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'We made a commitment' — Veterans' Tribute will be dedicated at UNL this Sunday

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The idea to create a new space at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln honoring members of the military, veterans and their families, was the offshoot of another act of remembrance.

Four years ago, UNL unveiled a pair of plaques that now hang on either side of Gate 20 at Memorial Stadium, reflecting the venue’s original purpose to remember the Nebraskans who fought and died in World War I.

At that time, UNL leaders signaled they had more ambitious plans to dedicate a space along Memorial Mall just east of the stadium for reflection on the service and sacrifice of all men and women who have served in uniform.

The project slowly moved forward, through the start and completion of other projects in the area, the coronavirus pandemic and other challenges on campus, said Michelle Waite, UNL’s assistant to the chancellor for government and military relations.

But it never lost momentum.

On Sunday, UNL will dedicate the Veterans’ Tribute that was installed by BIC Construction of Lincoln this week on the south side of the Pershing Military and Naval Science Building near 14th and Vine streets.

The public ceremony is set to begin at 3:30 p.m., and will feature remarks from Chancellor Ronnie Green; Maj. Gen. Daryl Bohac, adjutant general of the Nebraska National Guard; Petty Officer 2nd Class Tara Maulsby; Noala Fritz, a Gold Star and Blue Star mother; and Jim Cada, a veteran of the Vietnam War who served as a member of the committee that designed the space.

More than 50 construction projects are part of the university's effort to renew and replace aging buildings on its Lincoln campus.

Waite said the tribute was conceived as UNL was working on the pair of plaques that commemorate the service of tens of thousands of Nebraskans during World War I, including 113 students from the University of Nebraska.

“We felt like it was our responsibility to do something like this,” she said. “We made a commitment and the chancellor intended to follow through with it.”

Thirty-five people were invited to take part in the design process, Waite explained, including members of UNL’s Reserve Officers Training Corps, leaders of the Nebraska National Guard, veterans and others with connections to the military.

The committee took inspiration from the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial that sits just west of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., drawing lessons from the design as well as how to raise private donations for the $3.75 million project.

Confluence Design of Colorado was ultimately responsible for the final concept.

The result is a series of semi-transparent glass panels that features quotes from current military, veterans and families that span everything from training to deployment — either to combat or humanitarian missions around the world — as well as life after the service.

Granite benches will invite people to sit and admire the tribute in a serene space, Waite said, as well as a flag plaza that will feature American flags meant to link all branches of the military together.

Likewise, the steps outside of the Pershing building have been rebuilt entirely and laid with pavers in a chevron pattern, Waite said would be recognizable by all members of the military, no matter the branch, as a common symbol of rank.

The situation of the tribute complements both Memorial Stadium and Memorial Mall, according to Waite. Both, which were erected in remembrance of Nebraska’s military dead, are in the middle of an area of campus that is being dramatically overhauled.

Carolyn Pope Edwards Hall, the home of UNL’s College of Education and Human Sciences, is opening this fall, while work is continuing on new and existing facilities for the College of Engineering.

Hawks Hall, the home of UNL’s College of Business, sits across the street from the Veterans’ Tribute, while work to the Go BIG training facility will continue for another year.

Waite said the tribute also hearkens back to UNL’s history as a land-grant university, which was established to teach agriculture, engineering and military science, and also honors the several branches of ROTC programs — one of the few universities in the country with such a complement.

“We think it shows our commitment not only to our student veterans and active duty members of the military,” Waite said, “but also creates a space where all should feel welcome to come and learn about the military.”

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