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Rock Solid Remembrance

Led by veteran donors, Washburn completes fundraising for a new memorial

veterans memorial at Washburn University

A proposed rendering of the new Veterans Memorial at Washburn, set to be dedicated in 2023.

From Bell Tower - 2022 
By Angela Lutz

Fifty years ago, John Dietrick, ba ’73, jd ’84, came of age in Vietnam. He was serving in the U.S. Army as a helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War when he turned 21 and 22 years old, so instead of enjoying the usual raucous celebrations that accompany these milestones, he shouldered tremendous responsibility at a very young age.

“It was a lot of learning and growing up,” said Dietrick, whose father also served as a pilot in World War II. “I had a lot of responsibility as commander of a multimillion-dollar aircraft – plus the responsibility for the people on that helicopter.”

Soldier in front of helicopterDuring his two tours of duty in Vietnam, Dietrick’s responsibilities included searching for and engaging the enemy, requesting reinforcements, and transporting high-ranking officers and politicians while flying multiple types of aircraft to complete these dangerous and high-stakes missions. Over the years, he has remained connected with his fellow pilots through the Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association, and the veteran community has always been a significant part of his life, along with that of his wife, Kristina Dietrick, ba ’91. That’s why when the couple heard that Washburn University was raising funds to construct a new veterans memorial on campus, they had an easy time deciding to donate.

“Because we are so involved with John’s past in Vietnam, we wanted to be a part of it. We are personally passionate about this project, but we’re also doing this because it’s an honor to be part of something like this,” Kristina said. “We are the lucky ones – we came home, but so many didn’t. Honoring Washburn students and community members who gave their lives to our country – this is the least we could do.”

The new memorial is nearly eight years in the works and will replace the existing stone plaque, which is more than 30 years old and has become weathered and damaged over the years.

According to Chris Bowers, Washburn University military transitions coordinator, the design for the new memorial will center on a bronze sculpture of a fallen soldier and a nine-foot-tall piece of black granite engraved with the names of the 47 Washburn students and community members who died in Vietnam. It will also commemorate each of the U.S. military’s six branches and the nurses who served in the war. Bowers hopes the open-air space will become a focal point on campus – and be a point of pride for veterans from every U.S. conflict, including the modern era.

“We’re hoping to pay respect to all veterans. Our veteran population is the most diverse of any group, because we come from all walks of life,” said Bowers, who also served in the military and started attending Washburn as a 43-year-old freshman in 2014, when he first became involved with the memorial planning committee. “This will demonstrate to the community our commitment not only to our veterans but to the inclusion of everyone.”

Because the veteran community is so close-knit, Bowers is not surprised by the amount of support the memorial has received. When Washburn announced the need for funds, they completed their initial goal within a month, with 83 donors raising more than $140,000 in record time. This started with former Washburn University President Jerry Farley and his wife, Susan, who kick-started the campaign with a $50,000 matching gift challenge. Farley was a drill sergeant and instructor in the Army, so the project held personal significance for him as well.

Dr. Farley posing in his Army uniform at a parade“Washburn has a long history of both military service and honoring those who served,” Farley said. “We are so proud of our veteran alumni, and we are thankful to everyone who contributed to the project so veterans will continue to have a site and memorial commensurate with their sacrifice.”

The new memorial also solidifies Washburn’s reputation as a veteran- and military-friendly campus, a commitment that has earned the university national recognition. As Bowers pointed out, Washburn became the first designated Purple Heart University in the state of Kansas, and it receives extremely high Military Friendly rankings for its dedication to creating opportunity for veterans and other members of the military community. This fall, Washburn was named by U.S. News and World Report as the top public regional university in Kansas for veterans.

For veteran alumni like John, Washburn’s public recognition of service members through the construction of a new memorial is a fitting tribute to their sacrifices – as well as a great way to bolster Washburn’s visibility and bring more people together on campus.

“The university has put a lot of work into designing this memorial,” John said. “It’s going to be a fabulous monument to veterans. I think it will be a great tribute to Washburn, as well as the city and the state. We want people on campus, and this is a great reason to get people to campus.”

“I think it shows that Washburn has continued to support our veterans,” Kristina added. “One thing I’ve learned about the veteran community is they’re tight. Honoring this respected community is a good thing long-term for Washburn University.”

Kuehne Bell Tower

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