Honoring All Veterans

November 12, 2018

Members of the Yale community have served in every major conflict since the American Revolution. This afternoon we will honor them—students, faculty, staff, and alumni—in a Veterans Day ceremony in Battell Chapel. We will also commemorate the centennial of the armistice ending World War I. If you are on campus, I invite you to join us.

Yale’s commitment to its veterans and service men and women is strong. I am proud of the many students who currently serve in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC). Veterans bring unique strengths to our campus, and Yale offers a variety of resources for veterans interested in applying. The Yale Veterans Network, a campus group for students, faculty, and staff, and the Yale Veterans Association, an alumni organization, are terrific groups that support Yale veterans.

World War I was a signal event in world history. Revolutions, redrawn national boundaries, and fresh demands for political and civil rights for women and African-Americans were just a few of the momentous changes the war set in motion. Technological advances, including machine guns, artillery, and poison gas, opened a grim new chapter in warfare. Even after the armistice, fighting continued in Russia, the Middle East, and elsewhere. “The old world was gone,” said Paul Kennedy, J. Richardson Dilworth Professor of History. This week, Yale will host panels, lectures, and screenings exploring the war’s many dimensions.

Nearly 9,500 Yale students and graduates served in the Great War, including some with allied armies. Yale College students organized the First Yale Unit—the country’s first naval air unit—even before the U.S. entered the war. Students and faculty members of the Yale School of Medicine cared for the sick and wounded. Joseph Marshall Flint, a professor of surgery, served as a colonel in the army. The model of the Mobile Hospital Unit No. 39 he designed was adopted by the army and used until World War II. Over 300 Yalies served in the Red Cross, YMCA, and other related organizations abroad. Helen Hagan, a concert pianist and 1912 graduate of the Yale School of Music, was the first female African-American musician to entertain troops overseas. This video series includes conversations with Yale faculty members and examines how the war affected Yale.

Yale faculty contributed their expertise to the war effort in myriad ways. A few months before the armistice, Yale president Arthur Twining Hadley found one of his professors away on a peacekeeping mission, another serving on the International Food Commission, and a forestry professor, Theodore Woolsey, “supervising the purchase of timber for housing in France,” according to Yale historian Brooks Mather Kelley. The Yale Chemical Warfare Unit conducted pioneering research into the effects and potential treatment for exposure to poison gases, including mustard gas. Faculty scientists helped develop improved airplanes and military equipment.

The human carnage unleashed by the war was unfathomable. An estimated 10 million people or more were killed. This staggering loss of life called for new ways of memorializing the war dead, many of whom could not be brought home for burial.

“Remember that half of the ten million have no known graves; their bodies were blown to pieces by the greatest collection of artillery the world had ever seen,” wrote Jay Winter, Charles J. Stille Professor of History Emeritus. He calls World War I “the first of the great ‘disappearances’ of the twentieth century.”

The names of 227 Yale students and alumni killed in the Great War are carved into the walls of Woolsey Hall. In 1927, alumni spearheaded the creation on our campus of the largest World War I memorial in the United States. The cenotaph (currently in storage during the construction of the Schwarzman Center) honors the war dead, and the names of seven major battles are inscribed in the Memorial Colonnade outside of Commons.

Monuments, memorials, and ceremonies like the one we will hold today remind us of the terrible cost of war and the tremendous sacrifices veterans have made. By remembering, we ensure that our veterans never disappear and are never forgotten.

In the book of Ecclesiasticus, we find these words: “Their bodies are buried in peace; but their name liveth for evermore.” Please join me in remembering the names and sacrifices of all veterans.