A message to student veterans
From: Student Veterans Organization at Northeastern University
Sent: Sunday, November 11, 2012 1:30 AM
Subject: A Message from Andy McCarty
For the past few years, I have had the privilege of serving as the staff advisor to Northeastern University’s Student Veterans Organization (SVO). Beginning this Monday, November 12th, I will assume an additional role, that of Veteran Services Specialist. To my knowledge, this is the first position of its kind at Northeastern, and I am honored to be entrusted with the duties it entails.
When I was a freshman in high school, I was a “bagger” at a local grocery store. It was a monotonous job that I carried out wearing the same striped tie and maroon apron every day. My task was so repetitious, in fact, that I would wake up in the middle of the night to find myself sitting upright in bed, going through the motions. Seldom did anything out of the ordinary occur to snap me out of that drone-like existence.
One afternoon, the store manager directed me toward one of the registers where an old man had begun bagging his own items. I offered to take over and followed him out of the store pushing his cart full of foodstuffs. We arrived at his big sedan, the type of elongated car you expect for an old, wrinkled man such as him. My brain on auto-pilot, I popped open the trunk without asking. As the oversized lid rose slowly overhead, an enormous trunk was revealed…filled entirely with small American flags. My auto-pilot disengaged.
The old man came around to join me as I stared at the piles of red, white, and blue. He must have read the question on my face because he began to explain; as a military instructor, he had trained the young men who went into combat. By his age, I’m guessing these were the soldiers or Marines of the wars in Korea and/or Vietnam. “They were just boys,” he said looking through me and into the faces of his past. He swore, and his eyes filled with the salt water of the South China Sea. It was the first time I’d heard an old man swear or seen an old man cry. I was terrified. “Now they’re dead,” he told me, clarifying what was already obvious.
The flags, he explained, were for the graves of veterans. I’d seen these patriotic markers whenever I rode my bicycle through the town graveyard. I had even wondered where they came from, but I never expected to meet the man who put them there.
The old man closed his trunk. I placed his groceries on the back seat of his U.S.S. Buick, and he drove off. He would never know how much he had touched me with this brief encounter, or that a future veteran had bagged his groceries that day. His few words and open emotions had left an indelible mark.
The spirit of Veterans’ Day is not about remembering the deceased, though this is never wrong to do. Instead, it is an opportunity to recognize the sacrifice and service of veterans, both for what they have done in uniform and what they continue to do as members of the American public.
I marvel at the tenacity with which our SVO members meet the challenges set before them. Like the old man placing flags on graves, these men and women have chosen to continue their service by blazing a trail for all student veterans to come. They tackle the concerns of mental health, outreach, unemployment, and other issues that plague the student veteran population all while pursuing their own educational endeavors.
Likewise, I marvel at the determination of student veterans who have chosen not to identify themselves for their own personal reasons, who quietly focus on the seemingly insurmountable task of earning a college degree.
This Veterans’ Day, I can’t help but be grateful for the amazing veterans I have in my own family as well as the student veterans I have met and will continue to meet at Northeastern. I am grateful, too, for the commitment that our university has made to the veteran community.
Northeastern is remarkable when you consider their presence in the whole life-cycle of “the veteran.” Through our ROTC program, we train the young officers who will one day be commissioned to teach and lead troops of their own. Our online courses provide current military members with the opportunity to earn degrees while serving anywhere in the world. And our participation in the Yellow Ribbon Program ensures that eligible veterans can attend a distinguished, private university free of charge.
I can hardly imagine a better job to have at Northeastern University, and I look forward to preparing a home here for all veterans: past, present, and future.
An old man once taught me something about service. It doesn’t have to end when your enlistment is up. If you’ve got room in your heart and space in your trunk, it can last a lifetime.
Happy Veterans’ Day!
Student Veterans Organization