The Spirit of Princeton’s Veterans Day commemoration ceremony returned in Princeton for 2020 to honor military veterans who served or are currently serving in America’s armed forces.
Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, only a small number of veterans, their families and municipal officials gathered at the All Wars Monument at the corner of Mercer and Nassau streets on Nov. 11. The ceremony was streamed live for remote viewers via Facebook.
“I especially want to thank all the veterans here today and members of your families for your service and sacrifice. On Veterans Day, we honor all who served our country in uniform, as well as, soldiers who are currently deployed today,” Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert said in her remarks. “As of October, the United States has been at war in Afghanistan for 19 years. It has been the longest conflict in our nation’s history; at the same time, less than 1% of the population today serves in the military, saddling a small number of Americans with the enormous burden of keeping us safe and too often without providing the support, the jobs, the housing and proper medical care they need to heal when they return home.”
She added that Veterans Day was originally called Armistice Day and was created to honor veterans and rededicate ourselves to the cause of world peace.
“This year as we commemorate Veterans Day we are in a fight against COVID-19. We are grateful for the work of the national guard in supporting public health emergency response efforts to combat the virus,” Lempert said. “Our global fight against COVID is a reminder of our common community as we join with patients around the world in common purpose. On Veterans Day we take time to honor those who have served and who are currently serving and to recognize the bravery, commitment and sacrifices to protect the values and freedoms we hold dear as Americans. We honor and remember our veterans and thank them for their service to our nation.”
Following Lempert were two members of the Princeton University Student Veterans Organization, U.S. Navy Lt. Alex Hydrean and U.S. Army Capt. Galen Mandes.
Hydrean was commissioned into the U.S. Navy in 2010 as a submarine officer. He completed two extended duration west Pacific deployments during numerous missions vital to national security. Hydrean was then assigned to the Defense Threat Reduction Agency in Washington, D.C., and in 2018 transitioned from active duty to the U.S. Navy Reserves, where he currently serves as the undersea warfare launch officer.
He is pursuing his master’s degree at Princeton University in the School of Public and International Affairs, according to The Spirit of Princeton.
“There are certain anniversaries and holidays that inherently call service members or veterans to reflect on their decision to serve. While each veteran may have their own personal and important milestone dates, we all share Veterans Day as a day to look back on our service and forward for our country,” Hydrean said. “I am still amazed at the enormous decision I made as a mere 17-year-old to join the Navy, yet every year thousands of young men and women take up this mantel of service, many at this early and young age.”
He added that his decision to serve centered around the protection of America’s principles and fundamental freedoms.
“Veterans leave behind families, homes and in some cases sacrifice their lives to ensure that this country and these principles persevere. As we honor veterans for their service in defense of this country it is just as important that we continue to honor them everyday in our individual civic engagement,” Hydrean said. “The defense of freedom does not stop on the battlefield or in my case on the submarine. Every citizen shares this responsibility.”
Mandes would also share his story and thoughts about Veterans Day. He graduated from West Point in 2011 with a degree in chemical engineering. Mandes was then commissioned in the infantry as a second lieutenant. After initial training in Georgia, he went on to first be stationed in Germany and then deployed to Afghanistan in Operation Enduring Freedom and also would deploy to Iraq. He is a master’s student at Princeton University in the Department of Chemical and Bioengineering.
“As a currently serving military officer, the military is not made up of people, it is people. I look back on my career and on my service and see how profoundly it shaped a lot of people with whom I served,” Mandes said. “Us currently serving military officers and enlisted, to us we are standing on the shoulders of those who have come before us. And I say again how thankful and proud I am to be in the company of such great people.”
After remarks, the ceremony concluded with the traditional wreath laying, this time by Hydrean and Mandes at the monument, followed with Taps (bugle call).