Cadets converse with their families and each other before the keynote speaker at the Veterans Day luncheon on Friday, Nov. 9, 2018, in the UC. Cadets are comprised of Lehigh students and students from schools around the area. (Jessica Mellon/B&W Staff)

Veterans Day luncheon honors military service

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The ninth annual Veterans Day luncheon was held to honor members of the Lehigh community who have served in a branch of the military and to recognize members of the ROTC program on Friday, Nov. 9 in the University Center. 

In an email invitation sent to the Lehigh community, Provost Pat Farrell said that there would be “no politics — just good food and conversation.”

At the luncheon, there was a speech given by Steve Ressler, ’89G, ’91 Ph.D., an adjunct professor who retired from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at the rank of Brigadier General, as well as a contracting ceremony of the ROTC cadets.

The idea of planning a Veterans Day luncheon originated with Frank Gunter, a professor of economics and retired Colonel of the Marines, and Henry Odi, ’98G, the deputy vice president for equity and community and associate provost for academic diversity. Since there was not a connected veteran community on campus, Gunter thought hosting a lunch would be a good opportunity to bring veterans together.  

“After I got back from Iraq for the second time in 2009, I thought that we should do something to bring together the veterans on campus,” Gunter said. “Every once in a while you run into some faculty or students, but I didn’t even know how many veterans there were on campus.”

At the first luncheon in 2009, there were about 30 attendees. At this year’s luncheon, there were over 150 people present from the Lehigh community. Of these 150 people, there is great diversity and a range of service.

“That’s the thing I find interesting,” Gunter said. “At a table, you might have an ROTC cadet, a Vietnam veteran, a Korean veteran and an Afghanistan and Iraq veteran all sharing (conversations).”

Cadet Kobe Miller, ’19, introduces the speaker at the Veterans Day luncheon on Friday, Nov. 9, 2018, in the UC. Miller is a member of the ROTC program at Lehigh. (Jessica Mellon/B&W Staff)

Maj. John Abella gave remarks and led the cadet contracting ceremony, which is when members of the ROTC promise to serve the country. Abella served in the Army for 15 years, and this is his first year at Lehigh as a professor of military science and leadership in the ROTC program.

Fourteen members took part in the ceremony this year. In addition to the ROTC program, Abella said some members are involved in service outside of what they do at Lehigh, such as reserve and national guard units.

“It is an important ceremony for the contracting cadets because it shows the military community coming together to help support us and watch us grow,” said Kevin McMahon, ’22.

The cost of the lunch at the event was covered entirely by Dining Services, which it has done for all nine previous luncheons. In honor of Veterans Day, both Zoellner Arts Center and the Athletics Department offered one free event ticket for military personnel.

Gunter said he felt supported by Lehigh.

“Periodically since 1984, I would disappear for the Marines for one year, two years or three years, but Lehigh would always welcome me back when I returned,” he said.

The annual gathering is a time that veterans throughout the community, whether they work in Parking Services or serve as professors, can sit down for a few hours and share their experiences and stories.

“The lunch provides an opportunity,” Gunter said. “It is an opportunity for our veterans to speak about things that they don’t want to talk about with their families because some of it is scary, some of it is disturbing. But here, you can speak to someone who understands what you’re talking about.”

Gunter wants to ensure that all veterans in the Lehigh community receive the invitation to the luncheon in years to come. He asks for all veterans to contact him if they want to take advantage of this event to ensure that they receive an invitation.

The past and future will converge once again next year at the 10th annual luncheon and 100th anniversary of Lehigh’s ROTC program.

“We are a small part of the greater fabric that makes Lehigh special,” Abella said. “It’s great to be an ROTC program partnered with the institution because Lehigh and the administration fully supports the outcomes of our students and the service of those cadets who go off to do great things.”

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