By Anna Gustafson
Looking out into a sea of hundreds of people at St. John’s University last week, Master Sgt. Elizabeth Simmons urged everyone to take the time to say two of the most important words on Veterans Day: thank you.
“Think of the impact the veterans have to withstand for the rest of the 99 percent of the country who live freely because of them,” said Simmons, the first female military science instructor in the U.S. Army’s Cadet Command at St. John’s and the main speaker at the school’s annual Veterans Day celebration Thursday.
Simmons emphasized that military members give up much of their own lives — missing a son’s birth or seeing their daughter take her first step — to serve their country.
“You are ordinary people who have accomplished extraordinary things,” Simmons told the veterans congregated outside St. Augustine Hall, the school’s library.
St. John’s every year hosts an event commemorating Veterans Day, originally called Armistice Day when it was first established in 1919 to honor those who fought in World War I. Congress moved to change the name to Veterans Day in 1954 in order to honor all individuals who have served in the military.
“From the minutemen who stood watch over Lexington and Concord to the service members who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, American veterans deserve our deepest appreciation and respect,” President Barack Obama said in his official Veterans Day proclamation. “Our nation’s servicemen and women are our best and brightest, enlisting in times of peace and war, serving with honor under the most difficult circumstances and making sacrifices that many of us cannot begin to imagine.”
More than 250 people attended last Thursday’s event at St. John’s, including area lawmakers, school officials, veterans and St. John’s ROTC members.
“Veterans gave their lives to protect us and give us the freedoms we so often take for granted,” state Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Little Neck) said.
State Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) echoed Weprin’s sentiment.
“We just had free elections because of our veterans,” Addabbo said. “I stand here as a public official because of our veterans.”
Joseph Sciame, vice president of community relations at St. John’s University, stressed that it was important for the country to take care of its veterans and noted that since World War II there have been about 30 million veterans who have been disabled in some way.
“We must remember those who fought and died in war,” Sciame said.
Floral Park resident Joseph Timpa, 88, joined the U.S. Air Force in 1943 and said he hoped every American took the time to reflect on the important work military men and women do and have done over the years.
“I was part of the Manhattan Project,” Timpa said of the military’s efforts to develop the first atomic bombs. “I was a tech sergeant and was part of the project in New Mexico. They put me in charge of storing not the bomb itself but its casings. It was quite exciting and interesting.”
Rego Park resident Jim Lavin, a member of St. John’s ROTC and a graduate student in accounting, said Veterans Day gives all military members a chance to reflect on their shared experiences.
“No matter when people served or what part of the Army they were in, there’s a common bond they all share,” Lavin said.
Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4574.