Office of the President

May 23, 2017

To honor those we’ve lost, support those who are with us

Ana Mari Cauce

As Memorial Day approaches, I always think of Sgt. Will Stacey, son of our Dean of Arts & Sciences Bob Stacey and Professor of History Robin Chapman Stacey. Will joined the Marines in 2007 and was on his fourth deployment to Afghanistan in 2012, awaiting a final return home in the spring, when he was tragically killed by an explosive device while on foot patrol. He was 23, full of life, with a future full of hopes and dreams.

Will was fully aware of the price he might pay for the freedom of others. In a letter he left for his parents, in case he died while in service, he wrote “Perhaps I did not change the world. But there will be a child who will live because men left the security they enjoyed in their home country to come to his… He will grow into a fine man who will pursue every opportunity his heart could desire. He will have the gift of freedom, which I have enjoyed for so long. If my life buys the safety of a child who will one day change this world, then I know that it was worth it all.”

Learn more about the UW’s Memorial Day activities:

In Seattle 

At UW Tacoma

At UW Bothell

Memorial Day is not about celebrating war, but about celebrating the lives of men and women like Will, who put everything on the line so that others might live a better life, across the world and at home. It offers a moment for all of us to unite in honoring them, and, just as important, supporting the family, friends and fellow veterans who grieve their loss.

The University of Washington has never been exempt from the cost of war. And if you look, the evidence is not hard to find. From the sycamores that line Memorial Way to the Spanish Civil War monument by the HUB, we have many quiet reminders of the students, faculty and staff who have served and sacrificed. But too often, those reminders are so quiet that we overlook them, just as we sometimes overlook the ways in which we can honor the fallen by supporting the survivors of war and the comrades of those who died.

The UW is home to nearly 1,500 veterans across all three campuses, as well as thousands more in our community with ties to the military. For many veterans, the loss of a fellow service member can be catastrophic and that grief can manifest in ways that are hard for others to see and — sometimes, hard for the veteran to even acknowledge. The UW’s Office of Student Veteran Life, offers many types of resources, but chief among them is the community veterans find with other student veterans. Those who take part in the Growing Veterans community farming project, co-founded by a UW graduate, report the same thing: connecting with other veterans in a supportive environment is vital to healing and growing.

Connecting veterans with the resources and support network they need to thrive at the UW is part of what we mean when we talk about serving students with unique needs. Student veterans bring valuable skills and experiences to the table — leadership, teamwork, the ability to perform under pressure. But we can lose sight of the fact that they are often from low-income families and the first in their families to seek 4-year degrees, factors that can put them at a disadvantage in tackling the hurdles of higher education and life after military service.

Speaking at Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day last year, President Barack Obama acknowledged that, “Less than one percent of our nation wears the uniform, and so few Americans see this patriotism with their own eyes or know someone who exemplifies it. But every day, there are American families who pray for the sound of a familiar voice when the phone rings. For the sound of a loved one’s letter or email arriving. More than one million times in our history, it didn’t come…For us, the living — those of us who still have a voice – it is our responsibility, our obligation, to fill that silence with our love and our support and our gratitude – and not just with our words, but with our actions.”

As a community, we must make it part of our mission to take those actions. The Office of Student Veteran Life has scheduled a week of events leading up to Memorial Day (see sidebar) as a way to honor our community’s service members, to come together around our shared loss, and to let those who have served know that we support them. A special ceremony of remembrance will be held on Thursday, May 25 to honor one of our own, Lt. Robert Leisy ’68, who was killed in action in Vietnam while heroically saving his unit, and who posthumously received the Medal of Honor for his bravery and ultimate sacrifice.

To our veterans: this community is grateful for your sacrifice, cares about you and knows your immense value. You are not alone.