UNCW honors its veterans

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Students play "The National Anthem" during UNCW's annual Veterans Day Ceremony today. Photo by Hilary Snow.
Students play “The National Anthem” during UNCW’s annual Veterans Day Ceremony today. Photo by Hilary Snow.

When UNC-Wilmington–formerly known as Wilmington College–opened its doors in 1947, nearly 75 percent of the 238 students who made up that first class were veterans.

Today, UNCW continued its strong tradition of serving those who serve their country with its annual Veterans Day ceremony.

The event–held at the Campus Commons Amphitheater–honored active and retired military, alive and fallen, by allowing veteran students, faculty and staff to share their personal stories.

“Coming out of high school, the military was never something I thought I would do,” Nate Armstrong, treasurer of UNCW’s student veterans organization, recalled. “Now, in hindsight, it was probably one of the best decisions I ever made…Being here on Veterans Day with this group of people is indescribable.”

Josh Kinchen, too, felt the significance of standing on campus with his peers–but in a very different way.

For Kinchen, a graduate student at UNCW, accepting his status as a veteran was a long and difficult road.

He told the audience that he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps for the “right reasons” –duty, honor, service to country.

But instead, he struggled with having to disguise his sexuality during a time when “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was in place.

“I fell in love with a Coast Guard corpsman who happened to be a man…I spent a great deal of time and energy hiding who I was,” Kinchen said. “I lost my way, my mission, my duty, my reason I was there…For a very long time my head was hung low. I told few people about my service in the Marine Corps.”

It was not until he came to UNCW, he continued, that he rediscovered the reasons he joined the Marine Corps in the first place.

“Working with students, LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) students, especially–that is my duty and purpose…I am serving the Marine Corps values of honor and commitment. I can say sincerely now today that I am far more of a Marine than I was when I served,” Kinchen said.

Kinchen said he had helped organize a new campus organization–Q Magnet–which is specifically aimed at helping LGBT students affiliated with the military.

The group, which holds its first event later this week, is a first for UNCW. Another first for the university was having a female veteran faculty member as a guest speaker at the annual Veterans Day ceremony.

“When I decided to join the Navy, I thought I was doing something interesting, that it was a new adventure,” Dr. Pamela Evers, an attorney and business law professor at UNCW, said.

But when she took the oath of office, Evers, who was raised in a military family, said the weight of her decision struck her “like a lightning bolt.”

“Suddenly I had a responsibility, a duty to protect and defend,” she said. “But I felt connected to my family’s history, my country’s history and, more importantly, America’s future…To our veterans, our servicemen of all ages…we honor you. To those service members who paid the ultimate price, we honor you by recognizing the sacrifices that you made.”

Hilary Snow is a reporter for Port City Daily. Reach her at (910) 772-6341 or hilary.s@hometownwilmington.com.