus mall in front of the many flags planted for Veterans Day.
“I have taken part in the flag planting every year since I have been a student at Rider. Even before I was affiliated with the Coast Guard I took a lot of pride in planting the flags,” said Ruskan. “I have family and friends who served or who are currently serving and I always felt like it was the least I could do.
In the week following Veterans Day, The Veterans and Military Affairs Office hosts the event “Pull a Flag,” in which volunteers will remove the many planted flags from the Campus Mall. This event is scheduled for Nov. 16 but may be altered due to weather conditions. The flags will be carefully extracted and packed away for next year’s observance.
“Pull a Flag” will conclude this year’s series of events celebrating Veterans Day and honoring those who have served. However, the Veterans and Military Affairs Office ensures respect and appreciation for Rider veterans at all times.
The Veterans Day ceremony continues to serve as a way for the Rider community to recognize the many veterans on campus.
“A thank you to a veteran goes a long way. It is a nice feeling to have people acknowledge you for your service,” said Reddington.
Story published in 11/18/20 issue The Rider News.