Rider veteran-students to line campus mall with flags honoring lost comrades
Around 6,800 American flags were placed on the campus mall on Veterans Day, Nov. 11.
It was the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of the year 1918 when World War I essentially came to an end. Today, Nov. 11 is officially celebrated as Veterans Day in the United States — a holiday which honors those who have served in the armed service.
This Veterans Day, two current Rider University students and military veterans will create a vivid display on the campus mall, reminding all who see it to stop, reflect and remember.
Jonathan Bowker and Tyler Hobbs have been members of Rider’s Veteran’s Association (RUVA) for approximately three years. This past Sept. 11, Bowker, a marketing and advertising major who served in the U.S. Army from 2008 to 2011, was struck by how “regular” the day was as he walked around campus. “Students were acting like it was just another day,” he says. “And it’s not. People tend to forget that there is still a war going on, soldiers are still being deployed and people are still getting killed.”
So he and Hobbs, an education and psychology major who served in the U.S. Marine Corp from 2004 to 2009, decided to create a Veterans Day event on campus to memorialize all of the American soldiers killed since Oct. 7, 2001 — the date U.S. began military operations.
Their plan is to place one American flag on the Rider campus mall for each life lost. “According to the current Department of Defense statistics, we need almost 6,800 flags,” Bowker says. “But we purchased 6,900 because the number of casualties continues to grow every day. And we’re just not sure how many flags we will actually need on Veterans Day.”
Bowker remains an active reservist in the New Jersey Army National Guard.
Hobbs and Bowker, with some assistance from other Rider students and veterans, will create a timeline with the flags, from 2001 to present, with groups of flags reflecting the number of soldiers killed in each year. “Some years will have a smaller number of flags, but some years, when the war was especially deadly, people are going to be surprised to see the large number of flags,” Bowker says.
The men also plan to have a special memorial for Rider alumnus Omar Vazquez, who graduated in 2007 with a degree in history, but was compelled to enlist in the Army after the events of Sept. 11. Lt. Vazquez was killed on April 22, 2001, in southern Iraq.
Rider University's Veteran’s coordinator, Russel Melville, an army veteran and Rider alumnus, said, "It is important to remember our fallen veterans. I want to thank Jonathan and Tyler for their dedication to creating this powerful display. I know it will not only be educational to all who see it, but a powerful reminder of the true meaning of Veterans Day."
Asked what they hope to achieve with the flag display, Bowker said, “We want people to put their bias aside — this is not about being for or against the war. This is about remembering the members of our military who chose to serve, and paid the ultimate price. They are not just statistics, they are human beings.”
Hobbs concurs. “I want people to remember those who took up arms. It was a choice to do something more with their life. We want to honor those people who decided to be something bigger; those who defended our country.”