Event examines crucial role played by veterans

    UCSD Civic Collaborative’s San Diego Regional Studies Network held a symposium on veterans’ affairs on Oct. 12, titled “”San Diego’s Veterans: Understanding Their Critical Role in the Life of the Region.””

    The conference, held at the Ida and Cecil Green Faculty Club, featured three speakers: Anthony Principi, secretary of Veterans Affairs for the Bush administration; Dr. Robert Lotchin, professor of history at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; and Jo Dee Jacob, the executive director of the San Diego-Imperial chapter of the Girl Scouts of America.

    Principi, the first speaker, emphasized San Diego veterans’ contributions to the culture, society and politics of San Diego. He outlined the efforts of the Department of Veterans Affairs to improve the healthcare provided in VA hospitals and to provide increased aid to veterans reintegrating into society with the G.I. Bill.

    With about 290,000 veterans living in its city limits, San Diego has the highest per capita number of veterans of any city in the United States.

    “”I have the deepest appreciation of the symbiotic relationship between San Diego and its veterans,”” Principi said. “”I believe San Diego was built by veterans … UCSD owes its very existence to Roger Revelle, a distinguished and persistent Army veteran.””

    Principi then highlighted the effect that the G.I. Bill of 1944 had in shaping our society, saying, “”It is no exaggeration to say that the G.I. Bill made America a home-owning country … The same G.I. Bill made America a nation of college graduates.””

    Principi also emphasized the efforts that have been made during the 18 months since he has been Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs. He said that his office has increased the expediency of veterans’ claims processing.

    In closing, Principi recalled his own Navy days, when he saw San Diego from ships returning from tour.

    “”On the sea, [San Diego is] a city that shines like a distant beacon of peace,”” he said.

    Chancellor Robert C. Dynes echoed Principi’s statements about the importance of the role of veterans and the Armed Services, not just in San Diego, but also in the creation of UCSD.

    “”This is an appropriate time to discuss the importance of veterans in this region, and an appropriate place,”” Dynes said.

    The chancellor then detailed the history of Camp Matthews, a Marine Corps training camp that was housed on what would eventually become the UCSD campus.

    As if to demonstrate that history, veteran Marion Guynn had trained at Camp Matthews in 1938, and maintained that he was the only San Diego veteran in attendance who could boast service that far back. After his training at what would one day become UCSD, Guynn, who is now 81 years old, served in the Marines in World War II and was a Japanese prisoner of war for four years.

    Dynes also called attention to the importance of the sacrifices of those who have served in the armed forces to students who now have the freedom to attend college, choose their major and countless other freedoms that Dynes said were won in the battles fought by the military.

    “”There is a strong connection between those two,”” Dynes said. “”Our students have those freedoms because of the sacrifices of our nation’s veterans. I am intensely aware of the debt we owe our armed forces.””

    In closing, Dynes reflected on the novelty of this kind of conference, saying, “”I hope that this [conference] will open the door to more scholarly research into the importance of the veterans in this region.””

    Lotchin, a historian who has virtually pioneered the study of the impact of veterans on the community and region of San Diego, described the efforts of San Diego citizens to attract the Navy to San Diego in the early part of the 20th century. Though in competition with Los Angeles, San Francisco and Long Beach, Calif., San Diego eventually became the Navy’s major port on the West Coast and played an integral part in the Pacific theater of World War II.

    The main point that Lotchin got across was the fact that San Diegans were “”never divided about the Navy,”” and thus the city became what he calls “”Fortress: San Diego.””

    After Lotchin had concluded, the conference broke up into four small discussion panels, each with its own particular focus. The conference ended with Jacob’s discussion, titled “”From Navy Blue to Girl Scout Green: Serving the Community after Serving the Nation.””

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