H-SC observes Veterans Day

Published 1:28 pm Tuesday, November 15, 2016

“Those who come back from wars aren’t totally free from its effects,” Dr. Guy Burnett said during Veterans Day services at Hampden-Sydney College (H-SC) on Thursday. “Whether physically or mentally scarred, wars and conflicts take their toll…our purpose today is to honor all of those who served.”

According to an H-SC press release, Burnett, the school’s assistant professor of government and foreign affairs, delivered the keynote address to more than 50 people during the college’s convocation period.

“Part of our debt of gratitude we owe our veterans is knowing who they were and what they did,” he said. “We read books, we search the internet, we watch documentaries, we take courses, all with the goal of finding out who they were and what they did. We are touched by how these men and women have touched us and touched history. In our day and age, it’s relatively easy to look up information on our family’s history and find relatives who fought in wars. I wanted to find out what my family had done, and it has changed me in a profound way.”

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He described his own personal journey in France visiting World War I battlefields and said the spiritual magnitude of that event caused him to engage in research to delve deeper into a great uncle’s experience in that conflict. He found notes, letters and journals of men in his uncle’s company and made a remarkable discovery.

“Poring over these notes, I found out he was in the front line trenches, about to make an assault on a fortified German village when word of the Armistice came through the lines at 5 a.m.,” Burnett said. “As my great-uncle sat in a foggy trench, waiting for the first light to begin the initial charge into the German-held village, the word came through to hold tight until 11 a.m. when the Armistice would go into effect. Both sides held off any attacks, but shelling gradually intensified on both sides until the stroke of 11, when suddenly, the world fell silent, as it hadn’t done on the Western Front for four solid years. Suddenly, no sounds were heard and the silence was eerie.”

Burnett recalled eyewitness testimony of German soldiers climbing out of the trenches and shouting wildly throwing their gear towards the Americans, singing and greeting American soldiers with “outstretched hands, ear-to-ear grins and souvenirs to swap for cigarettes.”

“Reading the accounts and picturing what happened at that hour was incredible for me,” Burnett said. “I was picturing what my great-uncle had witnessed. It brought to me even more an appreciation for the end of the war and the survival of my relative who, possibly, could have been dead that very hour if the Armistice had not materialized. He was there, at war’s end, and saw the worst of humanity give way to the best of humanity. It is for us, the living, to know, remember and thank those who have served.”

Among those in attendance were veterans and students. The H-SC detachment of the Army ROTC “Spider Battalion” presented the colors and supported the event, which was coordinated this year by the Wilson Center for Leadership in the Public Interest. Also included was the traditional reading of the names of Hampden-Sydney men who lost their lives in every conflict since the American Revolution.