ITHACA, N.Y. –– A crowd gathered in Dewitt Park Monday for Tompkins County’s annual Veterans Day Ceremony, honoring members of the armed forces who have served the country.

The keynote speaker was Maj. Thomas P. Cunningham, USMC. He is the executive officer for the Cornell University NROTC program.

Cunningham spoke about building community outside of the service.

In all the services, officers and enlisted leaders are given three broad mandates in peace and war. Number one –– get the job done, fight and win. Number two –– take care of your people. You do the second and the first takes care of itself. The third, that we talk a little less about, that I’d like to mention today, is to make better citizens.”

I used to believe when I was young lieutenant that my mandate to make better citizens was literal and it was limited to me teaching my Marines to be better citizens. I’ve since come to understand that’s only part of the equation.

As a veteran you’re part of a decreasing percentage of Americans that have experienced the exhaustion of combat –– or standing post on zero sleep. The helplessness of having received a Dear John or Jane letter while bobbing around in a ship in the middle of nowhere. The frustration of having missed a birth, a wedding, graduation or other kind of significant event in your life or your families’. Or worse, the sorrow of having lost a brother or sister service member.

On the flip side you’re also part of a decrease in percentage of the population that’s experienced the euphoria of running your best personal fitness test…the pride of belting out cadence in a large unit formation. The immediate frustration but enduring gratitude towards your NCO and your officers, for pushing you beyond your perceived limits. And in some sublime cases, solemn peace of knowing that you stopped unjustified violence or terror against others. In all these cases, and in spite of the negative ones, you’ve built resilience, toughness and virtue, purpose and ideally a sense of inner peace that comes with the close bonds you form with your relatively small community of brothers and sisters nearby. In doing so, you were made to be, and made better citizens of, your fellow service members.

My charge to you in closing is to continue to broaden that mandate for developing citizenship to all of your fellow citizens, regardless of whether or not you’re still in the service and regardless of whether or not those citizens served. Seek new ways to bring out those same intense connected feelings. Of resilience. Toughness. Of virtue –– of meaning, of inner peace. Not by your rank or your positional authority. But by your expertise, your example and your character. In that way, you will ensure that the real spirit of Veterans Day lives on.

The organizers behind the 3rd annual Team Red, White and Blue 5k in Ithaca are already living Cunningham’s advice.

“Team Red, White and Blue, Ithaca is the local chapter of a national organization whose purpose is enriching veteran’s lives by connecting them to their local communities through physical and social activities, ” said RWB Communications Director, and Marine Corps veteran, Jeramy Kruser.

Team RWB Ithaca (Photo by Anna Lamb/The Ithaca Voice)

“We invited in ROTC, active military, our veterans, our reservists and our supportive civilian community to all come together today to do a 5k run around Ithaca, carrying their American flags, raising awareness of veterans,” Kruser said. “And then we came back here for the ceremony.”

Team RWB also hosts year-round events to “build connections between veterans and the community.” You can find more information on their website.

Anna Lamb

Anna Lamb is a reporter for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at alamb@ithacavoice.com