State Sen. Josè Menéndez, D-San Antonio, President Robert Vela and others honor vets.
By Christian Erevia
The haunting bagpipe notes of “Amazing Grace,” performed by Robert Chalk of Alamo City Pipes and Drums, rang out on this campus Nov. 11 in front of Loftin Student Center, followed by the footsteps of a slow, silent procession in honor of Veterans Day. The flags of this nation’s military branches billowed gently in the morning air as they were carried by this college’s Police Honor Guard.
The procession consisted of students, faculty and staff — both veterans and civilians.
Manuel Gonzales, Student Veterans Association president and real estate sophomore, and Dwayne Poates, SVA treasurer and business administration sophomore, led the march with a wreath to honor service members who have died.
The march began on the walkway between Candler Physical Education Center and Gonzales Hall, working its way to the mall for a moment of silence before continuing into the Fiesta Room of Loftin for speeches, food and celebration.
The ceremony began with a prayer and the national anthem, which was performed by this college’s American Sign Language Glee Club.
“Thank you veterans, this is about you, this is about why we value your service to this country,” college President Robert Vela said in his opening speech.
Vela introduced state Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio. Menéndez has been integral in the development plans for this college’s Victory Center. The center will be dedicated to helping student veterans.
“I believe we make a promise to our veterans, that we honor them and their heroism,” Menéndez said. “They understand that patriotism requires action every day.”
Menéndez spoke about the sacrifices and challenges veterans experience, both physically and mentally, and how they are owed respect for willingly putting their lives on the line for this country.
“Vets never give up on America and neither should we,” Menéndez said.
Veteran and engineering sophomore Toni Salazar gave a speech about her struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression after re-entering civilian life. Salazar described her unhealthy coping mechanisms, which included drinking alcohol and binge eating unhealthy food.
Salazar also spoke of how she found relief for her mental health issues through therapy and physical exercise.
Salazar said through hard work and an attitude change, she was able to change her bad habits and get her life together, which led her to San Antonio to continue her education.
“(My hope) was that other veterans would hear that they’re not alone and that there is a light at the end of the tunnel,” Salazar said.
Nursing professors and veterans Marie Galaviz and Bessie Perado also spoke at the ceremony, sharing their service experiences and deep appreciation for other service members.
Music freshman Edward Lee Jones sang “Hero for Today” to close out the speaking portion of the ceremony.
Menéndez and Vela presented challenge coins, which are collectible tokens for military service members, to veterans as a thank-you for their service and to commemorate this year’s Veterans Day ceremony.
This college hosts a Veterans Day ceremony every year.
“This is a day to honor all veterans, and all of us need to be unified behind them,” Menéndez said. “I appreciate that SAC has made it a big deal.”
The attendees then marched to this college’s veterans’ memorial outside of Loftin to place a wreath in tribute to those who have served this country. “Taps” was played on the bagpipes as the wreath was laid.
For many in attendance, the ceremony was both a celebration of service and a reminder of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.
Gonzales said the day was bittersweet.
“You think about the past,” Gonzales said. “But it puts a smile on your face.”
Army veteran and liberal arts sophomore Javier Cruz stopped to attend the ceremony while on his way to finish a paper.
“I figured I’d stop by and show my support,” Cruz said. “It brings awareness that there’s veterans among us and that we shouldn’t forget.”
Victor Gonzalez, SVA president and international business junior at the University of Texas at San Antonio, also attended the ceremony as a show of solidarity.
“It’s key that we, as student veterans, learn to partner up with our sister chapters and be there to help each other out,” Gonzalez said.
The celebration ended with a catered meal and conversation.
Attendees mingled, shared stories from their service days and admired their new challenge coins. The room was filled with laughter, and the mood was one of admiration and support.
“Keep hope, keep dreaming and stay positive,” Salazar said.
For more information on veterans’ services, call 210-486-0111.