The Office of Veteran & Military Services at SUNY New Paltz convened the fourth annual Memorial Day wreath-laying ceremony on Tuesday, May 29, extending what has become an important rite at the College, and creating an opportunity for students, faculty and staff to reflect on the meaning of service and sacrifice.
This year’s ceremony focused on expanding the definition of the sacrifice we honor on Memorial Day, to include those who struggle, and ultimately fall, not in battle, but in their effort to return to civilian life.
Keynote speaker and New Paltz alumna Jillian Nadiak ’15 (Journalism) addressed this theme in a moving story about her brother, Adam, a veteran who served in Korea and Afghanistan. Adam came home and mostly seemed to family and friends to be successfully readjusting, before suffering an accidental prescription drug overdose in 2016.
Though veterans who pass away after their terms of service are not traditionally recognized on Memorial Day, Nadiak’s narrative offered a stark reminder that the burden of military service does not lift for all who return home.
“As with most causes, it is difficult to fully understand a hardship until it touches you personally,” Nadiak said. “It took me a while to learn that Adam was still fighting the war he signed up for in the 2000s, long after he came home. He never showed any signs of regret, but at the same time, he tried to hide the powerful remnants of war that challenged him daily.
“My brother did not lose his life overseas; while he may have left the military, he never stopped being a soldier. So I remember him on Memorial Day, and every other day: the Fourth of July, as a patriot; Veterans Day, as the civilian he became; Thanksgiving, as family; and the rest of the 365 days of the year, as Adam. I am so thankful for his service.”
Nadiak, who currently works in the president’s office at SUNY Ulster, has established a scholarship in her brother’s name to help support veteran students as they pursue their educations.
SUNY New Paltz’s growing community of veteran, active service and dependent students similarly benefit from both practical support and community-building activities, created and organized by the Office of Veteran & Military Services.
“To truly pay homage to those who have given the ultimate sacrifice in service to our great nation, we must be open to receiving information from various perspectives,” said Niza Cardona, director of the Office of Student Accounts. “The Office of Veteran & Military Services accomplishes this every day, by giving our service members and dependents a forum where they can tell their stories.”
More information about Veteran & Military Services at SUNY New Paltz is available online.