By Robert C. Jones Jr.
CORAL GABLES, Fla. (November 11, 2014) — He might not have known it 70 years ago, but Murray Birchansky helped shape world history, fighting as a then-private first class in the 386th Field Artillery Battalion to liberate Northern France.
Decades later, Chris Kuhn would also do his part to make the world safer, serving as a corpsman in the U.S. Navy during Operation Enduring Freedom, the American-led combat operation that is part of the War on Terror.
Birchansky and Kuhn, veterans of two very different wars separated by generations, came together as brothers of a common cause Tuesday when the University of Miami observed Veterans Day during a ceremony that both honored former and current servicemen and women and provided a platform for expressing what service to country means.
“It’s a source of strength and responsibility,” said Kuhn, now a UM student who is president of the University’s Veteran Students Organization. Even though he no longer wears the uniform, he added, he still has a mission to accomplish of ensuring the well-being of those who served.
During UM alumnus Darrin Roach’s 20 years in the U.S. Air Force, he traveled to almost 50 countries. He served on the National Security Council team, staffing the White House Situation Room and sometimes flying aboard Air Force One with President Clinton. The former lieutenant colonel, who now works in the University’s Information Technology department, said being a veteran has made him thankful for many things, chief among them, faith, family, the Air Force, and the University of Miami. Roach also noted the hundreds of veterans, “all with different stories to tell,” who now work at UM.
Every generation of UM President Donna E. Shalala’s family served in the military, and two of her uncles were killed in action during World War II. During UM’s Veterans Day Tribute, she praised alumnus and employee Kenneth B. “JR” Wiggins Jr., an active member of the Florida Army National Guard, who will be deploying next month on an overseas mission.
Karl L. Schultz, rear admiral of the U.S. Coast Guard and director of operations for the U.S. Southern Command, reminded those in attendance that soldiers lost on the battlefield and at sea should not be forgotten. “We must make sure their sacrifices were not in vain,” he said.
America is what it is today—a land of opportunity—because of the “sacrifices and efforts of veterans,” Schultz explained, going on to talk about some of the challenges veterans now face. He explained that nearly 7,000 servicemen and servicewomen have perished in the war on terror, leaving untold numbers of families grieving. Thousands more have returned to the U.S. with visible wounds and post-traumatic stress disorder. The U.S. has an obligation to “heal their wounds and care for their survivors,” said Schultz, who also called for more employment opportunities for vets.
Birchansky, who earned his undergraduate and master’s degrees at UM, was one of three veterans honored by the Consulate General of France in Miami for their War World II service. Birchansky, James R. Lynch, a technician 4th grade in the 108th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion, and Fred L. Rosenkoff, a technical sergeant in the 305th Bombardment Group, all received the French Legion of Honor medal.