By Dr. Edward C. Ortell
Citrus College Governing Board Member
It’s difficult to imagine the impact on a family when they lose a loved one in combat. For those of us who lived in America’s heartland during WWII, sight of two Casualty Assistance Officers (CAOs) in dress uniform coming down a country lane meant only one thing: a family member would not be coming home.
Each year, our nation sets aside a special day to remember those men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of their country. Memorial Day honors those who served in all branches of the military, in conflicts around the world and across all generations.
When I was a young boy, my uncle PFC Alva Abrams, U.S. Army, was killed during the Battle of Luzon in the Philippines. Although the battle resulted in a U.S. and Filipino victory, “Uncle Alvie,” as we called him, was killed in action (KIA). Like so many young KIA service members, his life cut short before he could pursue his dreams or begin to fulfill his life’s potential.
From world wars to the recent conflicts in the Middle East, we have lost many outstanding Americans. How should we best honor their service? It’s a very personal choice, and one that is unique to each “Gold Star Family”—those families who have lost a loved one in the service of their country.
In addition to remembering our nation’s KIA with gratitude, I find honoring and supporting those veterans who served our country and returned home a meaningful way to honor the fallen. As a community college trustee, I have a special opportunity to do so. By providing a state-of-the-art Veterans Center on campus where returning veterans can assess veterans’ services, including GI Bill benefits and specialized counseling, community colleges are a perfect match for this unique student population.
This Memorial Day, Veterans Centers at community colleges throughout our region and across the country will take time out from their busy work to remember fallen veterans. As student veterans gather with college staff and community members they will honor those KIA with somber ceremonies. As they re-enter society, acquire meaningful careers and live productive lives, these will give meaning and purpose to the selfless acts of their comrades, those who fell on the field of battle.