On Veterans Day, NU community remembers service members, celebrates ROTC program


Jimena Marquez

The NU community gathered Nov. 11 to remember and honor nation’s service members and celebrate the 70th anniversary of the university’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program.

Tracy Wai Yee Shi, news correspondent

Members of the Northeastern University community gathered at the Veterans Memorial Nov. 11 to honor the nation’s servicemembers and celebrate the 70th anniversary of the university’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program, or ROTC.  

At the beginning of the ceremony, Northeastern cadets performed a “Call to Order” and placed three flags in front of the memorial: the U.S. flag, the Massachusetts State flag and the university flag. Then, the Nor’easters performed the national anthem.

Frances Lee, a fourth-year nursing student and cadet in the ROTC Liberty Battalion, gave the welcoming statement. She spoke about the history of the Liberty Battalion and the journey that led to her dream of becoming an army nurse.

“I learned that I can go to college for nursing while training for the military at the same time,” she said. “I’ve chosen to come to Northeastern because it is in one of the world’s greatest medical homes.” 

After her statement, Tom Sheahan, senior vice provost for curriculum and programs, and Andy McCarty, a 2012 graduate of the College of Professional Studies and director at Northeastern’s Dolce Center for the Advancement of Veterans and Servicemembers, gave remarks. 

“Like many of you, Veterans Day is also a time when I remember family and friends who are veterans. And if I may, I certainly would like to pause and remember my dad, who became eligible for service towards the end of World War II,” Sheahan said. His father and uncle served in Japan, and later on his father re-enlisted as a second lieutenant in Korea. 

McCarty is a U.S. Air Force veteran. “We’re here to celebrate those who served, to rejoice in the fact that men and women from every corner of this country and beyond, from every race and creed, are willing to sacrifice a portion of their lives in defense of this fragile experiment and democracy,” he said. “These volunteer patriots represent every demographic. Wealthy, middle-class, poor, Democrat, Republican, independent, rural or urban, citizen or immigrant, gay, straight, male, female, non binary.” 

When McCarty finished his remarks,  he announced that Neal F. Finnegan, a 1961 graduate of the D’Amore-McKim School of Business with an honorary degree in 1998 and Chair Emeritus of Northeastern University Board of Trustees, was this year’s recipient of the Joseph H. Hefflon Yellow Ribbon Award. 

Finnegan has aided numerous economically-disadvantaged Boston families and individuals who lack quality healthcare, education and housing. He helped establish and fund the Veterans Memorial at Northeastern. 

“There’s something special about our school,” Finnegan said. “Many, many of our graduates had served our nation and many among them had paid the ultimate price.” 

When the original memorial plaque, created by then-Northeastern President Ell during World War II, was taken down due to renovation, he and his committee restored the plaque in 2006 to honor and remember the heroes who served. Finnegan quoted “Lest we forget,” a phrase from “Recessional,” an 1897 poem by Rudyard Kipling. 

“We will remember them for their courage. We will remember them for the sacrifice of their lives for ours. We will remember them,” he said. 

 The ceremony’s featured speaker was Medal of Honor recipient U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Ryan M. Pitts, Chosen Company, ​​2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade. 

The Medal of Honor is the U.S. government’s highest military decoration, awarded to recognize service members’ valor. Then-president Barack Obama awarded Pitts in 2014 for his service during a battle in Afghanistan, where he risked his life beyond the call of duty. Despite being severely wounded, he did not leave his position and helped his comrades escape. 

In his speech, Pitts commemorated the service members at the ceremony and discussed his connection to the university. He described first-hand accounts of battle, where some of his fellow comrades sacrificed their lives for him.  

He noted how despite political and religious affiliations, his comrades joined hand-in-hand and risked their lives for one another amid warfare. 

“Whatever reason brought you there didn’t matter because you were there and you stayed there because of the men and women to your left and right,” Pitts said. “We turned around and put on the same uniform, and we would take the same risks for each other.”  

He pointed out that if it wasn’t for every servicemember, including medics, mechanics, statisticians, specialists, officers and soldiers from every branch that served with him, he would not be here. 

“Every job matters. I don’t care what you did in the military. Your job matters,” he said. “Be proud of what you did and whatever capacity you did for however long you did it.” 

President Joseph E. Aoun commemorated Pitts’ actions and thanked Finnegan for his continued work for Northeastern. 

The Nor’easters sang the Armed Forces Medley, which paid tribute to various veterans, who stood up when their respective branch was mentioned.  

Lee closed the ceremony and laid the wreath with Caitlin McCollom, a fourth-year nursing major who is a part of the Liberty Battalion. The ceremony was followed by refreshments, conversations and photos behind the plaque. 

Some Northeastern students said they showed up at the ceremony to honor heroes and family members who served. 

“My dad served in the military, so I’m here to show support,” said Kaitlyn Guay, a first-year health science and psychology combined major. “I realized how much bravery and courage Americans put forth to save our country.” 

“My uncle was a veteran and my grandpa served in the Army so I felt very close to home and the ceremony was meaningful,” said Joe Blanchet, a fourth-year bioengineering major. Other Northeastern students attended the ceremony because they wish to go into the military someday.

“I’m in the ROTC program, and I’m here to show support,” said Bob Zheng, a first-year computer science and criminal justice combined major. 

When asked about the most memorable part of the ceremony, students mentioned Pitts’ speech. 

“His speech reinforced the importance that everyone has a different job and they are equally important,” McCollom said. 

“I got a better sense of the impact that different military branches carried,” said Elizabeth Woodwell, a fifth-year computer engineering undergraduate and engineering management graduate student. 

When asked about what they gained or learned from the ceremony, Blanchet said, “Right now there’s a lot of polarization in our country. It’s important to remember that we can’t get out of this alone, we need to do it together, in service together.” 

“The speeches helped me gain inspiration and motivation to continue in the [ROTC] program and one day serve in the military because there were definitely times when I doubted my choices,” Zheng said.