NORMAL — Veterans and non-veterans alike gathered at Illinois State University on Friday in a ceremony to honor veterans and commemorate the end of World War I.
Jess Ray, university registrar and director of veterans and military services, called to mind the devastation of World War I, which left more than 8.5 million dead from 16 countries on both sides.
“It was called 'the war to end all wars,' but sadly that was not to be the case,” said Ray, who served in the Illinois Army National Guard from 1985 to 1991.
Although four monarchies were ended by the war, it also gave rise to fascism in Italy and, later, Germany, he said.
Ray, a member of the Illinois World War I Centennial Commission, noted that Illinois sent more than 351,000 men to serve in the military during World War I, more than any other state except New York and Pennsylvania, which were more populous.
ISU President Larry Dietz talked about how what was then Illinois State Normal University contributed to the war effort as it had since its first president, Charles Hovey, resigned to fight in the Civil War and form what became known as “the Teachers Regiment.”
People connected to ISU have served in every war since.
“Our bonds remain strong,” said Dietz, who also noted that ISU has been identified as "military friendly" by various publications.
More than 80 ISU faculty and staff and more than 400 of its students are veterans.
“We thank you for your service, your dedication and your leadership,” said Dietz.
Among those attending the ceremony was Nicholas Nikolov, an Army reservist from Riverside working on a master's degree in applied statistics.
Nikolov said it was good to see people attending Friday's ceremony, including non-veterans. “It shows that people care,” he said.
Although some fellow students without military backgrounds might not understand the sacrifices veterans have made, he said, he has found “they're always respectful.”
Marine Corps veteran Nick Hines, a senior in political science from Ewen, Mich., was present to help hand out yellow ribbons to veterans and poppy pins to non-veterans as part of Omega Delta Sigma, a national veterans fraternity.
He said it was good to meet fellow veterans at ISU “from every different walk of life” during the ceremony.
One way the veterans fraternity marked the centennial was by adopting the graves of four World War I soldiers in McLean County, part of a project spearheaded by the John Kraus Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 454 in Normal.
More than 100 graves in the region were “adopted” as part of the project, with volunteers cleaning the gravestones and placing a flag and flower on each.
Ray ended his talk with a call to action for people to donate to creation of a national World War I memorial in Washington, D.C. More information is available at www.worldwar1centennial.org.
ISU's Sesquicentennial Bell will be part of the nationwide "Bells for Peace" World War I Centennial commemoration at the Veterans Day ceremony that will begin at 10:49 a.m. Sunday at the McLean County Museum of History in downtown Bloomington.