New, serene Veterans Plaza draws admiring visitors

Story posted October 12, 2012 in News by Megan Flood and Carly Schaller

UNIVERSITY PARK – Penn State’s Veterans Plaza, dedicated on Sept. 14 and tucked in a leafy corner behind Old Main, is drawing both curious and admiring alumni, students and visitors.

“Just at first glance, it’s magnificent,” said Fran Nodland, class of 1957, who came to the plaza Friday as Homecoming Weekend began to pull in many alumni. 

“Certainly history is in the right place.  Anything in proximity of Old Main is in the place where it belongs.  This is almost as touching as the D.C. memorial,” she said, referring to the Vietnam Memorial in Washington.

The plaza, a gift of the class of 2011, honors all past, present and future Penn Staters who have served, are serving or will serve in the military.

Its curved, white stone wall is dedicated to Navy Lt. Michael P. Murphy, a 1998 Penn State graduate and the only alumnus to be awarded the Medal of Honor.

Murphy, a SEAL, was killed on June 28, 2005, after exposing himself to enemy fire to radio for help as he and his outnumbered men battled a Taliban force on an Afghanistan hilltop.

Located between Pollock Road and Old Main, the plaza also has an oval, grass knoll with a black stone shield symbolizing honor and sacrifice.  On the wall behind the knoll are these words in lower-case Greek letters:  “With it or on it.”

The words are said to have been uttered by mothers of Spartan warriors, telling their sons that they should either return home alive, carrying their shield, or dead, carried home on their shield.

Like Nodland, other alumni, visitors and students who saw the plaza Friday had positive reactions.

Noel DeCavalcante, a Penn State graduate and a retired, 26-year veteran of the Air Force, called the plaza “outstanding.”

“I am especially proud of Michael Murphy, and I am happy and honored to see this here,” he said.

The white wall, green grass, and quiet setting give visitors a sense of serenity.

“This is beautiful,” said Stephen Zaborowski, class of 2006. “It caught my eye immediately – very peaceful.”

Many wanted to find out more about Murphy and the meaning behind the Greek words.

Bill O’Brien and Larry Luxemburg came to see the plaza with DeCavalcante.

“What makes it so powerful is it fits right in; it’s inviting and drew me in for sure,” said O’Brien, who is from Waterbury, Conn.  “I fully intend to look Lt. Murphy up and find out more.”

“This is the first time I have seen it, but it is great that we are honoring the people who are fighting for our county,” said Kenny Kane, a senior forest management major.  “I think it is a great class gift.”

“I like it. I’m from D.C., so reminds me of the Vietnam Memorial,” said Nik Foreman, a junior majoring in finance.

There was one common criticism voiced by visitors, however:  Why is there not more explanation?

Most visitors Friday said they did not know the significance of the Greek saying and did not know Murphy’s full story.

Reid Exley, class of 2006, said a description would evoke a lot more meaning and there should more explanation.

“I had to dig online for the symbolism,” said Donald Colvin, class of 1972.

Their suggestions included a plaque with more information, one of the historical Penn State signs seen elsewhere on campus, or a book containing the names of Penn Staters who have served in the military.

Criticism aside, visitors agreed the veterans plaza is a nice addition to the campus.

“It is impressive and a destination in itself,” said Dr. Vincent Lucchetti, class of 1994.

(Megan Flood and Carly Schaller are Penn State journalism students.)