Liberty’s ROTC cadets collaborate to host Veterans Day ceremony at UVA

  • Cadets from Liberty’s ROTC program traveled to UVA to participate in a veteran’s ceremony.
  • While marching in the rain, they took the time to contemplate the sacrifice made by veterans.

It was 3 a.m. on Nov. 7 when Air Force cadet Joe Perrins woke up, put on his uniform and began the hour-long drive to Charlottesville from his dorm at Liberty University.


Even as a freshman, this drive was not unfamiliar to Perrins. He and the rest of the Liberty ROTC Detachment 890 made the trip weekly to join the other Air Force flights from other schools at the University of Virginia.


But this trip was different. This day was different.


As the morning light peeked through the sky as best as it could on what would be a rainy and cold day, Perrins reflected on his task today: honoring veterans in a 24-hour POW/MIA vigil, and later, a veterans ceremony in the rain. Representing a legacy was Perrins’ mission that day in the cadet-led ceremony.


Perrins arrived at UVA and met his partner for the day, cadet Rui Zhang, along with another pair of cadets with whom they would alternate marching shifts at the outdoor McIntyre Amphitheater. Their shifts to march in carefully numbered steps across the amphitheater stage began at 5:30 a.m.


“Obviously you’re not going to be the most seen out there at 5:30 in the morning, but it wasn’t about that,” Perrins said, echoing the sentiments of cadets who volunteered to march even earlier than he. “I didn’t want to pass up the silence and opportunity to reflect that first 15 minutes as cadet Zhang and I marched. I wanted to think about the veterans’ legacy, and my role in continuing their legacy. Without veterans, there’s no example for me to follow and no bar to reach for.”


The service flags lined the stage. The POW flag stood on the right end, and the American flag on the left end. The cadet pairs would march with rifles in arm for 15 minute intervals. They would intersect paths, march to the ends of the stage, turn around and repeat. Completely silent, in the cold and rain.


Perrins’ and Zhang’s shift to march began at 5:30 a.m., but the entire vigil had been in full step since 3:30 p.m. the previous day. Cadet Joe Ferguson, one of the organizers of the vigil, witnessed the full scope of the event from the early planning and preparation last month to the silent hours of marching that night.


“I walked by at about one in the morning,” Ferguson said. “It was dark and silent outside. But with the spotlights that were cast across the stage, you could see the shadow of the cadets marching back and forth. They would cross paths past each other, stop, turn around and do it again. It’s extremely powerful to see, especially in those hours.”


Immediately after the vigil ended at 3:30 p.m. on Nov. 7, the Veterans Day Ceremony began in that same amphitheater. Only now, cadets from the whole detachment had lined up in formation. They were joined by Navy and Army cadets for the ceremony, as one of the few opportunities to bring all three branches at the UVA ROTC together, along with cadets from schools such as Liberty, James Madison University and Piedmont Virginia Community College.



The ceremony proceeded with traditions such as the color guard, the national anthem and a POW/MIA table observance.


Colonel Patrick Donley, commander of the detachment, was one of the speakers addressing the cadets and any passers-by at the ceremony. As Donley spoke, he looked at the older veterans sitting close to the stage in covered seating, and then looked beyond them, out across the lawn where cadets stood in unflinching formation, despite the rain.


“It’s humbling to be addressing a group of people who have gone through the military prior to me, who I have looked up to (when I was) growing up, and then to look behind them and see 400 young people who have made the commitment to follow that dedication,” Donley said. “It’s their history they’re going to become a part of. It really is an opportunity for them to identify with their past and to do something that makes that connection.”


After the 45-minute ceremony, after the American flag had been reverently folded, after the last notes of Taps played and the last shots of the Twenty-One Gun Salute faded, all in attendance were dismissed.


Yet the spirit of the ceremony lingered for cadets like Joshua Torre, the group commander of detachment 890’s Liberty cadets.


“Last week, we were standing here, practicing formation as the speakers were rehearsing their lines,” Torre said. “Last week we were all sweating. Today, we’re freezing. But just thinking about the other service members who’ve gone before me, like in the European theater in the trenches, or in Vietnam, they’ve gone through far worse than what we had today.”


Torre, like Perrins, kept a mind of reflection about him amid the weather and formation protocol he had to pay attention to as group commander.


“The focus was on the veterans more than us, so we were standing in the back,” Torre said. “We’re observing, but we’re also there to show that we’re the next generation coming in behind to carry on a legacy. I thought back to members of my family who have served before me. Hopefully one day I’ll be part of a Veterans Day ceremony as a part of the audience.”

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