On Veterans Day, Northeastern honors those serving our nation

On Friday, Northeastern University honored those who have served and protected our country with its annual Veterans Day ceremony. President Joseph E. Aoun led the Northeastern community in paying tribute to the nation’s men and women in uniform, including alumni and current student veterans—many of whom were present in the audience.

“Veterans Day here at Northeastern is a special day,” President Aoun said at the ceremony held at the university’s Veterans Memorial. More than 150 people attended the event on the brisk, breezy afternoon. “We thank, honor and support those who serve our country, and we are proud to pay tribute to them at this memorial site in the heart of our campus.”

General David D. McKiernan, the retired former commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan gave the keynote address. McKiernan praised the bravery and dedication of past, present and future veterans and remarked on Northeastern’s commitment to the military and to homeland security through research, support and innovation.

He also lauded Northeastern’s support for America’s veterans, and asked those in the audience who have served or are currently enlisted—along with their relatives—to stand and be recognized. A veteran of three wars himself, McKiernan said veterans must always be associated with words such as sacrifice, duty, honor and courage.

“It’s not enough to simply tell veterans, ‘thank you for your service.’ We as a nation owe much more to those who honorably served in both peace and war,” he said.

In tough national budgetary times, McKiernan also called on elected officials in Washington to preserve funding to programs that support veterans. “A veteran of military service is a better citizen. We owe them those resources,” he said.

Five years ago, Northeastern dedicated its Veterans Memorial in the heart of campus, adjacent to the Egan Research Center on Neal F. Finnegan Plaza. The memorial bears the names of those men and women from Northeastern who have given their lives for their country.

At Friday’s ceremony, President Aoun recognized Chairman Emeritus Neal F. Finnegan, BA’61, H’98, along with other alumni who were instrumental in the memorial’s construction. On Friday, Northeastern also added the names of four Army veterans to the memorial: Brewster E. Littlefield, ’18; Rutherford J. Welsh, ’68; Robert J. Kelly, ’67; and Thomas W. Knuckey, ’69.

“Freedom, we understand, is not free,” Finnegan said. “Northeastern is a century-old community, and over the years we have paid a very dear price to support our country in times of conflict and war. That price is apparent in the large number of names on this memorial, and the voids those fallen soldiers left in the lives of their families, their classmates and the community.”

President Aoun also noted the university’s mission includes contributing to the nation’s safety, and that security—along with health and sustainability—is one of Northeastern’s top research themes. These efforts include the George J. Kostas Research Institute for Homeland Security, a new facility located on Northeastern’s campus in Burlington, Mass., made possible by a $12 million gift from alumnus and veteran George J. Kostas, E'43, H'07.

ROTC cadets laid wreaths at the memorial representing each military conflict involving the United States, and President Aoun and McKiernan together laid the final wreath. The 26th Infantry Division band also played the National Anthem and “America the Beautiful.”

Prior to the ceremony, the Northeastern ROTC Alumni Society—joined by members of the Student Veterans Organization—held a remembrance ceremony of its own where all the names listed on Northeastern's Veterans Memorial were read aloud.

Since 1950, the university has hosted a ROTC program on campus, and at one time it was one of the largest completely volunteer ROTC units in the country with about 2,800 cadets enrolled.

Approximately 4,000 Northeastern alumni who enrolled in ROTC have been commissioned into the U.S. Army, and occasionally in other services. Alumni have also entered other Armed Forces branches through other channels beyond ROTC.

The current ROTC formation at Northeastern, an Army ROTC unit known as the Liberty Battalion, includes cadets from Boston College, Suffolk University, Wentworth Institute of Technology and other local colleges. It is the largest unit in New England, and is commanded by Lt. Col. Gary Soldato, professor of military science.

“Northeastern has a proud heritage of supporting its country’s military,” Soldato said. “This memorial stands proud reminding students and faculty today of the selfless service of all our past graduates.”