Family, friends and those wishing to honor the memories of Duke’s fallen soldiers gathered with white roses and fond memories for the University’s rededication of its war memorial Friday morning beside the Chapel.
After two Duke alumni, Matthew Lynch, Trinity ’01 and James Regan, Trinity ’02, were killed in Iraq in 2004, the University decided to update the memorial by adding the names of 54 fallen soldiers. This included all former students killed in combat since World War II.
U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki, Grad ’76 and a retired four-star general who is a Vietnam War veteran, delivered the keynote address.
“Each name is a profound statement of love, patriotism and loyalty,” Shinseki said in his speech. “May Duke University find a way to make this memorial central and important for future generations of students and faculty. May the University remind all that our freedom was purchased by scholars like these who gave their tomorrows for our todays.”
President Richard Brodhead said in an interview that the deaths of two former students in Iraq raised the question of updating the memorial. But he added that the rededication took some time to organize because the University had to make sure the list of the fallen was as comprehensive as possible.
“We felt that this was a good time to make clear that the memorial from World War II extends forward through time,” Brodhead said. “When we walk by the plaques, sometimes it seems that all the names are alike. But sometimes you stop and realize that each of these names was a living person, living on this campus the same way you and I are now.”
Brodhead was also a featured speaker at the ceremony.
Members of the Duke and North Carolina Central University Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, current military officers, veterans and their families attended the event. The men’s lacrosse team was also in attendance to honor Regan, a former Duke lacrosse player killed in Iraq in 2004. Several attendees were surprised that it has taken the University so long to rededicate the memorial.
Rick Lieb, Trinity ’69, fought in the Vietnam War as a commissioner in the Marine Corps and came to the service to honor Maj. Cornelius Ram, his battalion executive officer who was killed in 1971 in Vietnam.
Although Lieb returned to Vietnam in 2000 as part of a delegation of veterans tasked with the goal of facilitating Vietnam’s economic growth, he said the ceremony gave him a sense of closure.
“I want to honor [Ram’s] memory and all the Vets that died in Vietnam,” Lieb said. “We were treated as scum, but that’s changed. Today marks the day the University finally honors graduates who died and Vietnam veterans.”
Katherine Bick, mother of Charles Bick, Trinity ’80, who was killed in active duty, tearfully said the ceremony was beautiful.
“This is very emotional for me for to be at his alma mater, but it was a wonderful ceremony,” Katherine Bick said. “I’m grateful to Duke for this doing this. I was surprised that it had been such a long time [since the memorial was updated].”
Katherine’s grandson, Evan Bick, who just returned from active duty in Iraq, was also in attendance to honor his uncle.
“I never knew my uncle because he was killed when I was still in the womb, but it was nice to see my connection to Duke, even though I didn’t go here,” Evan Bick said. “I’m glad to see Duke recognizing the people that deserve to be recognized.”
Sophomore Will Beckman, a member of Duke ROTC said he was moved by the emotional tone of the ceremony.
“I felt honored to be in the presence of everyone assembled,” Beckman said. “Every day we walk past the wall and we don’t really realize what the names mean. But today, it was nice to see what the names mean and the people to whom it means the most.”
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