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Veterans Day: One Day for Centuries of Service

Veterans Day honors all people who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces during times of conflict and peace. The UW is proud to have seen many of these veterans train, find community, and pursue new opportunities on its campus over the last 170 years.

Esther Seidlitz
November 05, 2021

Veterans Day is a special day for many throughout the United States, and UW–Madison is particularly proud of its connection to the holiday through Harvey Higley, a 1915 graduate of the UW and a World War I veteran. Two years after earning his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering, Higley left his job for the U.S. Army. He returned to private employment after the war, but Higley’s tireless advocacy for veterans eventually led to his appointment as the secretary of veterans affairs in 1954.

As a World War I veteran, Higley already had a holiday dedicated to his service: Armistice Day. This day, November 11, marked the end of the “Great War” and was set aside to honor all World War I service members. Higley knew exactly what it felt like to serve his country, and believed that all veterans deserved the same recognition for their service and sacrifices. He successfully pushed the Eisenhower administration to expand Armistice Day into the more comprehensive Veterans Day.

In this same vein, the UW community remembers and thanks all veterans who have fought for the freedom and security that our campus and country require to move “Forward.” Whether a veteran has served stateside or abroad, in active combat or in times of peace, we are indebted to all who have given up the comforts of hearth and home to risk or give their lives for the rights of others.

Badger yearbooks have documented many eras of the UW’s history, including students’ wartime experiences. Though campus changed with each new conflict, these books recorded generations of soldiers, sailors, pilots, and medics who shared a willingness to sacrifice and serve — and a desire to help build a better home for everyone. The 913 UW students who have died in active combat while serving this mission are remembered in the university’s Gold Star Honor Roll, located in Memorial Union.

In honor of Veterans Day, take a moment to see through the eyes of an anonymous World War I student-soldier in the 1919 Badger yearbook. Through his poem, this veteran illustrates the everyday experiences service members give up so that we can take those same experiences for granted.

Home! If they could only know how I dream of it! The old guard would be gone; but my Alma Mater, Wisconsin, will always be there. In pauses in the Big Game, when the night is still, I want the Old Varsity. I dream of her; of all the old sacred things.

Governor Francis McGovern reviews cadets in the university’s training program in front of the Armory on April 22, 1914.

The old Armory, big and black against the sky; where I first learned to know the breech of a gun from the muzzle. I remember the old clock on Music Hall. Time always went too fast in Varsity days.

And I learned more from the white bench above the lake, than from any poetical course the Hill ever gave.

Cadets drill in front of South Hall on Bascom Hill in the late 19th century.

Oh! I’d give an arm to stand up on the hill once more, and see Picnic Point trailing out into the lake!

To stare, through Ag Hall pillars, at Main Hall looming large in the distance. Songs from these big stone steps! I think they’ll ring in my heart forever — or until a Busy Bertha crowds them out.

World War II offered more opportunities for women to officially serve in the U.S. Armed Forces. WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) march together at Camp Randall.

And the dusky cove at sunset seems to be calling to me — calling, until I ache with the longing to be back!

I want to see the glorious, copper after-glow on the still water, and let the silence sink into my very soul. I want to stroll under the willows, around the little bends in the road, until 3 am steeped in a warm contentment.

Family members pin rank insignias onto graduates from UW–Madison’s ROTC programs in a 2016 officer commissioning ceremony.

I want once more to sail all day, with nothing in the world but a white sail, white clouds, blue sky and water, and old, kindly pals at my side.

There is more sunlight on the Drive than in all France. But it is mingled, as here, with shadows — shadows —

And I can never forget it all; the smooth path, the drooping sentinel trees, the quiet lake. I can never forget the golden glory of it; the sweet, mad youth at old Wisconsin.

Graduates from a World War II Navy training program known as V-12 say good-bye to their friends in front of the Kiekhofer Wall that reads “Cheer up, gals! We’ll be back!”

And the girl I left behind me; waiting ’til I come home again.

A detachment of World War I soldiers from Madison bid their families farewell from the train in 1918.

Old singing dreams creep in on me. Sunset — somewhere in France — but all’s well — all’s well!

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