Tears flowed throughout the Student Services Center auditorium as family, friends, faculty, and staff expressed their deepest gratitude to those who have served our country during the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s Veterans Day Ceremony Nov. 11.
Mike Tramel, chair of UALR’s Construction Management Department and a Vietnam veteran, began the ceremony with warm, welcoming remarks along with a brief history lesson acknowledging the roots of Veterans Day.
“This day was originally known as Armistice Day, the day that celebrated the ending of World War I, the great war to end all wars,” Tramel said.
Reading a snippet of President Woodrow Wilson’s Armistice Day proclamation, Tramel continued, “So on the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month, we come together to celebrate our heroes and those who died while serving our country, but also to say thank you for all who have served this great nation of ours.”
He goes on to reveal the observance of Veterans Day, “the national day of observation honoring American veterans of all wars.”
Following Tramel’s remarks, veterans in attendance stood to be recognized, receiving extended praise and thanks from audience members.
Soon after, Kevin McGee, a veteran and president of UALR’s Students Affected by the Military, gave a word of prayer before the presentation of colors by the Jacksonville High School Air Force Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps.
Almost immediately after, ceremony participants stood with hands over hearts as the words of the National Anthem filled the room, followed by the Pledge of Allegiance.
As the ceremony neared its closing, the guest speaker, Eddie Pannell, UALR graduate and U.S. Marine Corps combat veteran of Vietnam, spoke of the courage it takes to leave loved ones behind for the sake of freedom.
“We’re here to celebrate our veterans for their patriotism, their love of country, and their willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good,” he said. “Hopefully, people can appreciate our service, but they will never truly know what it means to be a veteran until they put on that uniform.”
As he shared of his personal experiences, Pannell became overwhelmed with emotion.
“I’m getting older now, but as I get older, toward the end of this journey, I grow even more proud to be called a veteran, having served my country,” Pannell said. “I was, am, and always will be a United States Marine.”
At the age of 14, Pannell couldn’t wait to join the marines after hearing what he’d deemed to be a lie told by President Lyndon B. Johnson.
“He said that during the Gulf of Tonkin incident, one of our destroyers was fired on by a North Vietnamese patrol boat in south China sea. At 14, I thought that was terrible,” he said. “They can’t get away with that.”
Five weeks after his 17th birthday, Pannell begged his mother to sign him into the Marine Corp, and so she did. He begin boot camp January 2, 1968.
Not knowing that he couldn’t be sent to combat before 19, Pannell tried everything that he could to get to Vietnam. After completing boot camp, he was sent to Cherry Point in North Carolina where he quickly requested mast, or the right to speak with the commanding officer and for the officer to consider and respond to the matter.
“You do what the Marine Corp tells you, but I joined the Marine Corps to fight,” Pannell said. “You see I wasn’t that bright.”
Upon his request, the career planner saw what Pannell was attempting and offered him a deal. Due to Pannell’s high scores on the language portion of his tests, he was given the option to attend language school for one year and be shipped to Vietnam afterwards.
“I did that, and I really believe that was God’s way,” Pannell paused as he choked up and his eyes begin to swell with tears. “Anyway, I went to language school and studied the language, the customs, the culture, the religions, and I fell in love with the Vietnamese people.”
As a still silence covered the room, tears fell from the face of many who were captivated by Pannell’s story.
After upholding the requirements of his deal, Pannell was on a plane headed for Vietnam.
“As we’re walking off of the plane, there was a guy there with a water hose and there were some green looking trash bags by him,” Pannell said. “Someone had asked the guy what he was doing and he said that these boys were going home.”
Pannell remembers about 20 to 30 body bags laying there, ready to be shipped back to the states.
“I thought, this wasn’t John Wayne anymore,” he said. “This was real. People were getting killed over here.”
Pannell reminisced about the pain he felt after losing the war and the tragedies that he witnessed in hope of encouraging young people to question politicians and their decisions.
“Your voice does make a difference,” he said. “Stand up for yourself, your families, and veterans. We need you.”
The ceremony concluded with a moment of silence for a UALR fallen veteran, Neotero Isalm.
Following the ceremony, veterans were offered a free lunch in the Diamond Cafe as a token of the school’s appreciation.
In the upper right photo, guest speaker and alumnus Eddie Pannell speaks during the Veterans Day 2016 celebration Nov. 11 in the Student Services Center auditorium. Photos by Lonnie Timmons III/UALR Communications.