category: President's Blog

November 2021: Saluting Our Veterans

The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.  11:00 am, November 11, 1918.  It was at that time and on that date that hostilities ended in what we now know as World War I.  WWI was, sadly, also deemed the “Great War” and the “War to End All Wars.”  More than 116,000 Americans died in the conflict, and an additional 200,000 were wounded.  North Carolina alone sent 86,457 soldiers overseas to fight.

November 11 has remained a special day for our society.  First called Armistice Day in 1919, Congress approved the date as a federal holiday in 1938, and in 1954 President Eisenhower renamed it Veterans Day.  Ever since, we have set aside time each year to remember not just victory in 1918 but also the patriotism and sacrifice of all men and women who have served in the United States Armed Forces.

Here at Gardner-Webb University, we extend a heartfelt Thank You to America’s veterans.  Our gratitude is profound, for we know that without the hard work and heroism of our veterans we would not enjoy our present peace and prosperity.  Whether they served during times of war or times of peace, our veterans have protected us and defended our freedom. 

Dr. Murray S. Downs, Dr. William Downs father and member of the U.S. Army

On a personal level, I salute my father for his service in the U.S. Army from 1954-56.  Dad (Dr. Murray S. Downs, pictured at right, who celebrated his 93rd birthday earlier this month), did his basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, with the 101st Airborne Infantry.  Although he never had to witness the grim horrors of war firsthand, Dad did his duty honorably like so many Americans of his generation…and like so many Americans of all generations.  Dad’s brother, Richard, served in the U.S. Army from 1956-65 with stops in Italy, Korea, and Vietnam.  Their father/my grandfather (Ernest W. Downs) worked as a civilian for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from 1942-66 with postings at Fort Belvoir (Virginia), Camp Hale (Colorado), and Fort Eustis (Virginia).  I am proud of this rich family heritage of loyalty and service to our country.  Their examples of service and support have over the years instilled in me a respect and admiration of veterans and for our military.  Kim and I fly the American flag proudly, each and every day, at our Boiling Springs home.

As a University, we are likewise proud of the veterans who join us to pursue their academic degrees and their professional dreams.  Doing a little digging, we found that at least 513 students with VA benefits have matriculated at Gardner-Webb since 2003.  We are working to increase the number of current and former military service personnel who choose Gardner-Webb.  We have a range of programs and incentives to help make GWU affordable and accessible to veterans, their spouses, and their families.  We are also looking to grow our current ROTC Program by attracting new students with an appetite for leadership.  Government officials have long touted North Carolina as “the most military friendly state in the nation,” with the country’s third-largest military presence and more than 720,000 veterans in residence.  Gardner-Webb can and should be an educational friend to those who have devoted themselves to keeping us and our families safe.

For a second consecutive year, Gardner-Webb will hold a Veterans Day recognition ceremony in Dover Chapel on our campus (beginning, appropriately, at 11:00 am on November 11).  All faculty, staff, students, and the public are invited to attend this important and still-new tradition.  Two days later, on November 13, Gardner-Webb will host its annual Military Appreciation Day football game in Spangler Stadium, during which we will invite all active and former military personnel to stand and receive our appreciation.  Then, in May 2022, we will hold our second annual Memorial Day service to recognize those men and women who gave the last full measure—their lives—in service to the United States. 

I will close this blog by noting that America recently lost one of its great veterans, former U.S. Secretary of State and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Colin L. Powell.  General Powell passed away on October 18, 2021 from complications due to COVID.  It seems fitting to remember words from his 1989 Veterans Day speech at Arlington National Cemetery:

“This nation is what it is today because of the efforts and sacrifices of its veterans. It has been the contributions of America’s citizen-soldiers which have convinced potential adversaries throughout history that we are serious about our responsibility to defend our nation and its system of values.  The celebration of Veterans Day is a vivid reminder of the price which has been paid for the liberty we enjoy. It is also an appropriate time to reflect on the burden we all share in ensuring our children, and their children, enjoy that same liberty.”

11.11.11 and evermore.  Thank you, veterans.

Dr. William M. Downs


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