Drexel University is an institution committed to providing unique services to the men and women who have chosen to provide their service to us all through the U. S. military. Therefore, it’s no surprise that the Drexel community has been coming together for the past eight years for its Memorial Day Primer. Before the day away from the classroom or the office, it’s a way for Dragons to commemorate all servicemen and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice.
But this year, the theme of “Together We Remember” was approached literally as members of the local University City and Powelton Village communities were invited to contribute to Drexel’s annual event. Most notably, a collaboration with the Powelton Village Civic Association focused on paying tribute to Philadelphia native Cpl. James Joseph Cochran, a serviceman in the National Guard who lost his life in World War I at the age of 23.
“Our University is about town and gown coming together, and not having boundaries and looking for ways to connect,” said Rebecca Weidensaul, PhD, assistant vice president of Student Life in the Office of Veteran Student Services, about the community tie-in for this year’s event. “I think that this was the moment for my office to show that.”
Attendees were welcomed to this year’s event by a “bagpipers greeting” from John Ginty, senior IT business systems analyst with Drexel’s Information Technology Department, and David Hollinger, director of fire and emergency services for the Department of Public Safety. The University-based knitting group The DU Ravelers were also on hand, knitting poppies to be introduced into the community following the event.
Professor of Military Science Lt. Col. Lawrence Camacho provided an opening welcome and, after the presentation of colors, invocation and singing of the national anthem, reminded attendees of exactly why they were all gathered.
“Fundamentally, we gather today because we want to honor and pay huge tribute to those who committed the ultimate sacrifice while fighting America’s wars in the name and in the defense of our constitution,” he said.
Camacho then explained the significance of the soldier’s cross erected next to the podium from which he spoke — as a means of showing honor and respect for the dead in battles going back centuries.
“Today it is an immediate means of showing respect for the dead among the still-living members of the troop … as a means to mourn, as sometimes attending the funeral is not always possible for soldiers still in the fight,” he said.
Weidensaul then addressed the attendees, first asking all veterans in the room to stand and be recognized, as well as thanking everyone involved with planning and carrying out the event.
“I’m so proud to be a part of a University that offers a nationally acclaimed military-friendly Yellow Ribbon Program,” she said. “I also appreciate deeply being a part of a community that honors our nation’s traditions so that we can come together on a day like this in May to raise awareness.”
Representatives from Drexel’s University City neighbors at the University of Pennsylvania’s Office of Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity Programs also collaborated on this year’s Primer, with Associate Director Ralph DeLucia called upon to recite the John McCrae war poem “In Flanders Fields” during the event. DeLucia said afterwards that any time to come together as Americans and as an academic community for an event like this — especially during these challenging times — should be taken.
“I think it benefits our whole community — not just the veterans and their families and friends, but everybody,” he said. “We all sacrifice to make our country free. So it’s part of that — we’re all part of it.”
Representatives from the Powelton Village Civic Association also utilized the program to shine a light on one neighbor’s sacrifice from nearly 100 years ago to date, in what was then called “the war to end all wars.” Powelton resident Virginia Maksymowicz explained how extensive research on behalf of several area residents helped unearth details around the life and untimely death of Cpl. Cochran, for whom a small memorial still sits at 37th and Powelton streets on what neighbors now call “Cochran Triangle.” She relayed how Cochran first had a career in boxing, but then joined the National Guard and was deployed to fight in France during World War I. He died in action on July 9, 1918, and the memorial was then erected by a local Veterans of Foreign Wars post and moved to its currently location for unknown reasons in the 1980s.
“When I first moved to Powelton, I wondered, ‘So who is Cochran?’ Nobody knew,” Maksymowicz recalled following the event. “We sort of adopted Cochran. We used to call him our ‘unknown soldier.’ Now we know who he was, but for a long time we didn’t know.”
Maksymowicz added that stories like these help individuals identify with history, and with the purpose of holidays like Memorial Day.
“There’s something, I think, about turning history into something that’s very particular and tangible that makes it more real,” she said.