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Stories Behind the Faces

"The sun has barely risen on the morning of 11 November, 2003 and once again the Navy and Marine Corps Midshipmen from the University of Rochester march together in formation for the annual battalion run with the RIT Army and Air Force Cadets. Unlike ordinary physical training, today's run has a special meaning as we traverse the streets of Rochester on our three mile journey from the U of R campus to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in order to honor those who paid the ultimate sacrifice in the defense and preservation of our nation. This is my fourth time taking part in the Veterans Day Run as a senior whose time as a Navy Midshipmen is quickly fading. In the next few months I will take the same oath to defend the Constitution of the United States as so many have done before me. The Veterans Day Run has always been a time to reflect on the sacrifices of those whose contribution to our nation allows me to be in such a privileged position. It is for this reason that we visit the memorial today, to give thanks.

As I stand in formation listening to the mayor give his words I gaze upward at the armed forces service flags that are blowing in the early morning air; a powerful backdrop almost gesturing to us to enter the memorial. We proceed down the stairs and enter the memorial and are confronted with a seemingly never-ending line of metal posts bearing the names of the 280 people the mayor spoke of in his speech who gave their lives in the Vietnam War. It is a sobering thought to think of these people enshrined in the memorial. Each of them had their own story and reasons for fighting, each had loved ones whom they left behind, and each shared a common goal to ensure the American way of life. The sight of those posts makes it a bit overwhelming to think that despite living in a completely different time, the reasons for service to my country are not all too different from these men.

But why have I chosen to serve? Why do I wake up early every morning, go to physical training, and try my hardest to prepare for the daily rigors of active duty military life that I will soon be fully engaged in? It seems the answer is laid out right before my eyes, in the 280 markers that I am passing by. Every single day, men and women who put on a United States military uniform wake up early, often in dangerous locations around the world, and sacrifice so that I can live the life I am living. These men and women enshrined in this memorial gave the ultimate sacrifice to ensure that the life I lead will be one free of tyranny and oppression and full of freedom of choice and opportunity.

As the march through the memorial continues, more stones bearing information and words for thought and reflection attract my gaze. Throughout this solemn procession, I cannot help but feel a sense of pride and energy fill the pit of my stomach. I have realized that this memorial and this day while serving to remember those who have sacrificed for our nation also reinforces the reasons why I choose to be in the Navy. My grandfather served in the Navy during the Korean War, my father served the Navy during the Vietnam War, and my brother is currently an ROTC Army Cadet. It seems only right that out of a sense of gratefulness, pride, and respect for their sacrifices that I should also do my part to ensure that all those benefits that have been bestowed and are ensured for me remain so for those who follow in my footsteps.

We have reached the end of the memorial and each company within the battalion is beginning to get into formation for the run back to campus. Awaiting the command for the formation to begin moving, I glance to my left just past the service flags which stand steadfastly unwavering in the howling wind and I can see a group of people who have gathered at the entrance to the memorial. While most people on this Tuesday are busy getting ready for work or school, there are still those who have braved the cold Rochester weather to be present and show their respect on this day of remembrance. Not surprisingly, among them are Veterans and they are watching us. The torch has been passed and it is now on us to continue the proud tradition of service and sacrifice that they have already fulfilled. The formation begins to move as the lines of Midshipmen and Cadets shuffle to get in step and cadences ring out in the early morning air. With a renewed and strengthened sense of purpose, I know the run back will not seem nearly as difficult now as the run to get here."

Midshipman 1/C Matthew Busse, USNR
University of Rochester NROTC