NORMAL — The sacrifices and dedication of U.S. military veterans were saluted in special ceremonies on the campuses of Illinois State and Illinois Wesleyan universities on Friday, a day ahead of Veterans Day.

Heartland Community College had a commemorative event on Thursday.

In addition to saluting veterans, the ISU ceremony also took note of the 100th anniversary of the United States entering World War I.

Ross Kennedy, a professor of history whose research focuses on WWI, said, “The centennial of the United States entering into World War I deserves a lot more recognition than it has.”

Although the United States was only involved for the final 19 months of the war, Kennedy said that involvement had “a massive impact” on the war and on the homefront.

The United States entered the war with only 150,000 men in the military, but within a year and a half, 4 million men were drafted and 2 million eventually ended up in France at or near the front, according to Kennedy.

Their arrival “gave a huge morale boost to the British and French as well as material support,” he said.

Later, the U.S.-led Meuse-Argonne offensive had “a deeply demoralizing effect on the German high command,” leading to the armistice, said Kennedy.

At home after the war, returning servicemen “changed the landscape of veterans benefits and veterans organizations,” with explosive growth in the Veterans of Foreign Wars and creation of the American Legion, Kennedy noted.

Both organizations successfully lobbied for better benefits and health care, he explained.

ISU President Larry Dietz said thanking the men and women who have served or are serving is something that should be done every day, not just Veterans Day.

He said more than 80 faculty and staff members and more than 400 students at ISU are veterans.

“They continue to provide leadership on campus,” said Dietz.

As a recorded medley of armed forces songs was played, veterans attending the ceremony in the Bone Student Center Prairie Room stood when the song for their branch was played. They were applauded by others in attendance.

After the ceremony, ROTC Cadet Nicholas Nikolov, a graduate student from Riverside, said “It's good to be in the presence of people that have made the same decision to serve that I made.”

He was particularly gratified “to see people show their appreciation — people who are not veterans — as each branch was recognized.”

The annual ceremony concluded on the ISU Quad where ROTC cadets placed a wreath next to the flag pole and saluted as others stood solemnly and “Taps” echoed across the campus.

A similar scene played out about an hour earlier at Illinois Wesleyan University, where “Taps” was played inside Evelyn Chapel.

There, after a moment of silence, people were welcomed to say the names of veterans they were present to honor. Among the names mentioned was IWU alumnus Ryan Beaupre who died in 2003 when the helicopter he was piloting crashed near the Iraq border.

Karla Carney-Hall, vice president of student affairs, related the story of another alumnus, the Rev. George Fox, a Methodist minister who, along with a Dutch Reformed minister, a Catholic priest and a rabbi, became known as the Four Chaplains — remembered for giving up their life jackets to save others after their ship was torpedoed in 1943.

Carney-Hall said it remains part of IWU's continuing history, “the commitment to service, the commitment to interfaith, the commitment to patriotism.”

Follow Lenore Sobota on Twitter: @pg_sobota