Last week, Apolonio Hernandez III, Marine Corps veteran of eight years and Middle Eastern studies senior, stepped off the bus near the stadium and noticed the monument to fallen soldiers of World War I. Conspicuously absent, however, was a tribute to modern veterans and victims of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“As [Hernandez] sat and remembered the friends that he had lost and the many widowed mothers and children who have lost their fathers, he knew it was time for veterans since World War I to be commemorated for their sacrifice,” said government sophomore Kelly Depew. The next day, Depew started UT for Modern Warriors, a student organization that aims to recognize Texas veterans and to reach out to the families of fallen soldiers. The organization’s first goal is to secure the commission of a new statue on campus dedicated to modern soldiers.
UT for Modern Warriors is laudable for a variety of reasons. First, the organization’s rapid establishment and popularization attest to the initiative and civic-mindedness of UT students. In a matter of days, Hernandez and Depew started an online petition for the modern warrior statue, built a website and are preparing for official University recognition of the organization. They expect no commendation for themselves and humbly dismiss their own hard work, but the kind of passion that motivates such an endeavor speaks for itself.
True to its mission, UT for Modern Warriors expresses an overdue gratitude to veterans and the families of fallen soldiers both on campus and throughout the state. Although the organization is currently concentrating its efforts on commissioning the modern warrior statue, the group’s ambition is far from one-dimensional. Depew and Hernandez plan to send monthly care packages to troops and personally connect with the families of fallen soldiers, among other initiatives.
Although university campuses are often disparaged as sheltered enclaves oblivious to the brutal realities of life outside their walls, students may begin to alter this perception through organizations like UT for Modern Warriors. This is especially important for our campus, where anti-war sentiment can easily be misconstrued as a lack of support for veterans and fallen soldiers. Groups like Hernandez and Depew’s build important bridges across political divides by concentrating not on war itself but on the men and women, many of them college-aged, who make extraordinary sacrifices for civilians. You don’t have to be a supporter of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to be a supporter of American warriors. You simply have to recognize that, though it may sound cliche, the man or woman sitting next to you in class may have risked his or her life for you, and many more are absent only because they made the ultimate sacrifice. Student veterans don’t wear a uniform or broadcast the momentous sacrifices they have made for the rest of us; instead, as Depew says, “It’s amazing how much resilience and character, not to mention humility, that these veterans have.”
Oliver is an English and sociology freshman.