By Christina Armeni
It was in the middle of the night on the eve before September 11 when a group of student veterans decided to plant American flags along the McKeldin Mall fountain. Their goal was to remind the campus community of the anniversary of 9/11. The next day, University of Maryland students and faculty walked to class and work amongst rows of red, white and blue.
The campus organizations Veteran Student Life and Terp Vets continued the tradition by planting nearly 3,000 American Flags on the lawn in front of the Stamp Student Union Tuesday.
“Each flag represents a life lost,” said David Reese, coordinator for the Office of Veteran Student Life.
The event, called “Operation Stick-It,” happens every year on September 10.
Anyone who walked by could plant a flag or grab a free dog tag or bracelet. But many of those who were there did not just stumble upon the event.
A group of Army ROTC students came in uniform up the Campus Drive hill, faintly marching.
“It’s really important to show some patriotism,” Army ROTC Cadet Amy Petrocelli said.
“I know for some of us it’s why we chose to go into service,” Petrocelli, a junior communication major, said.
Behind the Army ROTC students came two firetrucks full of firefighters from the College Park Volunteer Fire Department Company 12.
Volunteer firefighter Benjamin Brown said that 9/11 is an important part of not only American history but fire department history.
“It’s just a moment we have to remember each year,” Brown, a sophomore fire protection engineering major, said.
Before passing out the flags that filled a storage bin up to the rim, Reese stood on a bench in front of a small crowd. The sun was shining brightly behind him with only a few clouds in the sky.
“It’s not just enough to remember,” Reese said to the group of veterans, students and passersby. “Remember the awfulness of the event and the tragedy of it and think, ‘let’s do better going forward.’”
Reese had recently finished undergrad when 9/11 occured. He enlisted in the army right after. In 2003, he went to Afghanistan, and Iraq in 2004. Reese has worked at the Office of Veteran Student Life for over a year now. His job is to make sure that student veterans have the support they need to get an education. Most of the student veterans are older and often have families. “About a third of them have children,” Reese said.
Planting began a few minutes after 5 p.m. Within less than 25 minutes, the President of Terp Vets, Michael Beahm, was placing the last flag into the ground.
After the work was done, those who helped grouped together behind the flags for a photo. More than 50 people filled the frame as the wind blew the flags gently for the picture. The golden tops of each flag sparkled against the green lawn.
“We’ve got fear and hate, and we’re trying to combat that,” Reese said, “But let’s combat that with compassion and love.”
Featured Photo Credit: Lisa Woolfson/Bloc Photographer.
Christina Armeni is a sophomore journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.