Purdue to honor fallen military members with flag retirement ceremony, community service

Purdue retires worn flags during ceremony Members of Purdue's Veterans Success Center and Purdue Student Veterans Organization retire worn flags during the 2016 Memorial Day Flag Retirement Ceremony.

His grandfather served in the U.S. Army Air Force and was taken prisoner during World War II. His uncle served in the U.S. Army and perished in Vietnam. This Memorial Day, Purdue student veteran Dustin Weisner will visit their final resting places to say hello.

After all, it was their service and sacrifice that inspired Weisner to enlist in the Marine Corps fresh out of high school.

“They gave theirs so that we could have ours,” says Weisner, who felt called to continue in his family’s military legacy. He spent five years as a helicopter mechanic at Camp Pendleton, which set the stage for his eventual pursuit of a Purdue education in aeroengineering technology. While Weisner was never deployed, he grew close with many members in his unit who were. Some of them didn’t make it. Weisner thinks of them all the time.

“Memorial Day for a lot of us is every day,” says Weisner, president of the Purdue Student Veteran Organization (PSVO). “We all handle loss in different ways, but Memorial Day provides an opportunity to have a shared understanding with a group of the population that doesn’t really experience that loss firsthand.”

To help honor those who died while serving in the country’s armed forces, Purdue will hold a flag retirement ceremony at 12:30 p.m. Thursday, May 25. Jointly organized by the Purdue Student Union Board, Veterans Success Center and PSVO, the ceremony will take place near the Unfinished Block P sculpture outside the Purdue Memorial Union. In the event of inclement weather the ceremony will be canceled.

To pay tribute to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, organizers will retire a weathered American flag that has flown over the West Lafayette campus. Under federal law, frayed, torn or tattered flags must be retired in a respectful manner. One way to do that is by altering the flag in a dignified way—such as by cutting a single star from the cloth—and then burning the flag to ashes and burying those ashes in a special place.

It’s an intentionally metaphorical ceremony that Purdue holds every year, says Jamie Richards, director of the Veterans Success Center. On the one hand, the flag represents freedom and leads soldiers into battle; however, it’s also draped over military coffins and presented to spouses and mothers of service members who are laid to rest.

“Retiring a campus flag from service is one way for us to symbolically recognize and remember those who have lost their lives,” Richards says. “We also hope the ceremony will provide local veterans and families, as well as the community at large, with an opportunity to take a pause to reflect on the meaning of Memorial Day before heading into the weekend.” 

As a new feature of Purdue’s annual Memorial Day events and initiatives, student organizers are asking Purdue staff and faculty to submit names of their loved ones who lost their life while in service. Over the course of the next year, students will perform an hour of community service in memoriam of each name submitted. Volunteers will serve a variety of organizations, while staff and faculty who submit names will receive a photo of students carrying out the service to honor their loved one.

Purdue staff and faculty may submit names of their family who died in military service; names should be sent to Jamie Richards. Please include the person’s date of birth, years and branch of service, as well as any other highlights about their life. Names will be accepted up until Memorial Day Ceremony, and community service hours will be carried out throughout the year.

Jimmy Montesano, president of the Purdue Student Union Board, says the initiative aligns with PSUB’s mission to preserve the Purdue Memorial Union’s history. It’s also an opportunity for the group to collaborate with other campus departments and share that history with today’s faculty, staff, students and the Greater Lafayette community.

“We’ve kept a close connection with the ‘memorial’ part of the Union, which originally was built as a standing memorial for Purdue students who served in World War I and now honors all men and women who died serving their country,” Montesano says. “Our hope is that this effort will help provide more recognition to our fallen service members while engaging the broader Purdue community, which is something we always focus on.”

Writer: Andrea Thomas, Communications Director for Student Success Programs, 765-496-3754, thomas78@purdue.edu

Last updated: March 20, 2017


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