Wesleyan’s mission is to strive towards offering service however possible. Service comes in many different forms and for various reasons. As Head of School Chris Cleveland said, “We seek to install a heart of service to our students.” On Nov. 11, the Wesleyan community gathered to celebrate a specific type of service: the service of the many veterans who have fought to keep our country safe.
The assembly revolves around honoring those who have served to protect our country. Cleveland said, “We remember those who were called upon to give what we couldn’t. Champions of a noble cause.” As the band played the anthems of the different military divisions, each veteran stood up, representing their division. Senior Aubrey DeAugustinis said, “I think that’s the coolest thing. Even you weren’t ‘brothers’ in the navy, you still feel like a union.” The middle and high school chorus then sang “The National Anthem” as well as “Homeland” to pay tribute to our military.
Eighth graders Georgia and Kate Powell then introduced their uncle, Sergeant Steve Hopper. Hopper served in the United States Army from May of 1966 to May of 1968 and served in the 9th Infantry Division as leader of Charlie Company in Vietnam. Hopper has won various awards and medals for his service, even being honored by President Trump. Yet the thing that matters the most to him is the brotherhood that he formed between himself and his “band of brothers” over the sixth months of training that they had, as well as fighting in Vietnam. Hopper told the audience that when 160 men arrived in Vietnam, only 30 remained after a few months. Hopper said that while he was fighting against the enemy, two questions lingered in his mind: “Is my training going to carry me?” and “Is God going to carry me?”
At the end of his speech, Hopper later told the audience about his return to Vietnam in April of 2016. While he was there, Hopper said that at each battlefield, he prayed and placed a cross bearing the insignia of the 9th Infantry Division, honoring those in the company who had died in combat. Hopper then shared a story of what happened with a stranger that he met there. The stranger had fought with the enemy and was the reason for one of Hopper’s men in earning a Purple Heart. The men and the stranger then bonded and smiled. Hopper said, “Don’t ever underestimate the power of a smile. I wish every veteran of Vietnam could go back and experience the same thing I did.” Hopper also said that his biggest reward in life was becoming a father and serving our country. In closing, Hopper gave the Wesleyan community a challenge. He said, “When you serve, give it your all. Always be recognized as someone that can be counted upon. Don’t forget to thank a veteran. Not just on Veteran’s Day, but every day.”
A video was then shown of Wesleyan alumni who have served or are currently serving in the armed forces, as well as family members of Wesleyan students and faculty. Junior Jimmy Cox, whose sister is currently serving in the army, said, “It’s both a good and bad thing to have my sister in the military. The good is that she’s protecting our freedom every day and doing what’s right for our country. The bad is that I never know if my sister will be coming back home again because she’s always risking her life for a better cause.” When asked about his favorite part of the assembly, Cox said, “My favorite part is when they read off all the family members, but also when the speaker talked about how he met his enemy in Vietnam. But what also grabbed my attention was when they found out that their enemy was wounded and gave him a purple heart from one of their hats. I thought that was amazing because people who have a conflict can come back to be friends.”
Senior Tatum Connor, whose brother Ben (’18) is currently in ROTC, said, “Since I have family members in the military, I love that we are honoring them and their sacrifices. I feel like many people know that military members are giving up many things, but they do not understand the weight of their sacrifices. We don’t sit down and think about it often enough. When asked about her favorite part of the assembly, Connor said, “It is always the speaker who tells their story. It’s amazing the things that they do for their country. Also, I love the slideshow that has pictures of faculty, staff, alumni and parents of students who have served. It shocks me how many people I know who have served.”
While various family members and alumni of the Wesleyan community serve or have served in the army, faculty have also served in the armed forces. Wesleyan Math Department Chair and high school math teacher Andy Randrup is one of those faculty members who took the pledge to serve our country in the armed forces. Randrup, who was a First Lieutenant in the United States Army, served as an Infantry Platoon Leader, and later served as a Battalion Adjutant. As a veteran, Randrup said, “I am extremely thankful for the time and effort that Wesleyan invests in the Veteran’s Day assembly. I believe that the assembly is as much for the non-veterans as it is for the veterans. I am personally moved by the genuinely honoring atmosphere that is prevalent in the assembly. I truly believe that Wesleyan is trying to help the student body appreciate the service of the military. When asked about what the students should learn by attending the assembly, Randrup said, “My hope is that our students will gain some insight and sincere gratitude for the sacrifices that our service members are making every single day. I do not think we are there yet. We enjoy our opportunities and freedoms but rarely give thought to what others sacrifice daily to allow for them.”
Sgt. Hopper and Randrup both said honoring veterans should not just be on Veteran’s Day. Instead, it should be honored every single day. Men and women have served or are serving to allow the American people to live in a society free of tyranny and oppression. It is important to honor those who gave up everything. Those who fought when others couldn’t. That is what Veteran’s Day should mean to not just to the Wesleyan community, but to Americans as well.