News and Commentary

UVA Cancels 21-Gun Salute Honoring Vets On Veterans Day
A statue of Thomas Jefferson stands in front of the Rotunda at the University of Virginia, Friday June 10, 2016.
Photo by Norm Shafer/ For The Washington Post via Getty Images.

On Monday, the University of Virginia, founded by Thomas Jefferson, will celebrate Veterans Day, but unlike the last ten years, will not hold the 21-gun salute portion of its ceremony.

WHSV reported that the ceremony “marks the conclusion of a 24-hour vigil by ROTC cadets and has included the 21-gun salute for more than a decade,” adding, “The Provost’s office, in conjunction with the colonel of UVA’s ROTC program, made the decision.

As Jennifer Kabbany notes at The College Fix, on Saturday, university President James Ryan issued a statement on Facebook explaining the decision. Ryan wrote in part:

As the son of a father who served in the Navy during the Korean War, I share views of the importance of honoring the men and women who have served in our armed forces. I fully support and am honored that UVA hosts a 24-hour vigil and Veterans Day ceremony put on by our ROTC programs each year.

Related to this year’s ceremony, the Provost’s Office and Col. Michael Hough, commanding officer of UVA’s Air Force ROTC detachment, worked closely together in making the decision to eliminate the 21-gun salute for two reasons: first, to minimize disruptions to classes, given that this event is located at the juncture of four primary academic buildings and is held at a time that classes are in session; and second, recognizing concerns related to firing weapons on the Grounds in light of gun violence that has happened across our nation, especially on school and university campuses.

Ryan noted that the salute “is not a required, or even typical, part of Veteran’s Day ceremonies — as opposed to Memorial Day ceremonies, which are specifically dedicated to those who have lost their lives in service to our country.” He concluded, “Given that the plans are already in place for this year, we will follow the event organizers’ recommendation to proceed without the 21-gun salute in our Veterans Day Ceremony. Following this year’s ceremony, however, we will work with our ROTC officers and cadets to take a closer look at options for our Veterans Day events, including those that would enable us to re-introduce the 21-gun salute to the program.”

Kabbany pointed out that several letters were printed in The Daily Progress that criticized the university leaving out the 21-gun salute, including one pointing out that in the university’s rotunda, plaques exist honoring hundreds of alumni who were veterans and killed in wars America fought.

Another, longer missive stated that canceling the salute sent “an unfortunate message about students: That they are too fragile, too delicate, too distractible to deal with the ‘interruption’ of the salute. That they are too insular, too wrapped up in their own worlds to comprehend and accept this longstanding practice. That they must be protected from the reality that exists outside academia.”

A third critic echoed, “How ‘we’ reached the decision? The buck stops with you. Score one for the snowflakes.”

In 2017, plaques honoring University of Virginia students who fought for the Confederacy were  removed from the Rotunda.  AS UVA Magazine noted, a resolution from the Board of Visitors to take down the plaques asserted that none of the more than 50 students or alumni who veterans of the Union Army or Navy had been recognized on the grounds for their service. The resolution pointed out that plaques on the façade of the Rotunda honored students or alumni who died in wars from World War I through the Iraq War.