In observance of Memorial Day, The Evergreen State College’s Student Veterans Organization (ESVO) will place 8,413 American flags on the grassy knoll located at the center of campus. The flags will be in installed on Thursday and on display until Tuesday morning.
Although small in size, the flags will each be tremendously significant. Each one will represent a military coalition member—from the US, UK, and other allied nations—who has fallen in battle in the Middle East since 2001.
The ESVO is Evergreen’s chapter of the Student Veterans of America (SVA), a nationwide organization dedicated to providing veterans with support, resources, and advocacy to help them succeed in higher education and beyond. Among other things, the SVA meets annually to help craft legislation for Congress.
A student group made up entirely of veterans, the ESVO plays a vital role at Evergreen, providing support to veterans on campus and serving as their voice to the administration. Some of the group’s activities include hosting 5k runs, participating in the United States Marine Corps Toys for Tots program, and helping with Evergreen’s annual Veterans’ Challenge Coin Ceremony.
Randy Kelley is the director of the Veterans Resource Center at Evergreen. It was his idea to display the flags on Memorial Day, a tradition which began in 2015. Kelley got the idea to do so after seeing a similar display in the UK, where glass poppies were planted to represent soldiers who had perished in World War II.
“The visual impact of seeing all those poppies versus just seeing a number was moving, and I thought the number of people dying in the Middle Eastern wars was becoming just a number,” said Kelley. “[I thought] that if you could see a flag planted for each fallen military member that it would make a bigger impact than just quoting a number.”
The planting of the flags is not only a significant event for the ESVO, but for the rest of campus as well.
“It gives all the faculty, staff and students a chance to participate in paying respects to those who have perished [because] the planting and reaping of flags is open to everyone,” explained Kelley.
Kelley described the mood at the Veterans Center as being somewhat more solemn around Memorial Day. However, he emphasized that, in addition to the sorrow felt for those who have fallen, there is also an accompanying sense of purpose.
“We are aware that we have a responsibility to those who have fallen to work to help end conflict, and to do that we must be educated,” said Kelley. “That is our mission now, to become educated citizens and to continue to give back to our neighborhoods, local communities, and state and federal governments in helping to change our society so that conflicts such as this are not necessary to solve our differences.”