When students walk into the Heilman Dining Center, they may not always notice the aged blue Marine uniform sitting in a glass case, or know the story behind the man whose name rests above the door.
This Friday, the University of Richmond's Chancellor, Bruce Heilman, 85, will share that story, his story, with World War II veterans and young ROTC cadets in Honolulu, Hawaii for the "End of the War in the Pacific" commemoration ceremony aboard the Battleship Missouri.
While sitting in Honolulu at sunrise, his hearing impaired slightly by the waterfalls surrounding him, Heilman described a different America. His message to young cadets, he said, relays what the country was like during WWII, when his own mother had three sons fighting overseas.
"Every family was involved in the war," Heilman said. "When the whole country was committed, you [could] almost accomplish anything."
During the four years that most American citizens now spend in college, Heilman was fighting a war. At age 18 he landed in Okinawa, Japan.
"Most students were fighting battles," Heilman said. "World War II vets were deeply committed to the war."
"It is difficult for young people to identify with the seriousness of young warriors," Heilman said, since not as many young people are fighting anymore.
Heilman said he hoped young soldiers would learn from veterans how it was done during the Second World War, and he hoped to convey his respect for the young people fighting today. He said it was important for young cadets and veterans to interact with one another because they share the experience of fighting for their country.
When the war ended, Heilman was 19, and he caught up on his education. His freshman year he was married, and before finishing his undergraduate degree he had six children.
Fighting in the war was the prevailing event that shaped his foundation, Heilman said. It is because of this foundation that his uniform and war memorabilia are on display in the dining hall, and not his degrees or other items from his time in college, he said.
Heilman traveled to Hawaii with other WWII veterans with The Greatest Generation Foundation, a non-profit organization which "provides veterans with journeys to former battle sites to give them the opportunity for healing and closure and an avenue to educate younger generations about service and sacrifice," according to a press release by the organization.
Heilman has traveled with TGGF once before to Japan to visit WWII battle sites with students from the College of the Ozarks. It was a sobering moment for the students when they realized as sophomores and juniors in college that they were older than the veterans had been while fighting in the war, Heilman said.
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