For two weeks in November 2017, a walk along the Prairie Line Trail on the UW Tacoma campus brings one past a field of flags — 1,047 of them, to be exact. The installation, sponsored by the Veteran & Military Resource Center (VMRC), the Student Veteran Organization and the UW Tacoma Alumni Council, is a moving tribute to the 1,047 servicemembers from the state of Washington who were killed in action during the Vietnam War, as well as a way of drawing attention to the core message of Veterans Day: to honor all who have served in the U.S. armed forces.
By the Numbers
Twenty percent of UW Tacoma's 2017 enrollment of 5,185 is military-affiliated. That includes discharged veterans, active duty personnel, National Guard, reservists, and spouses and children. As recently as 2014, the number was just 14%.
In the days prior to the installation, which happened on November 1, signs signaled to passers-by to expect something unusual. The observant would have seen the grassy lawns overlain by a grid of white paint dots, which would guide volunteers in flag planting.
Just before 12:30 on November 1, Roz Johnson, associate director in charge of the VMRC, arrived pulling a wagon loaded with bundles of U.S. flags on wooden sticks. Waiting for her were a growing group of volunteer “flag planters.” Before long, almost 50 people were advancing across three grassy quadrangles, leaving in their wake orderly rows of symbols.
“There were so many people helping that the installation went a lot faster than I had expected,” said Johnson. “I was really touched that some people who were just walking by joined in the effort. That really speaks to the underlying message we are trying to convey.”
That message is about the perception and role of veterans in U.S. society today compared to the era of the Vietnam War. To Chris Burd, president of the Student Veteran Organization, the difference is palpable. “Yes, we are remembering those that made the ultimate sacrifice in that war. But this also gives us the opportunity to think about how the lessons we’ve learned from the treatment of that era’s veterans have helped to change how veterans are viewed today.”
John Burkhardt, UW Tacoma Communications, 253-692-4536 or firstname.lastname@example.org