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Honoring Veterans

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    The University of Miami ROTC Color Guard opened the Veterans Day Tribute with the presentation of the colors.

    When Nick Lamis returned to the United States in 1970 after a tour of duty in Vietnam, there were no crowds of people waving American flags and holding “Welcome Home” signs. No yellow ribbons adorning the airport arrival gates. No bands playing patriotic music. Only his wife and three small kids to greet him.

    Lamis, who flew combat missions in Vietnam after earning an accounting degree from the University of Miami in 1963 as an Air Force ROTC cadet, found himself fighting a second war at home: ostracism from some segments of American society.

    “But it’s not like that today,” he said. “We’ve learned our lessons.”

    Lamis, 74, was one of several veterans—from an Army medic to a naval radar officer during World War II—who attended a Veterans Day ceremony November 12 on the University of Miami campus.

    Vice Admiral Joseph D. Kernan, military deputy commander of U.S. Southern Command, delivered the keynote address.

    They were joined by several members of the UM community, including President Donna E. Shalala, for a tribute that Vice Admiral Joseph D. Kernan, military deputy commander of U.S. Southern Command, called “another opportunity for us all to express our deep and enduring gratitude to our veterans and our military families for serving our country with honor, courage, and selflessness.”

    A Navy SEAL, Admiral Kernan praised veterans as well as the nation’s active duty personnel.

    “Wherever the battlefield, wherever the mission, our service members answer the call,” Kernan said at the ceremony, held on the first floor of the Whitten University Center. “They fight ruthless enemies that have no moral or ethical compass. They are captured and tortured, targeted by maiming IEDs [improvised explosive devices], and killed or wounded by the thousands. They deploy for years at a time, far away from family and friends. They shoulder burdens none should have to endure, and they do all this for one simple reason: to protect this country and the constitutional tenets that make it the greatest nation in the world.”

    He noted that there are more than 22 million veterans of past wars living in the United States—over a quarter million in South Florida alone—and said tens of thousands suffer serious and debilitating conditions such as multiple amputations, posttraumatic stress disorder, and traumatic brain injuries.

    Karen Taylor, an administrative assistant in UM's Dean of Students Office, served as a medic in the U.S. Army, caring for wounded servicemen and women at Madigan Army Medical Center in Tacoma, Washington.

    “The truth is, for many of these servicemen and women, their fight will never end,” Admiral Kernan explained, adding that they face years of rehabilitation and therapy and that support from the government and private sector is needed to “aid in their trying times.”

    With the war in Iraq ended and the conflict in Afghanistan winding down, Admiral Kernan said that a new generation of veterans is returning home—wounded warriors who require care and treatment, veterans who need jobs and the chance “to serve their communities in a new capacity—the opportunity to provide for their families.”

    Admiral Kernan’s remarks were preceded by comments from Karen Taylor, an administrative assistant in UM’s Dean of Students Office, who enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1973 and served as a medic at Madigan Army Medical Center in Tacoma, Washington, caring for soldiers injured in Vietnam.

    Taylor said that she saw the results of the “horrors of war” and “lost too many friends.” Each year she dons an American flag pin and attends a ceremony to mark Veterans Day, honoring all those who served, but especially her late father, Alfrader McQueen, a World War II veteran who was a driver on the Red Ball Express, a team of African-American drivers who ferried gas, bullets, and rations to General Patton’s forward area combat units.

    Echoing a sentiment expressed by Lamis, the former combat pilot, Taylor said that she is pleased to see that veterans are treated today with dignity and honor as opposed to the criticism returning Vietnam vets faced in her day. “All veterans should be given the same respect, as we all have served our country,” she said.

    Among the others who briefly spoke were four UM student veterans: Kevin Peterson (U.S. Marine Corps), an exercise physiology major; Mitch Phillips (U.S. Marine Corps), who is majoring in aerospace engineering; Matthew Vautrain (U.S. Navy), a mechanical engineering major; and Samuel Warn (United States Air Force), a neuroscience major.

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