AUBURN, Ala. (WRBL) — In recognition of Memorial Day, Auburn University plans to hold an event honoring military members who have died while serving in the United States Armed Forces. The event is open to the public by RSVP and will be held at 11:30 a.m. on Cater Lawn on Friday, May 26.
In remembrance, 4,599 flags will be placed on the lawn in memory of those who lost their lives in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Inherent Resolve and Operation New Dawn as 2023 marks 20 years since the beginning of the Iraq War. There will also be markers throughout the lawn providing information about significant events during the Iraq War, which lasted from March 20, 2003 to December 15, 2011.
“Memorial Day is such a profound experience for a lot of people, especially those who have lost a loved one or somebody close to them and we really wanted to provide a commemorative experience,” said Curtis Pippin, Program Coordinator for Auburn University’s Veterans Resource Center.
A veteran himself, Pippin explained the university took the utmost consideration into planning their event which they hope will foster unity, gratitude and remembrance within the community.
Especially important, Pippin said, is an initiative largely spearheaded by Mike Smith, Auburn’s Coordinator of Diversity Engagement at their Office of Inclusion and Diversity.
“We wanted to see if there were any Auburn [or] Opelika area veterans or family members that we could reach to or Iraq veterans who lost their lives’ families that we could reach out to,” said Pippin.
Through their efforts they were able to locate the family of Army Specialist Stephen ‘Dusty’ Hiller, who was an Opelika local among the first soldiers from Alabama to die in the Iraq War at age 25. Hiller’s story is featured in the 2017 National Geographic limited series, “The Long Road Home.”
The Hiller family will be at the ceremony, where Auburn officials will recognize the soldier’s sacrifice and present flowers to the family to honor their sacrifice, as well.
Retired Army Military Police Officer and current Opelika City Council Member Todd Rauch will also be a guest speaker.
Rauch received the Purple Heart for saving other United States soldiers and surviving a mortar attack during his deployment in Iraq as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He was also the soldier of the year for the 18th Military Police Brigade in Giessen, Germany.
“I could immediately tell that Todd was, [that] this is something near and dear to his heart and that he, you know, he takes personal ownership of it because he has lived through it,” said Pippin, adding he looks forward to Rauch’s speech Friday.
The Veterans Resource Center coordinator also emphasized the importance of hearing from someone with firsthand experience. Pippin, a self-appointed firm believer in the power of testimony, said, “We were looking for someone who could really just bond the community with an engaging experience to where they could really kind of empathize and try to understand what it’s like to live in those moments and come out the other side.”
On Friday, Auburn expects to host roughly 50 to 75 people, although Pippin noted that they would love to have as many people as possible come out. For those that can’t make the ceremony, the display will be viewable through June 1. It is sponsored by Auburn University’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Veteran’s Resource Center and Auburn Student Veterans Association.
RSVPs can be placed in advance here. Those looking for more information may contact Smith at email@example.com.