Veterans Day Observance Brings in ’96 Graduate for Ceremony

Derek R. Baird is a Lieutenant Colonel in the US Army.

Compiled by Staff

As part of its annual Veterans Day observance, the college brought in Derek Baird, a 1996 graduate here and Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army.

Flanked by English Professor Melvin Macklin, Sgt. U.S. Army; Kevin Reilly, Chief Operations Officer; and Laura Robinson, Campus Minister; Baird–clad in full dress uniform–delivered remarks ranging from the history of the day to his time on campus here to his time in the service.

“This is a great opportunity to thank the families of our service members and the communities that support them,” Baird said. “To all mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, spouses and friends from all our veterans to all of you, thank you for your love, tireless support and resilience. Each of you are the foundation of our service, and that must never be forgotten.”

From there, Baird covered the history of Veterans Day, formerly Armistice Day.

“In 1918, an armistice was declared on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month between the Allied Nations and Germany, officially signaling the end of the ‘War to End All Wars’,” Baird said. “In Nov. 1919, President Wilson proclaimed Nov. 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day. In 1938, Armistice Day was officially recognized as a national holiday, celebrating veterans of World War I and amended in 1954 to Veterans Day, recognizing all United States veterans of every war.”

Baird went on to say that the history of the day didn’t really begin with WWI.

“This story began over 200 years ago when our fledgling nation took up the mantle of independence, fighting for freedom and dismantling the yoke of tyranny. Some would say this was the original BREXIT,” he said.

He also shared stories of heroic veterans throughout American history, some of them well-known figures, others not so much. Baird recounted details about Molly Pitcher during the Revolutionary War, the Third Infantry Division along with Marine Corps units who defended the Marne River near Chateaux, France, and his grandfather, Harry Baird, who enlisted in the Navy during World War II and fought several battles while serving on the Destroyer, The Sullivans.

“When I was a child, my grandfather never spoke of his time in service,” Baird recalled. “But when my brother and I joined the Army, he sat us down and told us of his experiences. He did not elaborate much on what he did personally; however, he spoke about duty, honor and country. What it meant to him, what it meant to sacrifice for something greater than himself, and how proud he was of fighting for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Baird said that over the years, the Army included several other values to guide a soldier’s way of life: Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity, and Personal Courage.

“One in particular jumps out at me today: Selfless Service,” he said. “I am reminded of a certain motto, one I learned in the early 90s while attending a small, private Methodist College nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. ‘Not Self But Others.’ This phrase has stuck with me ever since my first day of Ferrum College, a skinny, dare I say, nerdy kid lining up with the other Bonner Scholar Program students, ready to serve the local community and beyond. Not Self But Others and Selfless Service go hand in hand and are the exact ideals my grandfather spoke to me many moons ago when he finally opened up about his service to our nation.”

He continued about service and selfless sacrifice:

“Selfless service requires sacrifice, dedication, and purpose,” Baird said. “It allows each of us to come together from all walks of life to achieve goals beyond which many of us cannot do on our own. Veterans around the country know this. It’s what called them to join the military to help keep our country and its citizens safe and free.”

After his talk, Baird took the time to reflect on what it meant being back on campus after so long.

“It’s been 30 years really,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity to come back and talk about selfless service–coming back, giving back to the community, understanding what that looks like, and being an inspiration to the younger generation.”

It had been since 1999 that Baird had been back on campus for any length of time.

“I was here earlier this year for like an hour or two driving up from Texas to Pennsylvania, but really it’s been since ’99,” he said.

He said the memories came flooding back.

“The great thing is there’s new buildings, the place looks beautiful. Rocky Mount has changed. Roanoke has changed–for the better. And there are a lot of new classes here–a lot of new degrees.”