There’s a natural history behind the University of Utah’s decades of celebrating the state’s veterans.
It just makes sense that a university—a place of free thought and open debate—would be home to one of the longest Veterans Day celebrations in the state, President Taylor Randall said.
“Universities are places of debate, places that explore concepts such as freedom and justice and liberty, that would not exist without the people who are here today,” Randall told the crowd of veterans, their family members and supporters gathered in the Student Union Building at the 25th Annual Veterans Day Commemoration Nov. 11.
The university president and Utah Gov. Spencer Cox thanked Utah’s veterans and their families for their service and, in some cases, making the ultimate sacrifice by giving their lives.
“Every one of us today should think about why we should remember these individuals who have given their lives for our country,” Randall said.
Cox remembered his friend, North Ogden Mayor Brent Taylor, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2018. One of Taylor’s last Facebook posts before his death, Cox said, was a reminder to vote. The governor noted that Election Day and Veterans Day fell in the same week this year.
“This week, I’m celebrating Veterans Day twice,” Cox said.
The University of Utah honored 11 Utah veterans and presented the Student Veteran of the Year Award in 2022. The tribute was one of a series of events held throughout the week to honor veterans. Events included a concert, a BBQ and a dodgeball tournament.
The commemoration ceremony was preceded by a bagpipe procession from the J. Willard Marriott Library Plaza to the Student Union Building at 10:30 a.m. Nominations came from across the state, and the 11 veterans honored each received a commemorative medallion.
“The University of Utah is committed to honoring Utah veterans, from World War II to the present conflicts, who have made incredible sacrifices for our nation,” said Jennifer Robinson, co-chair of the Veterans Day Committee. “It’s been our honor at the U to host this ceremony for 25 years.”
Since the U began holding the Veterans Day ceremony in 1998, nearly 300 veterans have been honored, representing all branches of the U.S. military, including Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and National Guard.
“We are thankful to the university for their continued support in student military and veteran programs,” said Faamai Taupau, the new director of the Veterans Support Center and co-chair of the Veterans Day Committee. “Together, we have built a Veteran Support Center that offers GI Bill services, Veterans Administration-supported counseling and many other critical programs that support our military and veteran students’ academic and personal achievements.”
“This adds tremendous value to one of the most diverse and growing organizations on campus,” Taupau added. “We have come a long way since we opened this center 10 years ago. We look forward to what we can do in the next 10 years.”
The 2022 Student Veteran of the Year is Cody Crane, in recognition of the “steady, earnest and energetic effort” he puts into his life, schoolwork, community and military service. Crane earned his B.S. in Kinesiology from the U in 2020. He began physical therapy school at the University of Utah last spring.
As the neuro pro bono clinic director and American Physical Therapy Association class representative, Crane oversees the development of policies, procedures and quality assurance for the clinic, as well as leads the board meetings. Along with other students and licensed physical therapists, he provides free quality care to patients who cannot pay for health care or are uninsured. He also volunteers two hours every week for his director’s duties.
Utah Athletics recognized service men and women from all branches of service at a special halftime show during the Utah vs. Stanford football game at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 12. On-field recognitions included Crane as the Student Veteran of the Year.
The 2022 honorees:
Brent F. Anderson enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in March 1988 attending Basic Training at Lackland AFB, in San Antonio, TX. He then attended Advanced Individual Training (AIT) at Sheppard AFB, Wichita Falls, TX and was assigned to Loring AFB, Maine as a Heating and Air Conditioning Specialist. In 1994, he simultaneously completed Officer Candidate School (OCS) at the Utah Military Academy and then commissioned as a Second Lieutenant with the Utah Army National Guard.
Anderson has worked as an Assistant Professor of Military Science, Battalion Adjutant, and ISSO at Brigham Young University Army ROTC. He has served as the Training Officer and later as the Officer in Charge, for the Southern Utah University Army ROTC from 2000 to 2006.
In June of 2006 he deployed with I Corps Artillery to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom for 15 months as an Embedded Tactical Trainer. The following year he was an Embedded Tactical Trainer and Afghan Army Senior Mentor where he was instrumental in building relationships with Afghanistan Army leaders, Afghanistan National Police and local government officials through mentoring and leadership development. While assigned to the 205th Kandak in Kandar, Afghanistan, Anderson utilized his mentoring skills to increase their readiness, unit cohesion, combat effectiveness, and civilian relationships.
Kenneth Charles Bissenden was born in 1947 and reared in Ogden Utah. In 1967, he was drafted into the U.S. Army where he found himself in basic training at Ft. Lewis, Washington and then advanced training at Ft. Polk, Louisiana. He was assigned to the 1st Infantry Division, 18th Infantry Regiment, Bravo Company. Upon completion of his advanced training, Bissenden was sent immediately to Vietnam where he earned his Combat Infantryman’s Badge the first day in country. Not long after his arrival, he found himself in a cemetery known as “tombstone territory”, where he was told to dig in, and stay there to hold the position. For over a month, finding good cover behind and around the above-ground tombs, he remained in the cemetery enduring repeated attacks from the Viet Cong.
After a very short rest, Bissenden was quickly sent out again to an area called “VC Island”. In this location, he assisted the machine gunner as an ammo bearer where he endured many mortar attacks that killed and wounded many American soldiers. He was sent back a second time to VC Island, where he was made the machine gunner of his company.
Brenden Shadow Borrowman found out very early in life that the world can be a cruel place. Abandoned by his mother and left with an alcoholic father as a child, Borrowman turned to the streets for survival and witnessing a friend’s tragedy, the 15-year-old turned to his grandpa, an old Navy man took who took him to see a recruiter. This is where his military story begins.
Borrowman was the youngest person to attend OSUT (One Station Unit Training) at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and was simply known as “Kid.” His “street attitude” carried him through 18 months of intense training to become a Cavalry Scout. When his unit deployed to Iraq, he delayed waiting for the birth of his son which forced his transfer from being a sniper with a Black Hawk unit to overwatch a Special Forces team riding Humvees. “I had trained only to deploy,” he said. “I had to catch up quickly.”
Assigned to the 206 TIC (Troops in Combat), his team experienced constant fire; averaging three to four attacks a day. In the four and a half months in theater, Borrowman was medevacked three times where the third injury ended his combat career.
Thales A. Derrick, better known as “Tad”, was born in 1935, reared in Salt Lake City, Utah, and attended the University of Utah where he joined the ROTC. After visiting an Air Force Training base and experiencing his first flight, he knew he would be a pilot. Derrick joined the Air Force, became an Aviation Cadet, and completed officer’s training and his flight training simultaneously while holding the highest military position awarded to a Cadet, the Aviation Cadet Group Commander.
During his Advanced Fighter Pilot training, he quickly became a combat ready pilot in the F-85F Saberjet, followed by the F-100D Super Sabre and became air refueling qualified. Derrick excelled in three separate fighter squadrons leading him to be selected as an instructor in the F-100C/F.
In 1965, during the Vietnam Conflict, Derrick flew from the Tan Son Nhut Air Base located near Saigon, in South Vietnam and completed 129 combat missions in a F-100. While on a mission, his plane was hit by enemy ground fire hitting both drop tanks and the wing (which was also a fuel tank). Rather than eject, he managed to continue flying the plane as fuel was streaming out of the wing at an alarming rate. Relying on his skills, his wingman, and pure determination, he landed the plane unscathed.
Pamela “PJ” Jennings struggled very early in life facing many adversities, as well as being separated from her family. As she matured, growing up protesting the Vietnam War, Jennings had a change of heart and traded in her “love beads for dog tags.” She joined the Women’s Army Corps wanting to prove she could amount to something.
With limited options for women, Jennings began nursing school. Hearing about opportunities in the Utah National Guard, she quickly transferred to the 19th Special Forces (Airborne) as a supply sergeant and then jump school. Jennings made it through Airborne School undeterred by the “boys club” and restrictive policies that unscrupulously mistreated women and continued to pursue her goals to be in the medical field.
Norberto Ramos died on Oct. 21, 2022, and is being honored posthumously.
Norberto T. Ramos grew up south of Georgetown, Texas. The eldest son, at 10-year-old he was expected to step up to become the man of the house after the death of his father to help his mom care for the family of six. The most important life lesson he learned was to be kind to others, especially to those in need.
Ramos joined the U.S. Army in 1943, was trained as a combat medic, and deployed when World War II broke out. However, due to the demands of the D-Day invasion, on his 19th birthday, he was re-assigned to the 86th Infantry Division and became a replacement shooter on the front lines. After a perilous crossing of the Rhine River, Ramos found himself in the middle of fierce fighting in the Ruhr Pocket of Germany.
Ramos remembered on his first night in the field his squad leader telling him: “Bob, this is real. This isn’t a movie, son. Consider yourself on the front line. Good luck.” Ramos recalled that with the dawn the war was in full force and “it was my day of baptism.”
As a youngster in Salt Lake City, Loel B. Tibbitts wanted to go fast and to fly. With his older brother who was in the US Air Force as his role model, Tibbitts enrolled at the University of Utah in the ROTC program in the early 1960s. He wasn’t very studious; his real motivation was to fly. He learned about the Aviation Cadets, a WWII-era program for training pilots, where he could get his navigator rating and commission as a second lieutenant. He finished the yearlong program designed “to create a flight-rated officer” and went on for additional training as an electronic warfare officer. He spent two years navigating B-52s in Michigan before being accepted for pilot training at Webb AFB, California. He got his wings, spent two months training in the O2 aircraft; a noisy, single engine, high-wing prop plane, before arriving in Vietnam mid-summer 1968.
As a forward air controller, Tibbitts flew the unarmed O2 over the target areas, identified the target, marked it with smoke rockets, and when fighter jets arrived, directed them where to drop their bombs. “For as fast as the fighters were flying, it was hard for them to differentiate friendlies and hostiles in the dense, dark jungle with everyone in camouflage,” he said. “Simply put, our job was to identify the good guys and the bad ones.”
When 19-year-old John Harry Trease left for the Vietnam War in 1968, his father gave him two silver quarters with the advice if he kept them, he would never be broke. When required to surrender all U.S. currency, Trease kept those quarters tucked away in his pocket. When he came home, he shared with his parents: “No matter where I was, no matter what was going on, I could reach in my pocket, rub those quarters together and it would bring me home to this kitchen,” he recalled. “It was the greatest feeling I’ve ever had.”
On the flight into Vietnam, Trease’s plane was diverted to the Philippines due to the attack on the Saigon Airport. When they finally landed, he dropped his gear on his bunk and headed out for KP duty only to face early the next morning that his barracks were completely destroyed. With no gear, he was hustled to his assigned unit where during orientation, a fire barrage hit the camp and his hooch was flattened. Two days, two attacks … he began questioning what he’d gotten into.
Steven Randy Watt grew up in Canada, the son of American parents, and in the home of a World War II bomber pilot who was part of “The Great Escape” story of 1944. His household hero taught him about resourcefulness and patriotism. Watt took advantage of his dual citizenship and came to Utah to pursue goals to work in law enforcement and study police science.
Watt enlisted in the Utah Army National Guard early in his police career. He took a year and half off to go to Basic Training, Airborne School and the Special Forces Qualification (Q) course. Watt’s military training helped grow his capabilities as a police officer, as well as, preparing him better tactically and mentally for his first deployment to Afghanistan in 2001-2002. During this deployment, he faced extreme circumstances and as suppressive fire was initiated, he facilitated the rescue of two downed soldiers.
From that experience Watt wrote his after-action report and made suggestions on updated doctrine for the military-leadership structure based on his police experience. The Army’s Special Operations Command received this report and in 2006 when he returned to combat the Army adopted the report and “caught up with best practices.”