Debra Born, Staff Writer
The U.S. flag is now flying in front of Strebel after it was raised on Nov. 8 to honor American veterans and students who have or are currently serving in the military. UC’s Student Veterans Association and the Student Contractors Association collaborated to raise donations for a 35-foot flagpole and monument that are now located in front of Strebel.
Dozens of people, including representatives from the UC student organizations, the U.S. military, local politicians and college leaders gathered on Friday to dedicate the flag in a formal ceremony.
Strebel Lounge, where the event was hosted, was packed with veterans, students, staff, faculty and community members who came to recognize veterans by participating in a flag ceremony in their honor. Assemblyman Brian Miller, Assemblywoman Marianne Buttenschon, Oneida County Executive Anthony J. Picente, Utica Mayor Robert Palmieri and other local governmental leaders were present.
The keynote speaker was Major General (Ret.) Peter Lennon, former director of international military deployment and distribution operations throughout the Middle East. The major general has received numerous awards including: the Defense Superior Service Medal and Bronze Star for service in the Middle East, the NATO medal for service in the Balkan Theater, and was awarded twice with the highest military honor for service in a non-combat location —the Distinguished Service Medal. Lennon is local to Central New York and said it was a “special honor” for him to recognize American heroes through the dedication of the flag at Utica College.
“What we’re honoring today is the men and women who put on a uniform to serve and came back,” he said.
Senior Michael Delia, president of UC’s Student Contractors organization and Student Government Association, led the memorial’s construction project.
“May (the flag) fly over our land representing the nation, instituted by our founding fathers,” Delia said as he presented the flag to President Laura Casamento. “It will always represent one nation, under God.”
Timothy Ecklund, assistant vice president of Student Affairs & dean of Students and Campus Life, was another speaker at the event.
The flag dedication continued with a presentation of the military wreaths to honor veterans serving in the Coast Guard, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Army. After the presentation, the crowd moved outdoors to gather on the Strebel lawn. Casamento unveiled the monument and the flag was raised as attendees watched.
During his speech, the major general called out to young people to consider a career in the military.
“This memorial here, today, will give us a chance to remind everyone who passes by and sees the flag… And connect it to people who served,” he said.
The major general spoke about the Constitution as “what makes us great today and what enables us to be greater tomorrow,” and said the document has served the American people well over the years.
“Our service members pledged their hearts and minds to a concept,” Lennon said, referring to America’s unwritten principles before the Constitution. “In doing so, they pledged their hearts and minds and even lives and America lost some of its best and brightest.”
He also described the significance of hosting the ceremony in Strebel with the world flags in plain view on the walls in the lounge area.
“Our military force has never been a conquering force, it is a force of liberation around the world,” Lennon said.
Professor of Practice in Criminal Justice Robert Swenzkowski attended the ceremony as well.
“There is great significance in honoring our veterans, as such recognition acknowledges the passion and love each one has for this country and further solidifies the importance of the preservation of the freedoms we in the United States enjoy through the hands of those that serve in our military,” Swenzkowski said.
Utica College was founded by Syracuse University in 1946 to provide veterans returning from World War II with an opportunity to pursue a college education.
“It [veterans] is in our DNA as an institution,” Casamento said. “We are a better college for it. Much of what we are, we owe to them. This is such a proud day for UC.”