SARASOTA, Fla. (Nov. 10, 2015) – The crowd hushed as a color guard from the Sarasota Alpha Company of the Vietnam Brotherhood marched inside the rotunda at USF Sarasota-Manatee to formally kickoff Veterans Appreciation Day.
Home to more than 130 veterans, USFSM has formally hosted veterans-related events for the past five years. Each one grows larger as more organizations sign up to promote veterans’ causes. USFSM and the Student Veteran Society sponsored this latest event, last Thursday. (The campus is closed on Veterans Day.)
Clad in dark blue pants, shirts and ball caps, the color guard solemnly marched through the rotunda as about a 100 onlookers fell silent. Carrying flags representing the United States, Florida and MIA/POW soldiers, the guard paused, saluted and carried the flags to their stands at the back of the rotunda.
Around the area, military-themed groups set up tables, among them the Wounded Warrior Project, the Sarasota County Veteran Center and the Southeast Region Veterans Center Readjustment Counseling Service. The event came as Military Times magazine ranked USF second nationally for best four-year institution for veterans.
“These events are important because we have a sizeable veteran population on campus and it brings patriotism and appreciation for veterans to the forefront,” said Todd Hughes, veterans services administrator at the Student Services office. “We would not have the freedoms we have if not for our military.”
Appreciation events also develop understanding between veteran and non-veteran students, said Marine Corps veteran and business student Carlos Moreira. Attendees noshed on food from the Mexicali Border Café and hovered around the tables, mingling and taking brochures as he spoke.
“It’s important for us to show that veterans are a part of our school,” said Moreira, who served in Afghanistan. “These veterans are your classmates.”
In addition to student veterans and military organizations, the event brought out USF and USFSM alumni. Jay Riley, director of alumni affairs, invited several alumni who also served in the military to attend the event.
Longtime veterans marveled at the outpouring of support. Appreciation days are a recent development, said some veterans. For decades, veterans and veterans’ causes received little attention except on patriotic holidays.
“When I got out of the Navy (in 1973) I never heard anyone say to me, ‘We appreciate your service.’ It’s only since the Gulf War that it’s good to be a veteran,” said Len Smalley, who served on a “tin can” destroyer during the Vietnam War.
“It feels good to see events like this,” he said. “It’s good for young people to know that so many fought and died on the battlefield for our country.”
Smalley, a USF Class of ’76 alumnus, came to the event with his wife, Dede. The recent retiree said it felt good to see the camaraderie between older and younger veterans on display in the rotunda.
“No matter the difference in years, we all share this common bond,” he said. “We’re all brothers.”