November 11, 2017 : By Drew Menard - Liberty University News Service
A giant American flag covered a quarter of Liberty University’s football field and the poignant crescendo of “God Bless America” thundered over the loudspeakers as a group of LU student veterans and Army ROTC members sprinted to mid-field to reenact the iconic flag raising at Iwo Jima just before red rockets shot up overhead in the climax of Liberty’s Military Appreciation Halftime Show during Saturday’s football game.
The show is the culmination of the university’s annual Military Appreciation Week. Saturday’s Veterans Day celebration actually started earlier in the morning, when the campus hosted Lynchburg’s first Veterans Day parade in 79 years. Floats and groups of veterans representing each conflict made their way up University Boulevard for two hours as an enthusiastic crowd cheered, waved American flags, and called out, “Thank you for your service.” The grand marshal was George Rogers, a longtime LU administrator and, more notably, an American hero. Rogers, whose likeness is immortalized in a bronze bust outside Williams Stadium, is a survivor of the Bataan Death March after being captured by Japanese forces while in the Philippines during World War II. Rogers served at Liberty from 1974-99, starting as its chief financial officer and most recently as vice president of finance and administration. He is now 98 years old. (Read more about Rogers’ story.) During the halftime show every year, Liberty presents an award in his honor to a servicemember or veteran. This year’s George Rogers Champion of Freedom Award went to local veteran and Purple Heart recipient Gary Witt. (Read more about Witt’s story.)
Before the parade kicked off, a crowd gathered in front of DeMoss Hall to join in the posting of the colors and a prayer by Major General Dondi Costin, a Liberty alumnus and the Chief of Chaplains of the United States Air Force. Ron Hawkins, Liberty’s provost and chief academic officer also addressed the crowd, emphasizing that the university is named after a principle on which our nation is founded.
“We cherish liberty here, and we cherish the men and women who have served and who are serving our country in all of the armed forces,” Hawkins said. “We are wonderfully blessed.”
U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, a member of the United States Senate Armed Services Committee, shared his appreciation for veterans.
“Virginia is the most military state in the country,” Kaine said, noting one in nine Virginians is a veteran. “Today is a day where we honor the sacrifices of veterans. We need to also remember the sacrifices of the actives and the military families. Today is a day to celebrate all, recognize all. Happy Veterans Day.”
Lynchburg Mayor Joan Foster thanked Liberty for hosting the parade and noted that Liberty President Jerry Falwell volunteered to have it on campus in light of construction downtown.
“Today we are both awed and appreciative to have this opportunity to honor our heroes, remember their achievements, their courage, and their dedication, and to say, from the bottom of our hearts, ‘Thank you,’ Foster said. “We must always ensure that their sacrifice will never be in vain. We can never forget that their service ensures our freedom.”
The parade was organized by the Lynchburg Area Veterans Council.
Also on Saturday, Liberty held a memorial trail race in honor of Major Mike Donahue, a former Liberty ROTC professor who was killed in action in 2014.
Military Emphasis Week is an outpouring of the military-supportive campus culture at the university. The week kicked off a few days early with a Military Appreciation Hockey Game on Nov. 4, in which the Flames wore special patriotic jerseys.
On Monday, Liberty hosted a night of remembrance for fallen heroes, including Liberty faculty, staff, and students who have given their lives for freedom.
On Tuesday, President Jerry Falwell signed a statement of support for members of the National Guard and Reserve who are employed at LU. He met with leaders of the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR), a Department of Defense agency that promotes cooperation between employers and their employees serving in the National Guard and Reserve.
The annual Veterans Appreciation Reception was held on Wednesday, following a special military-themed Convocation.
The School of Nursing spearheaded a “treats for troops” collection drive throughout the week. Liberty also helped share the stories of its online military community during a special #HonorThem online engagement day.
As the first Purple Heart University in Virginia, Liberty takes seriously its responsibility to those who have given so much to protect our nation. The Office of Military Affairs works throughout the year to ensure that Liberty’s military students and their families receive the support to succeed in their academic and professional careers. Approximately a third of Liberty’s students — many of whom study through Liberty’s online education programs — have military ties as either a veteran, active duty service member, or military spouse.
Visit Liberty.edu/MilitaryAffairs for more information on education benefits and resources for servicemembers and veterans.