Every year I forget about this – the 24-hour vigil held by the ROTC cadets in front of the chapel to honor those who have and are serving in the armed forces. A red carpet is laid out in a T-shape, out from the chapel steps and across the plaza. Uniformed pairs of cadets and midshipmen march in slow, solemn steps across the plaza, crossing each other in the center. It’s quiet and reflective and in the middle of a busy college campus, reminds us all of the life beyond the ivy walls and of sacrifices made on our behalf.
Today on the way home I was surprised to reach the plaza at the same time as the closing ritual of the ceremony. I missed the speeches but I saw the squads of uniformed ROTC cadets all in formation, flags snapping in the breeze. Just as I reached the plaza, a group of 6 cadets lowered the flag in precise moves as the band played the national anthem.
It was kind of weird being there, almost like watching a play. The sidewalk is part of a big construction project with jersey barriers taking up half of the width. Those who wanted to observe the ceremony ended up blocking part of the path for those trying to walk by – and at the end of a work day on Friday, there were lots. Other than the ROTC folks, the plaza was empty, or at least the people were organized, unlike the usual milling around of a motley assortment of students, faculty and staff.
But it was good to be there, to stop and remember that this was not just another day off (for many people but not me; the library is always open). Particularly with so many soldiers fighting and dying across the world in a war many of us wish we weren’t fighting in the first place. They and those who went before them – including my father – are worth remembering with thanks and honor, on this day and every day.