SHERIDAN — A small group of Sheridan College students and faculty gathered under the flagpoles at the Veterans Plaza for a short ceremony in observation of Veterans Day Monday.
The ceremony included an address from College President Dr. Paul Young, who retired from the Navy in 2006, a roll call of veteran students currently enrolled and a color guard comprised of students from the Sheridan College Veterans Club.
Young used the opportunity to provide an impromptu history lesson to the crowd of approximately 100 attendees huddled amid lightly falling snow. He began by explaining the date and time of Monday’s ceremony that coincided with the armistice that ended World War I in 1918 — the 11th day of the 11th month at the 11th hour.
“How America treats its veterans today has a lot to do with events that unfolded after soldiers serving in the first World War returned home,” Young said.
He continued to explain back then, soldiers had been promised bonuses in the form of promissory notes that would mature in 1945.
However, after the stock market crashed and the Great Depression hit in 1928, veterans wanted to cash in their bonuses early to get through the hard times. In the summer of 1932, approximately 43,000 veterans marched on Washington, D.C., in hopes of inspiring legislation to allow for early bond redemption. They were called the Bonus Marchers.
“The Bonus March ended badly,” Young said. “Congress, facing economic pressures of the depression, did not pass the early redemption bill, and active duty forces were called in to drive out the protesters. The protest ended in violence and much bloodshed.”
Young said Harry S. Truman had served in an artillery battery and had felt the letdown along with other veterans. Those experiences played a big part in shaping his policy when he became commander in chief years later.
“There’s no doubt as he thought about and planned this huge demobilization of American servicemembers in World War II in 1946, he was thinking of the horrible history of the Bonus Marchers and the misfortunate veterans from the First World War,” Young said, adding that Truman’s solution was a commitment to make higher education more accessible to veterans.
“While there were many hands and many dreams that helped create the college where we now stand today, the huge energy President Truman put behind the development of a national network of two-year colleges to provide higher education to America’s World War II veterans through the G.I. Bill was a decisive factor.
“In a special way, then, this college is a direct descendant of the events of Nov. 11, 1918,” Young concluded, emphasizing the role community colleges play in economic development for communities.
Young said taking care of veterans is an ongoing task for the country.
“I think there’s a lot of things we have to remember going all the way back to the civil war, there just wasn’t the awareness there was today. That, too is a continuing fight to make sure we don’t forget those who have made those huge sacrifices and are coming back and trying to reinsert themselves into society,” he said.
After Young’s address, the Veteran’s Club Color Guard posted the national flag, the Wyoming flag, and the Prisoner of War flag to fly over the campus for the day.
Veteran’s Coordinator, Brett Burtis, a retired Marine, read the names of Sheridan College students and faculty who have served in the armed forces and led the crowd in a moment of silence for those who did not come home.