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'Passion, perseverance and grit': Exeter salutes its vets

'Exeter Salutes' program gathers veterans to share stories of service.

By
Lissa Gumprecht
November 7, 2019
Exeter alumni speak at a panel titled Exeter Salutes.

Exeter welcomed alumni who have served or are currently serving in the military to campus Nov. 4-5 for “Exeter Salutes,” a collaborative celebration of their sacrifice and service. Representing not only their class but also their military branch, attendees shared actual war stories alongside Exeter memories and participated in Harkness classes — both with current students and then each other, led by emeriti faculty who also served.

Exeter has a rich history of military service. More than 500 current Exeter alumni have served or are serving in the U.S. armed forces. Scores more died in combat or in active service to the country. Twenty-two Exeter graduates since 2002 have gained appointment to a U.S. military academy; and 25 current employees of the Academy are veterans of one of the five service branches.

A poignant part of the “Exeter Salutes” programming took place in The Forum in the Elizabeth Phillips Academy Center, where a panel of veterans shared how their time at Exeter prepared them for their time in the military. Each individual experience in the service was vastly different — ranging from an army veteran of the Vietnam War who enlisted into the service because he felt it morally reprehensible to evade the draft, to a driven Marine veteran who had to reinvent himself after transition out of the service led to personal crisis. But each agreed that the rigor and challenges they faced at Exeter not only prepared them for the military, but made them better members of that community during their service.

“There were definitely multiple times in the Marine Corps where I wasn’t the smartest or strongest but … I was able to lead through example and drive and attitude,” said Greg Parsons ’90. "With passion, perseverance and grit, which I had honed here (at Exeter), there isn’t any obstacle you can’t overcome.”

Panelists made the connection between Harkness discussions and military debriefs; discussed how the diversity of Exeter was similar, albeit on a smaller scale, of the diversity found in the military; and related to each other the power of the sense of identity each community provided.

“The intensity of the experience cannot be replicated outside the community,” said John Wilcox ’60, underscoring it was a hard-fought experience in both.

In closing, the panelists agreed that recognizing Exonians who serve in the military is important to the larger understanding of the contributions Exeter alumni make. The U.S. armed forces are yet another global institution in which Exonians serve through their knowledge and goodness.