President Mills’ Nov. 11 Veterans Day Remarks

President Mills at the Memorial Flagpole

President Mills at the Memorial Flagpole

Good morning. Thanks to Jean-Paul Honegger for arranging this tribute. I am honored to participate.

We are gathered on Veteran’s Day at Bowdoin’s Memorial Flagpole, dedicated in 1930, to the twenty-nine Bowdoin men who died in World War I—a conflict that began 100 years ago and ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918. It was one of the deadliest conflicts in human history.

Our Memorial Flagpole stands in a direct line with Memorial Hall, dedicated in 1882 to the memory of those who fought and, in many cases, died in the Civil War.

None of the Bowdoin men whose names are inscribed here on the base of our flagpole could have known how war would change their lives when, as students, they passed by and possibly studied the names of Civil War dead on the bronze plaques inside Memorial Hall.

Nor could the generations of students, faculty, and staff—whose names are listed just over there on the World War II, Korea, and Vietnam memorial—know as they walked past this flagpole, that three subsequent conflicts would follow what was optimistically described by H.G. Wells as “the war to end all wars.”

Of course these monuments remind us not only of individuals and their service, they also remind us that we are truly the fortunate ones. President Sills may have said it best the day this monument was dedicated:

“It is a good thing,” he said, “to have on a college campus in concrete form a reminder that life is not always pleasant and easy and that the liberties we enjoy, the privileges we share have been made possible for us by the sacrifices of those who have gone before.”

There are stories associated with each of the twenty-nine lives whose names appear on this monument. One of these is the story of Warren Eastman Robinson.

Warren graduated from Bowdoin in 1910, summa cum laude. He was an educator who started out teaching at high schools in Quincy and Watertown, Massachusetts. He earned his master’s degree at Harvard, then joined the faculty at the Boston Public Latin School, where he taught until his work was interrupted by war.

He signed up, went through training in Texas, and sailed for France in September 1917. He became a battalion intelligence officer in January 1918 and spent most of that year at the front.

After midnight on November 5, 1918, he led a patrol into enemy lines near Verdun and was mortally wounded by machine gun fire. Warren Robinson died on November 6, just five days before the armistice that ended the war. He was 28 years old.

Warren’s wife, Anne, was living in Brunswick at her family home—the Boody-Johnson House—when she arranged for a gateway to be built in her husband’s memory just across the street at the corner of Park Row and College Street. She had an electric light installed in the center so she could see the gateway at night from her window.

For Anne, that memorial gateway with its light illuminated throughout the night permanently marked her husband’s presence in life.

That’s what these monuments do. They remind us of the people who studied here, some who taught, many who stood as proud Bowdoin alumni. They are much more than names etched in stone. They are names that remind us of the importance of service and the terrible cost of war.

Each time our College has dedicated one of these memorials, speakers have used the occasion to hope for a day when war and conflict are a thing of the past. Of course, that day has yet to come, and every so often another memorial must be built.

By coincidence, the College installed a new flagpole and a new, larger, and better-proportioned flag here just this past summer. Our new pole is expected to last quite a bit longer than the eighty-four year old pole it replaced.

By the time a third pole is erected on this spot, let us hope that human kind has found ways to resolve differences that don’t include war and the waste of humanity and shattering of lives that wars bring.

Thank you for being here today and for recognizing our veterans. As we go about our business on this campus, may we always honor these lives, their stories, and the sacrifices made on our behalf.

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