As the Chapel Bell plays the official songs of each of the five b ranches, Wabash community veterans stand in silence on the steps of the Chapel.
At 11:00 on Thursday, as the Chapel Bell played the official song for each of the five military branches, Wabash faculty and alumni events reflected on what Veterans Day means to them.
“Veterans Day to me is acknowledging the men and women who decided to take the time out of their life, to be ready for whatever conflict may arise,” said Dr. Zachery Koppelmann, Director of the Writing Center and Corporal in the Army. “To be in the military, it’s a different world. And you’re volunteering to go, if necessary, into a combat zone.” Other veterans in the Wabash community also emphasized how veterans pause their home lives for a greater service.
“A veteran is somebody who put their life on hold to serve our country,” said Tom “Grunge” Runge ‘71. “Some of us to Southeast Asia, like I did, had a combat tour. Some went to the desert in Iraq or other places in the Middle East. But when you do that, you put your life on hold.”
“In a lot of ways the Air Force in those days, and especially in a fighter squadron, was just like being at Wabash.”Tom “Grunge” Runge ‘71
Runge, a corporal and flight commander in the Air Force, flew F-111 fighter jets after studying at Wabash. Though it may be surprising, Runge explained that flying fighter jets was not unlike living at Wabash. “In a lot of ways the Air Force in those days, and especially in a fighter squadron, was just like being at Wabash,” said Runge. “A bunch of gung-ho guys, everybody trying to outdo the other one — but always keeping an eye on everybody’s back. So in a lot of ways, it was just a natural progression for me from Wabash to the Air Force and flying fighters.”
Koppelmann and Runge spoke about the ways their military experiences prepared them to lead after their service.
“I was trained in the military to be a teacher,” said Koppelmann. I received additional training to be an instructor. And I use it all the time in the classroom. The ability to get in front of a group of people and talk, the ability to do things off the cuff and to organize — it’s second nature to me because I was trained to do it. The comfort level for me to be able to get in front of the entire group of freshmen and talk without a microphone directly stems from my previous training.”
“Veterans usually get the opportunity to lead at a fairly young age,” said Runge. “I was lucky enough to be a fighter squadron commander. There were 60 guys in the squadron, 20 jets. So there’s an opportunity for real leadership really early.”
But Veterans Day discussions of the lessons of service inevitably grapple with the weight of veterans’ sacrifices.
“It’s really about acknowledging the sacrifice involved,” said Koppelmann. There’s a lot of sacrifice involved. If you’re in for any length of time you miss holidays, you miss weddings, you miss all sorts of things. It’s not an easy job. So it’s really about taking a little bit of time to acknowledge these people who voluntarily sacrificed part of their life to something greater than themselves.”
Dr. Tobey Herzog, Professor Emeritus of English and Specialist Five in the Army, described what motivates so many veterans to make those sacrifices.
“People often think that individuals fight for country, for the flag, for God, for family. When it comes down to it, soldiers fight for survival, and they fight for each other,” said Herzog. “And that comradeship is really what motivates soldiers to fight in very horrific conditions. And I don’t think that’s changed over centuries.”
Herzog taught classes on Vietnam War literature and comparative war literature. He described some of the striking similarities between war stories — similarities that defy nationality, geography, and era. “Soldiers in every war are searching for control in a chaotic environment, and they have many similar strategies for doing that. And that comes through in their literature,” Herzog said. The chaos of combat brought Herzog right back to the weighty legacy of Veterans Day.
“Veterans Day is really 365 days a year for other veterans,” said Herzog. “I think many veterans, particularly those who lost friends in a war or are themselves injured as a result of the war, are living with post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s not one day of the year — it’s their life.”
Runge also emphasized the physical and emotional tolls on veterans. “Veterans come home — many of them with wounds,” said Runge. “Some you can see, some you can’t.” Those wounds take a toll. The American Public Health Association found that veterans experience PTSD at far higher rates than the general population, and they face unique barriers to access to treatments. And according to the National Council of State Legislatures, over 37,000 veterans experienced homelessness in 2019 alone.
“You know, if I had anything that I could control, I would want to make sure that the veterans who come home are taken care of,” said Runge. “There’s a lot of people doing that, but there’s always room for a little more.”
“I think on Veterans Day, everybody feels obligated if they know a veteran to buy him a beer or thank them for their service. But we probably need to thank veterans more often than just once a year.”Dr. Tobey Herzog
And with that respect comes an obligation to take care of those who served. Honoring Veterans requires more than just a single day of thanks — it involves an obligation to confront the myriad problems plaguing veterans. Herzog put it best:
“I think on Veterans Day, everybody feels obligated if they know a veteran to buy him a beer or thank them for their service,” said Herzog. “But we probably need to thank veterans more often than just once a year.”