As workers built Columbia Basin College’s veterans monument brick by brick the past few months, Robert “Wally” Wallace watched from his job in the Pasco college’s library.
“It was pretty awesome to see it from the ground up,” said the student and Marine Corps veteran. On Monday, wearing his dress blues, Wallace spoke about how the finished monument sent shivers up his spine, just like when he swore an oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution when he was inducted and on the day he finished his Marine training.
“Instead of wondering whether this campus is veteran-friendly, this monument will give them a taste of how veteran-friendly it is,” he said.
About 250 people, many of them veterans and family members, helped dedicate the monument with Wallace, other student veterans and college officials.
Speakers said it will serve as an acknowledgment of everything veterans have done for their country and communities but also a call to honor their service with actions as well as words.
“It is a permanent reminder that service doesn’t end when the uniform comes off,” said Mark Taff, CBC associate professor of anthropology and a Navy veteran.
The Associated Student Body of CBC approached the college’s board last year about building the monument. All $75,000 needed for construction was provided by students, and money leftover from the fundraising will be used for its future maintenance. “They had a vision to honor and remember,” said CBC President Rich Cummins.
Such public displays of appreciation are a far cry from the past, said CBC board Chairman David L. “Duke” Mitchell. He served in the Air Force for more than 20 years, attending the Air Force Academy after graduating from Richland High School in 1969 and retiring as a lieutenant colonel.
“At times we didn’t feel respected,” Mitchell said. The threat of harassment was so great “we were told not to wear our uniform when traveling,” he told the Herald before the ceremony.
Cummins and others spoke of the college’s efforts to help the estimated 400 students who are veterans. CBC shares a psychologist with Washington State Universities Tri-Cities, who helps former warriors-turned-students navigate civilian life. CBC also recently opened a new center for student veterans in the HUB building, providing a meeting and study space.
CBC’s support of student veterans has been amazing, Wallace told the Herald after the ceremony. He served for almost a decade before being medically discharged in 2003 after a car accident.
He’s set to graduate in March with a bachelor’s in applied management and said the college “just needs to continue on the right track” in helping veterans.
But it can’t stop with a monument, said Taff, adding it’s up to the college’s faculty to continue helping student veterans in whatever way possible.
Other speakers pointed to the plaques emblazoned with the word “Remember” at each of the monument’s four entrances and how the U.S. military has served to make our society and freedoms possible today and in the future. “In that sense, every day is Veterans Day,” Cummins said.
-- Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @_tybeaver