A moment of silence fell over Dina’s Place on Nov. 8 as students, faculty and staff gathered to honor the men and women who have served in the U.S. military.
Two veterans, carrying the American and South Carolinian flags, set the banners in their place behind the podium, and Winthrop President Daniel Mahoney paid his respects by thanking the Student Veterans of Winthrop, the organization responsible for organizing the event.
The Student Veterans of Winthrop said that they strive to provide student veterans at Winthrop with the opportunity and services necessary to excel academically.
Sergeant Ronald Barker was drafted into the Army when he was 19, and he shared his story with the audience. The veteran described his time in the military during the height of the Vietnam War: from basic training to being placed into the bush.
“Within a week and a half, I was assigned to an infantry unit and assigned my first mission,” Barker said.
Going from mission to mission, Barker rose in rank where he said he experienced firsthand the struggle and fear of war. However, after his discharge and subsequent civilian life raising a family, the sergeant said he would like to look back with reverence on his years in service.
“It was one of the most rewarding and terrifying experiences of my life… I’m glad I was drafted. I’m glad I went; it has shaped the rest of my life,” Barker said.
This sentiment was echoed by the stories of the next speaker, Captain James Vinyard of the Marines who said that he had always wanted to join the military.
Vinyard, the son of a WWI veteran, said he had dreamed of following in his father’s footsteps by joining the Marines. His passion landed him in front of a college recruiter in 1967, and after a short test, he was extended the opportunity to join the Marine Corps. After months of training, Vinyard achieved his goal of joining the Marines.
“I had done my dream, I could go through life knowing I’ve done my part,” he said.
Vinyard said that, despite, having realized his dream and the potential he had with the Marines and the opportunities he would be granted, he still had to overcome certain difficulties.
“I left a seventh-month pregnant wife at the airport and ended up in the West Pacific,” he said.
He said that he requested to be put in Vietnam when his time in the Pacific Theater was becoming overbearing. He said that he was both excited and terrified when he finally saw the warfare he had wanted, describing the endless rain of monsoons and the formidable firepower he worked with while assigned to artillery.
However, he also mentioned the harsh realities of Vietnam. He said that he lost 56 pounds due to food scarcity.
Vinyard said that after his time in the Marines, he was able to return to a normal life. He went on to achieve a masters degree and raise a family. He said that he considers his time in the military to be the greatest education he ever received.
“You can do anything if you put your mind to it. Confidence was the greatest thing the Marine Corps taught me,” Vinyard said.