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LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Daniel Dillender, student Veteran

The Vietnam War lasted from 1955 to 1975.

The Vietnam War lasted from 1955 to 1975.

The Vietnam War lasted from 1955 to 1975.

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In the fall of 1966, the war in Vietnam was hovering ever closer to the youth of the United States minds. A group of 17 men on this very campus decided to volunteer for the leadership role of the Officer Corps in the United States Marine Corps, thrusting themselves into the war and forming the Semper Fidelis Society. From 1966 to 1972, this student-ROTC group took on future Marines in the support of America’s newest war, each passing through the grueling three month training schedule knowing full well the bloody battles to follow.

The leader of these honorable men was Leonard Dornak, a kind eyed and strong jawed Senior from El Campo, Texas. Not only was he the first to become commissioned as a Lieutenant out of St. Edward’s University under this program, but he also became somewhat of an honorary counsellor to the following graduating classes.

The newly minted Communications Officer was sent to Vietnam with his unit, the 7th Communication Battalion, attached to the famed 1st Marine Division. On one foggy morning on Jan. 8, 1968, St. Edward’s University graduate, First Lieutenant Dornak and 45 service members loaded up into the CH-53A Aircraft that was going to be transporting them to another air base. The adverse weather conditions that day made for difficult flying and moments later their helicopter collided into a sheer cliff. The smoldering wreckage that remained of the aircraft and the 46 souls aboard would forever be one of the worst flight disasters in our militaries history.

The following year, the parents of SEU Alum Leonard Dornak donated a stained glass window in their son’s honor and to this day it remains as a beacon of his commitment to our nation and a shimmering legacy of the hidden history that remains in this age-old University dating back to the late 19th century.

To find this historic memorial, one must venture into Premont hall, a former church and now the faculty resource room. The hustle and bustle of professors on their way to classes or white noise of printing papers fills the once sacred room that honored a hero from decades past. If asked, virtually nobody would know of this site of honor; it stands as testimony to the courage of an SEU graduate and, sadly, few would remember his commitment to this great nation.

The doors of the office remain locked, ensuring no lowly student may enter and admire the actions of such a great man. All the while the University touts the professional photography of this beautiful stained glass window in its annual Veterans Day social media postings. In a cruel twist of fate, a feature of sacrifice and honorable alumni accomplishment has been smothered and left to wither in the dark and dusty corner of a soon abandoned faculty resource room.

Written by Daniel Dillender, Marine Corps Veteran and soon to be an SEU Alum in May 2018 and ashamed to admit that his University has failed Military Veterans of all gender, ethnicity, creed and background.

Daniel Dillender, 03/09/2018

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LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Daniel Dillender, student Veteran