In an effort to remember fallen Aztecs, San Diego State student volunteers added a new feature to this year's War Memorial Ceremony—an all-night vigil the evening before. Led by Mark Daemon, an SDSU student who will return to Afghanistan later this month, students spelled out "SDSU" with lit luminarias listing the names of each fallen Aztec. Volunteers took hourlong shifts watching over the memorial throughout the night.
The next day, the dark clouds over Montezuma Mesa seemed all too fitting for the annual ceremony honoring SDSU students and alumni who have died during military conflicts dating back to World War II.
Honoring fallen Aztecs
The ceremony on Friday, Oct. 15, was held near the War Memorial, adjacent to Aztec Center and Aztec Green near the SDSU Trolley station. The event started with music presented by the SDSU Choir, directed by Christopher Allen.
Event speakers included:
- Brig. Gen. Earl Van Inwegen, retired, U.S. Air Force
- Rev. J.D. Smith III
- Jocelyne Erkenbeck
- Jim Erkenbeck, chair, SDSU Alumni Association War Memorial Committee
- Lt. Col. Tom Richards, retired, U.S. Marine Corps
- Sherrill Amador, president, SDSU Alumni Association
- Ericka Korb, president, SDSU Student Veterans Organization
- Gen. Anthony L. Jackson, commanding general MCI West, U.S. Marine Corps
- Tony Nufer, president, San Diego Military Advisory Council
- Rocky Chavez, undersecretary, California Department of Veterans Affairs
- Col. Martin Wojtsiak, U.S. Air Force and SDSU ROTC Honor Guard
Event emcee Lt. Col. Richards recognized retiring SDSU President Stephen L. Weber during the event and acknowledged that the campus has become more veteran-friendly during his presidency.
"California has over 2 million veterans; a little over 10 percent of all the veterans of the United States' veterans are in California," said Chavez, the keynote speaker.
"There are 30,000 veterans returning to the state of California evey year and these young veterans who are returning after a tour overseas, there are two things they want: jobs and education."
Organized by the SDSU Alumni Association’s War Memorial Committee, this year’s event highlighted the two new names added to the memorial earlier this year based on research by SDSU librarian Robert Fikes. Speakers also announced the expansion of the monument, an addition designed by Jesus Dominguez, professor emeritus of art and the monument’s original designer. The expansion will be completed in time for the fall 2011 War Memorial Ceremony.
The event concluded with the laying of wreaths at the memorial. Wreaths were donated by various campus groups and presented by SDSU ROTC students. While each year's ceremony ends with a flyover by military aircraft, the cloud cover overhead prevented it this year.
A longtime coming
More than 3,500 San Diego State College students served in World War II and nearly 100 were killed in action around the globe. In the post-war years, many returned to school to complete their degrees.
In 1945, Phi Lambda Xi presented a $50 check to San Diego State College President Walter Hepner to establish a memorial fund. In 1986, the idea of a memorial on campus was revived by a group of students.
A memorial was designed by Dominguez, but could not be built due to a lack of funds. After fundraising activities that ended in 1995, the current War Memorial was dedicated in 1996. The memorial is one of a handful on a college campus west of the Mississippi River.
Expanding the memorial
At present, the SDSU War Memorial lists 217 students and alumni killed in combat action on land, sea and air, as well as those who died in accidents both in the United States and abroad while on active duty. The SDSU War Memorial Committee is working with the SDSU Alumni Association, War Memorial Founders Committee and the SDSU Student Veterans Organization to update and expand the memorial.
This includes the design and expansion of the memorial site to honor fallen Aztecs from current and future conflicts, and will include an interactive kiosk with information on veterans, the background and history of the memorial, SDSU alumni veterans and photos and information on the Student Veterans Organization. A similar kiosk will be located in the Student Veteran Center.