One hundred fifty UConn alumni and other Connecticut residents who are veterans of the United States military were honored as part of last Saturday’s sun-splashed 2010 season-opener at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, where the Huskies beat Texas Southern by a score of 62-3.
Veterans from World War II through the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were celebrated during Military Appreciation Day on Sept. 11 with an Armed Forces Tailgate reception prior to the game. They were then honored at half-time.
Members of the University’s Air Force ROTC and Army ROTC Color Guards presented the flag prior to kick-off, and during half-time the veterans received cheers from the crowd as they walked around the perimeter of the stadium field.
At the same time, the UConn Marching Band performed renditions of each service song: “The Caisson Song” for the U.S. Army; “Off We Go Into the Wild Blue Yonder” for the U.S. Air Force; “ Anchors Aweigh” for the U.S. Navy; “The Marine Hymn “ for the U.S. Marines; and “Semper Paratus” (“Always Ready”) for the U.S. Coast Guard.
The event was suggested to the UConn Alumni Association by two alumni, Lt. Don Coombs ’89, U.S. Navy, and Lt. Col. John Healy ’89, Air Force ROTC, who formed a friendship while they were roommates and together joined the ROTC program during their undergraduate years in Storrs.
“We decided since the football game fell on 9-11, that it would be a good date for the event,” Coombs said. “I enlisted in 1998, became an officer in 2001, and did a year of active duty after 9-11.”
Nick Mango ’53, a veteran of the Korean War who served in the Demilitarized Zone following the end of the combat years, agreed the recognition was appropriate and important for all military veterans.
“It’s good timing with the 9-11 anniversary,” he said. “We guys who went through the paces sometimes feel insufficient recognition – probably the Vietnam vets more than us. It’s a tribute to vets, and we appreciate the recognition.”
The Alumni Association began recognizing veterans by honoring those who died in war with the Ultimate Sacrifice Memorial, which was installed and dedicated on campus in 2008.
Lisa Lewis, executive director of the UConn Alumni Association, said this year’s event was a community effort, including Student Affairs, Athletics, the Connecticut National Guard, the ROTC, and corporate sponsors.
“The range of our alumni and the experiences they have is very broad,” she noted. “We also have more than 400 students on campus who are veterans. It’s important to honor the veterans who are back with us.”
The link between military veterans and UConn athletics is historic, with many veterans having also worn the Husky uniform either before or after their service.
“I have a particular affinity for the military,” said Jeffrey Hathaway, director of athletics, who greeted veterans during the pre-game tailgate.
“When we look at men and women who have a direct tie to our university, it makes it more special. You can’t help but be touched by what they do and their love of their country.”
Hathaway noted that UConn’s student-athletes gain a sense of their special service when representing the United States in international competition, as many have done in recent years in several sports, including baseball, basketball, field hockey, and soccer.
“If you talk to any athlete who has worn the United States on their chest or had the American flag on their uniform, there’s an incredible sense of pride that you’re not representing one team, one university, or one state, but you’re representing the center of freedom in the world,” he said. “I think that’s a pretty intense experience for any athlete who has done that.”