- Speakers say our Gold Star Aggies set example for us to follow
- Provost Croughan: “Support and improve our democratic society”
- Lt. Col. Stuart: “Strive to uphold the best ideals of our nation”
Speakers at the Davis campus’s early Memorial Day Ceremony last Thursday (May 26) encouraged the audience and others to pay lasting tribute to the nation’s military casualties — including 136 Gold Star Aggies — by standing up for the American values for which they gave their lives.
“Our participation in this ceremony should include serious consideration of a challenging question," Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Mary Croughan said in her welcome address. “How do we fully and meaningfully honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice?
“My answer to this question is that we and future generations should extend and build upon their legacy, furthering the noble idea of America and the freedoms we stand for.”
On this day, as we honor our Gold Star Aggies, we remind our campus community of the meaning behind the ‘memorial’ in Memorial Union and recognize an important legacy created by UC Davis students. — Mary Croughan, provost and executive vice chancellor
Keynote speaker Rory Stuart, a UC Davis Health physician and active-duty Air Force officer who received the Bronze Star for his COVID-19 prevention efforts among U.S. troops in Afghanistan, said: “I look back on my own service and I hope I have honored the sacrifices made by our fallen by striving to uphold the best ideals of our nation.
“We must never let their sacrifices be in vain. We must continue to build our communities and defend our democracy, so this remains a country worth fighting — and, yes, dying — for.”
The first in-person Memorial Day Ceremony since 2019 took place Thursday (May 26) on the North Courtyard of the Memorial Union, a building dedicated in 1955 to our alumni lost in military service, from World War I to Iraq, and, most recently, in a plane crash in Mississippi. The crash in 2017 killed all 16 aboard, including Marine Corps Capt. Sean Endecott Elliott ’09, the co-pilot on a flight carrying Marines and a Navy corpsman across the country.
Elliott’s parents, Cindy and John Elliott, now Gold Star parents, having lost a child in military service, attended last week’s ceremony. They also were in attendance when Capt. Elliott’s name was added to the Gold Star Aggies Wall in 2018.
‘Burden in our hearts’
Lt. Col. Stuart spoke of men and women like himself who enlisted or became commissioned officers in their late teens or early 20s, having been told there would be sacrifices made in the service of our country. “We eagerly took on this abstract debt in exchange for the more tangible rewards our future military careers offered,” he said..
“Now as I look back on my 19 years in the Air Force, I have a much different understanding of sacrifice than the young man who first took that oath all those years ago.
“Yes, our military service does bring us wisdom, knowledge and experience — but these do not come without a price. With knowledge we learn the world can be a harsh place. With wisdom we learn to navigate this world. With experience we endure loss and are given empathy for those who suffer.
“These blessings and burdens we carry deep in our hearts. We are all changed by our service and we all ultimately pay, to some extent, that debt of sacrifice.”
“Today, however, is not about us. It’s about them — our 136 Gold Star Aggies and the other countless men and women who have given their life in the ultimate sacrifice for this country. Men and women who I suspect experienced the same excitement and trepidation as I did when I first took the oath of office. Who I also suspect took on the commitment of military sacrifice, freely agreeing to give their life if required, but youthfully confident that day would likely never come.
“As I grow older in my career,” Stuart said. “I find myself thinking of these men and women frequently. I think about their families and loved ones, who endure and bear their sacrifices long after the pomp and circumstance of ceremonies like these have long passed.
“I ask myself how to honor their lives, find meaning in their death and continually show support and gratitude to the family and friends they left behind.
“Veterans Day, the Fourth of July and many other displays of military appreciation are celebrations of the world-changing battles and victories that have shaped our country and world. Today is not a celebration, but a somber recognition of the horrible cost of those victories. Too frequently we celebrate as communities then grieve as individuals. Let today be a day of shared grieving.”
The realities of today
Provost Croughan said people's thoughts and feelings today are inevitably affected by our current moment in history. “For over two years now, we have had to cope with the tragic costs and great burdens associated with COVID-19,” she said. "During the same period, we have seen growing societal divisions of many types across our country, along with extreme challenges to many of our hallowed government institutions and processes.
“Beyond our borders, we are currently witnessing a ruinous war inflicted by one nation upon its European neighbor, a war that, despite diplomatic and other efforts of the international community, continues — threatening an even larger scope of destruction and perhaps global catastrophe.
“All of these realities ... give us a heightened awareness of how quickly peace and societal order can be threatened or lost and of the vulnerability of the country and values we cherish.
“They therefore give us a heightened awareness also of the enormous debt of gratitude we owe to our Gold Star Aggies, along with all of our country’s men and women in military service, past and present.”
She offered three measures of enduring respect:
- Continuing our efforts to make all current and former military personnel feel included, valued and properly rewarded in our society. An urgent part of this project is making sure that all veterans, especially those who are suffering, have access to the quality medical and mental health care that their service has earned.
- Doing all we can to support and improve the peaceful, flourishing and idealistic democratic society that all service members vow to protect. We need to work to heal the partisan divisions that are currently disrupting our country’s intended collaborative functioning as one nation — that is, as a nation that embraces people with different backgrounds and perspectives and resolves conflicting arguments through fair elections and other democratic processes. As part of this work, we must ramp up our efforts to keep our democratic institutions from being compromised or corrupted.
- Advancing the cause of peace for which they fought. In the short term, we must create the conditions to make armed conflict a last and very reluctant resort for settling differences among nations, and in the long term, a thing of the past.
Accomplishing these three tasks will not be quick or easy, Croughan acknowledged. “But if we can work in earnest and cooperatively to advance them,” she said, “we will be extending a legacy that will immeasurably benefit our country and the world. It will also be one that will truly honor the courageous men and women we remember today.”